I am having a strange half-holiday, half-work time in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. I am relaxing away from the nonsense of my normal life but at the same time spending most of the day working on my Sex.com book.
Not that there isn’t time for some political intrigue. I went to a 60th birthday party out very, very close to the cenotes I visited only two days before. Elizabeth is a very pleasant Englishwoman who plays violin in the Merida Orchestra and has bought a plot of land in the stix, which she is doing up and uses as her weekend retreat. We went there for a bbq.
I had been there for a few hours when Jonny turns up and says that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is giving a speech in town – just five minutes drive away. Of course, being English, it took five to ten minutes to extricate ourselves from the party to go check it out – by which time Mr Lopez Obrador had already moved on. Although left behind was a little temporary booth that was signing up the local villagers to his “parallel government”.
It’s more than likely you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but Andres Lopez Obrador is an intriguing political figure at the moment. In Mexico’s July presidential election, it was neck-and-neck but the more right-wing candidate Felipe Calderon ended up winning. Lots of people smelt a rat, especially with overtones of the Bush Administration’s election fudging in which it is now a specialist.
[Update: I forgot to note that the reason I know about this is because during Calderon’s inauguration there was actual brawling in the Congress between politicians. The BBC as ever provides footage and background online if you’re interested.]
Lopez Obrador is a left-winger and seemed representative of a whole continental shift to the left-wing and in favour of the poor over the big companies. Just look at South America at the moment – Lula winning by a landslide in Brazil in October offering to narrow the gap between rich and poor; Chavez has just won again in Venezuela and made a point of talking about socialism, nationalising various industries and made some political capital by mocking George Bush again; and then you have Morales in Bolivia – possibly the most left-wing of the lot – and also determined to give the poor what they deserve.
In fact the only country not piling over to the left wing is Colombia – and that’s because of the civil war and not much else.
Anyway, the balance of likelihood is that Lopez Obrador did not win the election but clearly he felt it was his time and so has refused to take defeat gracefully. He is determined to keep stirring up trouble and has, it seems, gone on a massive recruitment drive in the villages to build up his political base. He has also, I read today, started a TV channel to broadcast his message because he claims there is a media bias against him.
And you know what, I’m sure there is. But I’m also certain Lopez Obrador is on a hiding to nowhere. The parallel government, the public claims of media bias, the TV channel – this smacks of poor political judgement and rampant egoism. He can’t hope to seize control of Mexico so stirring up trouble will only cause the serious political players in Mexico to doubt his worthiness.
Besides, the US government is never going to allow a left-wing government to take charge of Mexico if it can possibly help it. It’s far too close for comfort. If the US government is prepared to intervene in elections in Venezuela, you can bet it is willing to do a whole lot more in its neighbouring country.
You have to wonder as well whether it is really worth Lopez Obrador’s time giving speeches in Cuzama – it is a tiny, tiny town, no more than say 200 residents. He spoke for 22 minutes apparently. None of these people have any money either, so at that rate, and assuming he converts every one in every village he visits, he will have to speak non-stop for years before he can even hope to win at the ballot box.
It was interesting to see – and I wish I’d caught the speech – but it doesn’t strike me as a winning strategy.
It also seems that most people think Felipe Calderon is a good choice (admittedly from a few news reports and a very small sample of people I have spoken to about it, and only in Merida). Yes, he is more pro-business and right-wing than Obrador but he is also, it is said, a very smart economist who is determined to build up Mexican industry.
Mexico it seems is suffering from having its traditional cheap labour costs being undermined by China and India – like every other country in the world.
There remains a massive poverty problem in Mexico, combined with an upper political rich class – just like in most South American countries, and perhaps Lopez Obrador thinks the other leaders like Chavez and Lula can provide a useful route to a more equitable society. The thing is he can only try if he is president and it looks less and less likely that that is going to happen.