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Mexico’s Leftist President-elect AMLO Promises Sweeping Changes on Corruption, Poverty, Drug War

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In a landslide, voters have elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador to be Mexico’s next president. The former mayor of Mexico City—who is known as AMLO—will become Mexico’s first leftist president in decades. On Monday, López Obrador and President Donald Trump discussed immigration and trade in a phone call. Trump called on Mexico’s president-elect to collaborate on border security and NAFTA, telling reporters, “I think he’s going to try and help us with the border. We have unbelievably bad border laws, immigration laws, the weakest in the world, laughed at by everybody in the world. And Mexico has very strong immigration laws, so they can help us.” We speak with John Ackerman and Irma Sandoval in Mexico City. Irma Sandoval is a professor and director of the Center for the Study of Corruption at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She is set to become comptroller general in President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government. John Ackerman is the editor of the Mexican Law Review and a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He is also a columnist for Proceso magazine and La Jornada newspaper.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Mexico, where voters have elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador to be Mexico’s next president. The former mayor of Mexico City, who is known by his initials AMLO, will become Mexico’s first leftist president in decades. López Obrador ran an anti-corruption, anti-violence campaign and has vowed to expand pensions for the elderly, boost spending for social programs and increase grants for students. On Monday, López Obrador and President Donald Trump had about a half-hour phone conversation, according to Trump, discussing immigration and trade. This is President Trump calling on Mexico’s president-elect to collaborate on border security and NAFTA.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think he’s going to try and help us with the border. We have unbelievably bad border laws, immigration laws, the weakest in the world, laughed at by everybody in the world. And Mexico has very strong immigration laws, so they can help us.

AMY GOODMAN: López Obrador captured 53 percent of the vote, more than twice that of his closest rival. This marked his third time running for president. 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.

For more, we go to Mexico City, where we’re joined by John Ackerman and Irma Sandoval. Irma Sandoval is a professor and director of the Center for the Study of Corruption at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, set to become comptroller general in President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government. John Ackerman is the editor of the Mexican Law Review and a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He’s also a columnist for Proceso and La Jornada newspapers. They happen to be married.

Welcome to Democracy Now! John Ackerman, let’s begin with you. Talk about the overall significance of this victory for López Obrador, who has been campaigning for this, it seems, for decades.

JOHN ACKERMAN: Yeah. Thank you, Amy. A real pleasure and a real honor to be on your show. You guys are the best.

Yes, López Obrador has been struggling for this, and the entire Mexican people have struggling for democracy, for decades. We supposedly had democracy in the year 2000, when ex-Coca-Cola executive Vicente Fox came into power, but he, you know, within a few months, basically cut deals with the old authoritarian regime and has really failed the Mexican people—not only him, but also his successor, Calderón, and, of course, Enrique Peña Nieto, over the last five or six years, have really—has really generated a vast crisis in corruption, in violence, in censorship, in repression of social movements.

And finally, this Sunday, July 1st, the Mexican people have really come up in, you know, a peaceful revolution. It’s really quite amazing. It was amazing to see the poll stations this Sunday packed with long lines of voters, people who were really just fed up with this failure of the Mexican so-called democratic transition and want to really try again. This is a real historic moment, because throughout Latin America we’ve been having all this experimentation with left-wing and progressive governments throughout the region, from Brazil to El Salvador to Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, as to Uruguay, and Mexico had been left out of this pink tide. We have been stuck with this single ideology of neoliberal authoritarianism since the 1980s. But now, finally, it looks like we’re going to be able to try something new.

AMY GOODMAN: A lot of the corporate media in the United States is referring to AMLO, to López Obrador, as “Mexico’s Trump,” talking about him as an anti-NAFTA populist. Your response?

JOHN ACKERMAN: No, there’s absolutely no comparison between López Obrador and Trump. Trump is a right-wing demagogue who is quite ignorant about both national and international affairs. He’s a chauvinist. He’s someone who preaches hate. López Obrador is a quite sophisticated, modern, intellectual leader who is looking to, yes, defend the Mexican national economy, Mexican workers. He’s actually pro-NAFTA. It’s interesting. For many years, the left in Mexico has been anti-NAFTA, but things have changed. He’s, you know, more similar to Bernie Sanders, if you want to do a comparison. But if you want to look at Latin America, it would be more like José Mujica or Lula da Silva. Jeremy Corbyn is a great friend of López Obrador. So, that’s sort of his school of thought. This is—it’s very quite funny to see how people think that anything that questions the status quo have to be similar. Trump and López Obrador have nothing to do with each other, from my point of view.

AMY GOODMAN: Irma Sandoval, you are going to be a part of the government, the comptroller general of Mexico. You’re part of the team. Were you surprised by the massive outpouring of support? The significance of how much López Obrador won by?

