- Christy Thorntonassistant professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University. She was an election observer for the Scholar and Citizen Network for Democracy. She is currently writing a book about Mexican economic history.
In Mexico, leftist politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, has claimed victory after winning Sunday’s presidential election by a landslide, vowing to transform Mexico by reducing corruption and violence. Preliminary election results show López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, capturing 53 percent of the vote—more than twice that of his closest rival. His three main rival candidates have already conceded. His victory comes after the most violent electoral season in modern Mexican history. At least 136 politicians have been assassinated in Mexico since September. For more, we speak with Christy Thornton, assistant professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University. She was an election observer for the Scholar and Citizen Network for Democracy. She is currently writing a book about Mexican economic history.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Mexico. In a landslide election, voters have chosen Andrés Manuel López Obrador to be Mexico’s next president. Celebrations broke out across Mexico City Sunday night. The former mayor of Mexico City, who’s known as AMLO, will become Mexico’s first leftist president in decades. During a victory speech on Sunday night, he vowed to transform Mexico by reducing corruption and violence.
PRESIDENT-ELECT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: [translated] The new project of the nation will seek to establish an authentic democracy. We don’t bet on building an open or closed dictatorship. The changes will be profound but will happen with a strict adherence to the legal established order. There will be corporate freedom, freedom of expression, of association and of beliefs. We will guarantee all the individual and social freedoms, as well as the political rights of citizens, consecrated in our Constitution. There will be no need to increase taxes in real terms, not for the country to fall into debt. There will also be no hikes in petrol. I will lower the general cost of living and the public investment to propel productive activities and to create jobs. The objective is to strengthen the internal market, to try to produce what we consume in the country. We won’t act in an arbitrary way, and there will be no confiscation or expropriation of property. The transformation will consist in basically banishing corruption from our country. We won’t have a problem in achieving this objective, because the people of Mexico are the heir of great civilizations.
AMY GOODMAN: Preliminary election results show López Obrador captured 53 percent of the vote, more than twice that of his closest rival. This marked AMLO’s third time running for president. In Britain, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn praised López Obrador. Corbyn tweeted, “Today brings a new beginning for México. Congratulations @lopezobrador. His election as President with more than 50% of the vote offers the poor and marginalised a genuine voice for the first time in Mexico’s modern history. I’m sure #AMLO will be a president for all Mexicans,” Corbyn tweeted.
López Obrador’s victory comes after the most violent electoral season in modern Mexican history. At least 136 politicians have been assassinated in Mexico since September.
We go now to Mexico City, where we’re joined by Christy Thornton. She’s an assistant professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University. She was an election observer for the Scholars and Citizens Network for Democracy, currently writing a book about Mexican economic history.
Professor Thornton, talk about the election. Talk about the celebration in the Zócalo and what AMLO, what this new leftist president, president-elect right now, has promised.
CHRISTY THORNTON: Yeah, good morning, Amy, from Mexico City. It’s really been an incredible atmosphere here. The victory of AMLO, and the margin with which he did it, really signals a new day here. I think it’s beyond the expectations of even some of AMLO’s strongest supporters to have seen him win the presidency with what the initial result says is 53 percent of the vote. We have to think about this was a field of four candidates. So for him to have won an absolute majority is something that we haven’t seen in recent Mexican elections. And so, this is really a very strong victory, a very strong message. And it will be the case not just in the presidency, but in the legislature, as well, and in a number of state governorships. AMLO’s MORENA party, which he founded in 2014, has really become a vital new political force here in Mexico that’s really set to shake things up.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about what this represents in terms of Mexico and the United States. Also, President Trump tweeted his congratulations. The corporate media is often now referring to López Obrador as “Mexico’s Trump.” It’s not clear exactly why. Maybe they equate being opposed to NAFTA as being Trump.
CHRISTY THORNTON: Yeah, that’s right. So, I think that the—López Obrador’s election will have a number of important implications for the United States: on trade, as you said, the renegotiations of NAFTA; on security, with regard to the drug war; and with regard to migration. I think all three of those things are things in which we can expect a serious change from this Mexican administration. And we’ll have to see what the relationship is between Trump and López Obrador.
You’re right that a number of mainstream media outlets have made this kind of absurd comparison. And I think one of the reasons that has happened is the kind of—the worry from establishment politicians and mainstream media outlets about the idea of populism, and the worry about populism where they completely eviscerate the political content of that. And so, if you compare Trump and López Obrador, you could say that they are both, quote-unquote, “populists,” but obviously their political platforms are on completely the opposite sides of the political spectrum. So, those kinds of comparisons, I think, are really bunk. López Obrador is really something more like a Bernie Sanders.
And what we saw here in Mexico City last night and in Tijuana, in major cities all over Mexico, people commented to me over and over that it felt like 2008. It felt like when Obama won the elections, and there was a kind of historic breaking of some precedent, right? And so, we have—that seems much more like an obvious comparison, the kind of breaking open of the political system and the hope for real change. Now, obviously, that comparison leaves those of us in the United States to worry about what might come next—right?—and what can actually be changed. There are real structural impediments. But, for now, the power of this movement indicates that Mexicans desperately want that change and are willing to fight for it.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what AMLO represented, what he promised. Talk about his stand on the wall, on immigration and on NAFTA, exactly what he’s saying.
