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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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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