As the Mexican historian Enrique Krauze has pointed out, López Obrador's emphasis on his loyalty to the poor connects him, in the mind of much of the Mexican general public, to "the core ideals of the Mexican Revolution." It is common at campaign rallies to see people holding placards with slogans like "López Obrador: For all Mexicans, but first for the humble" and "They will not rob us of our dreams."
"People say that I am promising too much. But we're talking about a society where 20 million people — 20 million! — live on $2 a day. So when, for example, I talk about giving food aid to the poor, I'm talking about 20 pesos each" — the equivalent of about $2. "And that money — those $2 — would double what these 20 million get and radically change their lives. What the people of Mexico need is not that much, you know."
Everything changed when Fox, the PAN candidate, won the 2000 elections and the PRI government of Ernesto Zedillo did not try to invalidate the results. But in the minds of many Mexicans, perhaps even a majority, this political transformation was not matched by economic progress. The middle class unquestionably expanded during Fox's term, and along with it grew rates of homeownership and, in certain regions of the country, disposable incomes. But in other parts of the country, the Nafta years were ones of falling incomes and rising joblessness. A result was mass emigration to the United States, enormous even by already-high past standards. "It's not a migration; it's an exodus" was the way one of López Obrador's aides described it. Or, as one Mexican writer put it to me, Fox did create 10 million jobs for Mexicans — unfortunately, they were all in the United States.
López Obrador emphasizes the emigration issue at virtually every campaign stop. Resentment at the treatment of Mexican migrants in the United States is at a fever pitch in Mexico, with practically every affront against illegal workers, real or imagined, getting huge coverage in the Mexican media; the recent pro-legalization rallies in the U.S. were treated with adulation. But López Obrador speaks of emigration as a tragedy for Mexico and as something Mexico needs to put a stop to out of its own national interest. Unlike many Mexican political figures, AMLO doesn't seem to expect the U.S. to continue to accept the current levels of immigration. Nor does he base his economic calculations on the $20 billion that emigrants to the U.S. send home each year, in the process helping to prop up the Mexican economy. And he says that addressing the question will be a priority for his administration.
"If I am elected," he told me, "I will propose a conference on migration with the United States. Building a wall is not a viable solution. The only thing that will work is creating jobs in Mexico. Fox was not able to maintain good relations with Washington. But I can't see any reason why I can't succeed in doing so."
Mexico has not had anyone like this ever, someone who really seeks to make life significantly better for poor Mexicans who have been forgotten about in a neoliberal tide. All through her history Mexican politics have been dominated by foreign business interests. There have been brief shifts away from this, obviously in the break from Spain, in the rise of Benito Juarez, and the Mexican Revolution, all represented an acknowledgement of the struggles of indigenous and southern Mexicans, but they were shortlived. Independence was followed by Santa Anna, Juarez was followed by the French occupation, and the Revolution was betrayed by the PRI. Obrador follows from the tradition of Hidaldo, of Juarez, and of Zapata, the tradition that fights for the poor and disenfranchised of Mexico.
Too many particularly in the south have been pushed aside by this neoliberal tide. In principle NAFTA can be good for Mexico, and where I had worried about the extent to which Obrador was against the treaty, this article kind of puts those fears to rest. He seems to acknowledge that NAFTA and globalization are a fact of life but wants to alter the trade policies so that poor rural farmers and workers are better protected. In terms of US Mexico relations, I really think that Obrador hits immigration issues on the head, its bad for Mexico to be losing some of its most motivated citizens to the United States. It is as I've said many times here before, an economic refugee crisis. It is a problem of human suffering, and people are going to continue to migrate to where the jobs lie, to Mexico City and to the United States until the basic problem of poverty that drives the situation is dealt with.
Great article on the race, not nearly as pro-Obrador as I am, but a very good summary of the election circumstances, go check it out. As a side note, I believe that Obrador's support is underrepresented in the polling, his support will come from rural and poor areas where pollsters will be unable to reach. Mexican polling has failed before, Fox trailed by 6% right before the election in 2000, and we all know what happened.