IRMA SANDOVAL: Yeah. Hi, Amy. This is a historic moment, and we are very, very happy, because this moment really synthesized a lot of decades of struggles in Mexico, struggles for human rights, struggles for social movements, and also a very meaningful struggle that we had last year that is the struggle for justice in Ayotzinapa. And I think that everybody in Mexico is very happy of this moment, of this achievement. And also, personally, I’m very proud, very honored of being part of the team that is going help López Obrador to confront corruption, to combat corruption and to finish with this important—with this problem in Mexico.

Yeah, the meaningful is huge. The meaning is huge, precisely because López Obrador, as you may know, as your audience is aware, has won in the past. And in the past, he proclaimed himself as the legitimate president, with no legal result. But then, this moment is the contrary: He’s going to be the legal president, the President López Obrador, with the highest level of legitimacy in modern history. So we are all very, very happy. And I’m sure that we are going to get the goal of finish corruption in our public life.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Irma Sandoval, talk about the role of women in the election of AMLO.

IRMA SANDOVAL: Well, it’s very important. The general coordinator of his campaign, of López Obrador’s campaign, was a very prominent entrepreneur. Tatiana Clouthier was the coordinator of his campaign. And the 50 percent of the Cabinet that he offered is composed by women. So, I’m very proud of that also. I think that López Obrador has—is the politician that has offered the real feminist legacy for Mexican politics, because when he was mayor of Mexico City, half of his Cabinet was confirmated, was formed by women, as well. And in this occasion, he’s going to repeat this experience.

AMY GOODMAN: And Mexico City has elected its first female mayor, is that right? Claudia Sheinbaum.

IRMA SANDOVAL: Claudia Sheinbaum is also a great leader. And she’s going to be, I’m sure, the best mayor of Mexico City.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to ask about how President-elect Obrador is likely to tackle drug violence in Mexico. He spoke briefly about how he would do this on Sunday.

PRESIDENT-ELECT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: [translated] The failed strategy to tackle insecurity and violence will change. More than using force, we will attack the causes that create insecurity and violence. I am convinced that the most efficient and most humane way to confront these evils necessarily demand we combat inequality and poverty.

AMY GOODMAN: John Ackerman, how exactly is López Obrador going to do this? And what role does the United States play in this, as well?

JOHN ACKERMAN: [inaudible] be changing the discourse, the logic on this. We have been going through a drug war for the last 12 years with Calderón, with Peña Nieto, very much politically motivated. You know, so, Calderón started this drug war, put the military out in the streets in the end of 2006, in a very similar way with, you know, Bush invading Iraq, to try to compensate for this lack of legitimacy in the context of the electoral fraud of 2006. And we’ve with this for the last 12 years, and also from lots of pressure from the United States to continue on that decapitation strategy, which has led to a bloodbath, you know, so 350,000 dead over the last 12 years, 35,000 disappeared, 25,000 displaced. So now López Obrador is talking about peace instead of war. So that’s just, you know, changing the discussion.

Now, what he’s going to do concretely, he’s talked about really going at the base of the support for organized crime, so he’s going to offer 3 million scholarships to youth, so that they can either have access to higher education or begin apprenticeships with businesses, or, on the other hand, there’s also this generalized idea to support the countryside. So he wants to support the peasants. He wants to go for price supports for basic products from the countryside and, in general, support and move towards a possible food self-sufficiency in Mexico so we’re not just importing and buying at Walmart. You know, so, Mexico is now the second-largest Walmart country in the world. We’re increasingly dependent on U.S. agro products, and so—you know, Mexico, with this incredibly productive countryside. So, you know, supporting the peasants, supporting the youth, that would undercut the base support for the narcos, and, in general, trying to move towards a new strategy which is not based on the militarization, not fighting fire with fire, is what he says.

We need to investigate crimes. One of the great and the most important problems with this issue is that only 9 percent of crimes are even reported to the authorities. That’s because the Mexican people, rightly, in fact, don’t trust the criminal investigators. Often when you report a crime, you end up being investigated yourself, because they are often in the pocket of the criminals themselves. So you have to combat corruption, create more confidence and have people report crimes and have those reports actually get to—on the punishments for the criminals. And so, you know, let’s go to the institutions, go to the questions of poverty and economic development, instead of just creating increased violence and war scenario. And here, you know, the discussion yesterday with Trump was pretty clear, from what I understand. I don’t think the transcript was released, but López Obrador was saying this. He said this before. We want—from the United States, we don’t want you guys to be sending us helicopters and arms. We want us—have a real joint strategy for economic development, to stop at the roots, so that we don’t have this incredible flow of migrants, and they can make a living in Mexico themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about the level of violence, as you were talking about, during the most violent electoral season in modern Mexican history, at least 136 politicians assassinated in Mexico since September, a number of journalists also killed in the lead-up to Sunday’s elections, including the reporter José Guadalupe Chan Dzib, who was killed Friday night in the southern state of Quintana Roo. John Ackerman, the significance of this? I mean, at least seven journalists recently killed in Mexico, not to mention this massive number of people who want to run for elected office.