CHRISTY THORNTON: Yeah. So, there are a number of important areas where AMLO has said that he will change policy. With regard to NAFTA, he has kind of moderated his position over the years, but he has said that he wants the negotiations to wait until he assumes the presidency, and that members of his team will now be in the negotiating room. And so, he really hopes to now become an important part of the NAFTA negotiations as they go forward. The most important thing for López Obrador on that is the protection of Mexican farmers and the Mexican agricultural sector. Obviously the United States really protects its agricultural sector in a way that is against a, quote-unquote, “free trade agenda.” And that’s been devastating for Mexican agriculture. So that’s something we can expect to see López Obrador really push against.
With regard to migration, he has said that he intends to move Mexico’s migration focus to the northern border rather than the southern border, where it’s been, really at the behest of the U.S. government. So Mexico has really militarized its southern border with Guatemala as part of the larger U.S. policy against immigration, against refugees and SIVs and economic migrants. And so, López Obrador has said that he wants to reverse that policy, to demilitarize that border, to care for migrants here in Mexico and to move the center for migration up here to the north, rather than militarizing in the south and really terrorizing migrants as they cross the national territory. So, those are two areas in which there could be a real change in policies that affect the United States.
With regard to security, he has indicated that he wants to demilitarize the, quote-unquote, “war on drugs and organized crime,” that was started by Felipe Calderón in 2007, 2008. The military has been sent into the streets with horrific human rights consequences—more than 100,000 people killed, 30,000 disappeared—and those of the conservative numbers. As you said, it’s been an incredibly violent year this past year in Mexico. The statistics may indicate that it’s the most violent year since they started keeping statistics here in Mexico. So, he has indicated that he intends to kind of back the military off of these law enforcement functions. And in your opening clip, a woman mentioned scholarships, not assassins, right? And so, that becarios, not sicarios, that was a big part of his platform, that he wants young people to have educational and economic opportunities that won’t drive them into the hands of the drug cartels. So, it’s really a sweeping change in Mexican policy that we can expect to see. And with the majorities in the House of Deputies and the Senate that he seems to have won, according to the exit polls, we can really expect to see some important changes.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Andrés Manuel López Obrador speaking at his victory rally last night in the Zócalo, in the main square in Mexico City.
PRESIDENT-ELECT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: [translated] We will follow three basic principles: to not lie, to not steal and to not betray the people. Long live Mexico! Long live Mexico!
AMY GOODMAN: So, that is AMLO last night. All the major candidates have conceded. Christy Thornton, give us a thumbnail sketch of his rise to power. I mean, back when the Zapatistas rose up in the mid-’90s, he was already running.
CHRISTY THORNTON: That’s right. So, López Obrador was part of a kind of left insurgency from within the PRI. As your listeners and your watchers probably know, Mexico was effectively a one-party state, and the PRI controlled all levels of government, from the federal down to the local, for most of the 20th century. López Obrador was really important in the late 1980s in pushing to democratize from within the PRI. And then, when the 1988 elections were stolen fraudulently by the PRI—the computers were literally unplugged and replugged in, and when they came back, they mysteriously showed the PRI candidate winning—he broke off and was part of the new left party that was formed after that, called the Party for the Democratic Revolution. Over the decades since 1988, the Party for the Democratic Revolution has joined the PRI and the right-wing PAN party, the National Action Party, in a kind of consolidation towards the center. So the PRD was run by kind of centrist affiliates with the PRI, people who were willing to go along with the PRI and the PAN agenda. And so, we saw, after the Ayotzinapa crisis, where those 43 students were disappeared—and we still don’t know exactly what happened to them—we saw López Obrador and a number of the founders of the PRI split—or, of the PRD, I’m sorry, split off from that party. And so, after that moment was when López Obrador formed his new party, MORENA.
He had run for the presidency in 2006, and there was massive fraud in that election. He lost by less than half of a percentage point. He ran against the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, in 2012 and lost by a more sizable margin. One of the things that’s been really interesting here, as an observer, has been to see the extent to which the machine for sort of election fraud, for the buying and coercion of votes, for the kind of corralling of voters to the voting places, it was definitely in action yesterday in the elections, but it was not enough to overcome this kind of tide of support for López Obrador and for his new party, MORENA. So this is really an incredible victory not just for this left candidate and his party, but really for the practice of Mexican democracy. This is really a new day for Mexican democracy. And you’ll see people out in the streets celebrating this for some time to come.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Thornton, as we begin to wrap up, you retweeted, “I am not sure people understand just how big an impact AMLO’s election has the potential to have on Central American->US migration patterns. A MEX gov w/no interest in intercepting migrants on US’ behalf? I dunno, man.” Talk about that, as we wrap up.
CHRISTY THORNTON: Yeah, absolutely. So, the militarization of the southern border has been done as part of a kind of security cooperation agreement between the United States and Mexico, that stems from the beginning of the militarization of the drug war. The Mérida Initiative is an initiative that has sent something like $3 billion in training and equipment and military equipment to Mexico. And they have militarized that southern border in such a way that the Mexican government has really been acting as a proxy for the U.S. government in trying to keep Central American migrants out and really terrorize them as they try to cross that border. If López Obrador demilitarizes that southern border, allows migrants to cross Mexico, provides the protection for migrants that he has indicated, it will really change how migration is being handled. And that’s something that the Trump administration will certainly confront, going forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Christy Thornton, assistant professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University, speaking to us from Mexico City. She was an election observer there for the Scholars and Citizens Network for Democracy, currently writing a book about Mexican economic history. And, of course, we’ll have more on this tomorrow on Democracy Now!
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