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Mexico's AMLO Evokes Ghosts Of Argentina's Perón

President López Obrador's confrontational approach to ruling Mexico has reminded many of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. But he seeks confrontation as a tool like the iconic 20th century Argentine leader.

AMLO last month at the deployment of 70,000 national guard troops.
AMLO last month at the deployment of 70,000 national guard troops.
Luis Rubio

MEXICO CITYArgentina began the 20th century with Latin America's highest GDP, similar levels at the time to the United States'. A century later, it had dropped to 53rd position in the world. As an Argentinian friend once said to me: "Anyone who says things can't get any worse doesn't know Argentina."

It is a country that seems to have devoted itself systematically, over the decades, to undermining its own developmental potential. There are many hypotheses on the causes of this decline, but an evident one is the polarization that has gripped its society since the days of the emblematic 20th-century leader Juan Domingo Perón. This division (between supporters of "Peronist" social democracy and conservative opponents) has essentially become a permanent state of political confrontation.

Now, I have begun to wonder if Mexico is running the risk of falling into a similar, vicious circle.

Perón was a genius at communication, which he used to incite the population to confrontation, express resentments and conjure up enemies of the people. The existence of a single truth to explain history and daily reality allowed the strongman to polarize society and build a deep and lasting support base. Yet the strategy led to society's permanent division and economic impoverishment. Argentina has everything needed to become one of the world's richest countries: a European society transposed into a region replete with natural resources. But it has had the misfortune of living in permanent conflict. Three-quarters of a century since Perón, Argentina remains a country of dramatic vicissitudes.

Perón at his 1946 inauguration — Photo: Argentina national archives

The great risk of our own current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is that his strategy risks converting Mexico into a country that always loses. I am certain that this is not how he envisions the future. Rather he takes the view that Mexico took the wrong path these last decades, and the direction must be rectified to build a new and better future. This is entirely different to the socialist vision of Hugo Chávez, the late Venezuelan leader with whom López Obrador is at times, fearfully compared. But his confrontational strategy, which is an essential part of his vision, risks paralyzing the country and reversing the things that do work here. This is more akin to post-Perón Argentina than anything Chávez may have tried.

AMLO believes in the confrontational approach in times that are radically different to Perón's. The Mexican writer Héctor Aguilar Camín says of him that he "does not negotiate, he fights, though in order to negotiate on this own terms. He is not averse but attracted to conflict, but only so he can later make a pact... He feeds on confrontation to win supporters and pacts." (The abrupt resignation this week of Mexico's Finance Minister Carlos Urzua deepened worries and the risk of a major stock market and currency sell-off, Bloomberg reports)

A similar strategy took Argentina into a time of crisis more than 50 years ago, where it remains today. The major difference is that its economy in the mid-20th century was closed, and there was not the same globalizing factor. The closed economies of Latin America in the mid-20th century, which were essentially devoted to imports substitution, had economic and political characteristics that gave their governments considerable room to maneuver.

The confrontational strategy creates uncertainty.

To begin with, those economic models sought to minimize commercial exchanges with the rest of the world, and generally rejected foreign investment or restricted it to certain sectors. Secondly, communications were not as immediate as they typically are today. Businessmen could produce expensive, bad-quality products and the consumer had no choice but to get by with them. In that context, politicians could impose laws and regulations as they saw fit, knowing society lacked alternatives. The government was in charge and that determined the population's welfare or misery.

The reality today is the exact opposite. The consumer has unlimited options and prices of the most essential goods have diminished in real terms, without inflation. Firms must compete with peers at home and abroad. And the government, if it wants to attain elevated growth rates, must work to win both domestic and foreign investment. The confrontational strategy creates uncertainty in this environment, alienating investors and slowing down the economy.

The crucial characteristic of nations that grow and enjoy success is social cohesion and consensus, which permits them to confront problems like poverty, recession or violence. The outstanding traits of nations like Chile, Colombia, Spain, Taiwan or Singapore offer a clear vision of a better future. Their politicians strive to project a successful nation and seek their citizens' determined support in this undertaking.

Seeking confrontation could leave a legacy of resentment, division and crisis that could last well beyond AMLO's six-year presidential term. Nobody in Mexico should want to see this.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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