JOHN ACKERMAN: Yes, this is a very sensitive issue. Over the last 10 years, we’ve had a hundred journalists assassinated. And, as you said, during the electoral season, these last 10 months, over a hundred politicians have been assassinated. I mean, this is really out of control. Last year, 2017, was the most violent year in Mexico for decades. Even 2007, '08, ’09, the high point of the Calderón violence didn't get this high. So, we need an urgent solution. The Mexicans are willing to play their part.

The big problem, the roots of this problem, is the lack of a separation between the criminals and the government. People speak of, you know, a narco state, in which the government itself is in cahoots with and participating directly with organized crime. So, you know, if Irma does her job, which I’m sure she will, and other levels of the state-level governments really combating corruption and separating the criminals from the public function areas, I think we can actually make a major step forward here, you know, to have a real rule of law. You know, it’s not easy. It’s not going to happen from one day to the next. But the presidential terms of Mexico are 6 years long—no re-election, but 6 years long. And if López Obrador does what he says he’s going to do, says he’s going to wake up at 5:00 in the morning, as he did as mayor of Mexico City, working from 5:00 in the morning until midnight, make those six years feel as if they were 12, we could actually make progress in this area.

AMY GOODMAN: Irma Sandoval, if you could talk about immigration policy? You have President Trump sitting with the Dutch prime minister in the White House yesterday, saying he had a great half-hour phone call congratulating López Obrador and that they will work together to enforce immigration policy, that the U.S. has the worst immigration laws, making the U.S. the laughingstock of the world, and that AMLO has agreed to enforce Mexican immigration laws, which are much better.

IRMA SANDOVAL: I think that the AMLO is going to take the approach of solving this problem through development. He’s going to offer economic, social and cultural development for Mexicans. Mexicans need, aspire—they want to live their lives in their country, within their culture and with their families. And I think that that’s going to be the solution for the immigration problem that we have with the U.S. And AMLO, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is very clear with that. In terms of combat corruption, also we are going to try to struggle to combat impunity, because impunity is real—it’s really the other side of the coin of corruption. To some extent, people are used to the levels of corruption. But we really—we cannot deal more with that is with impunity. And, of course, if we combat impunity, we are going to solve injustice. We are going to solve poverty. We are going to also confront all the social troubles that generate the highs—the high flows of migration in our country. So, corruption, impunity, poverty and other social challenges, we are going to confront.

AMY GOODMAN: And, John Ackerman, this issue of whether Mexico will start deporting Central Americans, for the United States, before they make it to the United States?

JOHN ACKERMAN: This is already happening. So, Enrique Peña Nieto’s policy, along with Luis Videgaray, his foreign minister, has been a real disgrace for Mexico. Mexico has given up on its long tradition of sovereignty, you know, not sort of radical nationalism, but just basic sovereignty, in terms of foreign relations, in terms of control over their own territory. With Peña Nieto and Videgaray, basically, they’re taking orders directly from Trump—well, not even from Trump, from Jared Kushner. And they have beefed up the southern border with the Plan Frontera Sur. And at the migration detention centers in Mexico, the biometric data from Central America and even Mexican migrants are going directly to the computers of the U.S. ICE offices. Now, obviously, there needs to be some collaboration—right?—economic, political. We share a continent. We share a region. But Mexico should—you know, I’m speaking from my own personal point of view, but Mexico should recover some sort of basic sovereignty and shouldn’t be acting as, you know, the Border Patrol, extended Border Patrol, of the United States.

Now, of course, Mexicans need to, you know, actively encourage migration. And as Irma said, the Mexicans themselves, there are plenty of migrants in the United States who are happy there, but most people in Mexico and many migrants in the United States themselves would like to be in their homeland, would like to be able to have productive jobs and a productive life in Mexico themselves. And with López Obrador, there’s going to be a lot of hope at that. And so, if Trump really wants to have a good relationship with Mexico, and really wants to stop migration, from his point of view, what would be in his interest is a wealthy, growing and safe Mexico to the south of the border. So, you know, I really hope that Trump opens up his eyes, sees the opportunity in Mexico today with López Obrador, and instead of grabbing Mexico as his punching bag or, López Obrador says, instead of grabbing Mexico as his piñata, you know, wakes up and tries to have a more respectful relationship with Mexico and with Mexicans. And I think then we can move forward as a more productive and peaceful North America and Latin America.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. John Ackerman is editor of of the Mexican Law Review, columnist for the Mexican papers Proceso and La Jornada. And Irma Sandoval is set to be comptroller general in the new government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Democracy Now! takes you to the border, over the bridges into the airports. What’s happening with the separated families, with immigrants trying to apply for political asylum? Stay with us.

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