This week Mexico elected the first leftist president in decades, overturning the country’s four decades-long romance with neo-liberalism. The Latin American left are hoping that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s landslide victory (or Amlo as he is called) will inject new energy into improving the lives of ordinary people.
Amlo secured almost 53% of the vote, almost double that of the largest opposition party, and for the first time the Mexican parliament has parity between men and women.
Left-wing Latin American leaders such as Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno, and Cuba’s Miguel Diaz-Canel may want Amlo to join them in Alba, the Latin American grouping of leftist governments. Mexico’s influence is widely recognised given that it is the second largest economy in the region and the 15th largest in the world.
South Africa will want to forge strong relations with the incoming administration given the priority it places on South-South co-operation, especially with progressive governments.
But, Amlo is no Che Guevara, and nor does he pretend to be. The days of class warfare, dialectical materialism and armed insurrection no longer feature on the agenda of the Latin American left.
Pragmatism has replaced revolutionary fervour, whereby profound radical social change is sought through the ballot box. Most of the current “peoples' leaders” still hang portraits of Guevara and Simon Bolivar on their walls, but recognise that new compromises with the capital class are required, while still fighting for the poor.
Amlo will not usher in revolutionary change in Mexico, but he will reverse the destructive policies of his predecessors.
Every president since 1988 applied neo-liberal economic policies, promoting the privatisation of every important economic sector from the iron and steel industry and banking in the 1980s and 1990s, to recent energy reform.
In 2014 Mexico’s right-wing President Pena Nieto’s reform agenda ended seven decades of state ownership of minerals and oil resources, but in two years Mexico had become an importer of US-produced gas which drove fuel prices upwards and saw rolling protests as thousands of workers were laid off.
Neo-liberal reform led to a higher concentration of wealth that benefited only a few. According to Oxfam, in 2015, the 10 richest people in Mexico accumulated the same wealth as the poorest 50%. Amlo will now introduce specific reforms in social policy and a greater role for the state in strategic economic sectors.
Not only will Amlo end the privatisation in the energy sector, but he will change the face of Mexico, from the perspective of the poor at least. The minimum wage will be increased, and there will be a move towards universal public health and education. Pensions for the elderly are set to double, there will be education grants for the youth, and support for farmers.
Amlo plans to recover 10% of the national budget by combating corruption - one of his top priorities.
He intends on having daily meetings with his security cabinet to deal with the drug cartels and rampant crime. He also insists on the US sharing responsibility for the drug problem as the US provides the large market for drugs produced in Mexico.
Mexico is now recovering from its most deadly political campaign in decades, with 136 political candidates and politicians having been killed.
He may reverse the draconian Law of Internal Security instituted by the previous government which gave the military a role over internal civilian security. The security forces had been linked to massacres, rapes and disappearances.
But before Amlo starts looking like the poster boy of the left, we must recognise that he has refined his anti-establishment political strategy after two previous losses at the ballot box in 2006 and 2012.
Guevara might have been aggrieved at his appeasement of the economic elite, with plans to bring in a business tycoon as his chief of staff, and to appoint a former World Bank and WTO economist as head of a team renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.
What has become evident is that Amlo won’t do anything to disrupt investor confidence, and given the extent to which he has forged a strategic alliance with business, Goldman Sachs even published a statement validating him for the international
While Amlo may not be the champion of the left, his rise to power is significant as he has ended the dominance of the PRI and PAN parties, otherwise known as the “mafia of power”.
He will also be a political force to be reckoned with beyond Mexico’s borders, maintaining his highly critical stance against US President Donald Trump.
He has called Trump’s anti-immigration policies irresponsible and racist, and vowed he will make Trump see reason. Well, if the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un could accomplish that, then surely Amlo can too.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Foreign Editor.