The AMLO Brand Of Populism Puts Mexico's Future At Risk

Mexico's socialist president is fanning class resentments and threatening Mexico's fragile social peace, while delivering little of the welfare he promised in 2018.

The end for Obrador ?
The end for Obrador ?
Luis Rubio

MEXICO CITY — Resentment, especially of the poor toward the rich, is nothing new. Nor is there any novelty in politicians exploiting grievances, both real and imagined. Isocrates, a great orator of the 4th century BC, deplored hostility but recognized it as a typical emotion in democracy. Jeremy Engels, author of The Politics of Resentment, notes that while citizens aired their own views in the "direct" democracy of a Greek city state, today their grievances are handled by politicians. As a tool for governing, however, the political use of public demands has both limits and risks.

The ancient Greeks saw democracy as a fraternity aimed at preventing tyranny, though their ideas barely influenced the 18th century Federalists who molded the U.S. political system. They were determined to avoid the tyranny not of a citizen but of the majority: A democracy, they believed, must protect minorities. Their particular concern was to keep the violent mob in check.

Demonstration against Andrés Manuel López ObradorPhoto: Diego Simon Sanchez

The deeper problem as always is the presence of differences among citizens: wealth, abilities, origin, preferences, education. Social differences are an inexorable part of human history and democracy is one form of taking decisions allowing the fair participation of all citizens, regardless of differences. It is the policies adopted by democratically elected governments that must then mitigate the differences and equalize opportunities.

Resentment is a visceral reaction to the contrast between democracy's implicit promise of equality and the blatant inequities that arise in the political process or shocking wealth gaps. The starkness of the contrast provides ammunition for politics and groups that exploit divisions and privileges for their own ends, like winning votes. Resentment ultimately becomes a means of controlling the population, already used by dictators and leaders from Venezuela"s Hugo Chávez to Donald Trump or presidents in Mexico's own, dismal 20th-century history.

This president sees spite and animosity as instruments of government.

Today, our president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador has decided to use discord among Mexicans to tighten his base and consolidate his project.The key question is: Is it also a means of reducing inequalities (as the old PRI party used to promise), or merely a first step toward the destruction of the fragile social stability we have known since the 1970s? In the first case, it would mean creating another controlling system to replace the 70-year PRI regime, and in the second, the incipient destruction of a decades-long democratizing process, with its vicissitudes and contradictions. In either case, resentment would be a tool to consolidate power, not to build a better future for all.

We may be sure of one thing, that this president sees spite and animosity as instruments of government. In that sense he differs little from rulers elsewhere in the world or those to the south of the continent who ultimately failed, after sinking their economies or provoking revolts. Chávez sought to protect himself against a violent end by virtually handing Cuba control of his country, as one book contends.

The problem is that social resentments, once fanned, are not easily turned off. Venezuela, Argentina and Chile are countries where rancor still festers. Even while President López Obrador remains broadly popular — though not for any achievements regarding the economy, corruption or social concord, for he has none — opponents are starting to despise him. In time, how will people perceive a president who keeps fueling expectations but delivers little? Will another electoral list appear to exploit the resentments bound to multiply?

When the Bolshevik leader Lenin arrived in Petrograd in 1918, revolutionary unrest had already begun in Russia, but he had something unique, a plan, which duly allowed him to take power. Here too amid the simmering tensions, someone with a plan could become Mexico's new leader, though the price of another rabble-rouser in power could be the ultimate downfall.

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Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung


BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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