Mexico is the country of the two marches. One by the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the other by the opposition.
And no matter how much they are criticized, disqualified and even denied, they are real. Both were held, both drew tens of thousands of sympathizers. And we’d better start to get used to the contradictions because that is Mexico at the start of the 21st Century.
Let’s start with the march on Sunday, November 27. There is no doubt AMLO is a supremely popular president, and he frequently boasts about his poll numbers during his morning news conferences. A recent Reforma poll showed 61 percent approval rate and 31 percent disapproval.
More than 30 million Mexicans voted for him in 2018, and the march and polls indicate he enjoys a solid and combative base. AMLO has managed to position himself as the president of those who were not listened to or helped for decades. “We’re not equal,” he likes to say. And even though many of his grand projects are being questioned – from the Maya train to a little used airport to crime and the excessive number of deaths from Covid-19 – his narrative, reinforced daily in his news conferences, have made him leader of the majority. For now, he has the poll numbers on his side but not the results.
There’s an impressive photo in The New York Times showing López Obrador in the middle of the march down Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City, with the sun in his face, no visible bodyguards and surrounded by thousands of people. In a country with as much political violence as Mexico, that was a courageous defiance and proof that “the people” – that’s what he calls supporters – guard and protect him. We have to admit few leaders around the world would dare to do something like that.
AMLO is a strong president. Octavio Paz already warned us, in his book, The Labyrinth of Solitude, about “the cult of leadership” and Mexicans’ “respectful veneration of the presidential figure.” López Obrador controls the country’s agenda during his morning news conferences – using “the blessed social networks” to jump over the traditional communications media – as well as the Congress, the military and the National Guard. But unlike the old authoritarian rulers from the PRI party, AMLO is subject to the criticisms and limitations of the new Mexican democracy. AMLO cannot do anything he darn well wants, like predecessors Luis Echeverría or Carlos Salinas de Gortari, just to name two.
And that takes us to the opposition marches on Sunday, November 13. They were equally impressive. No matter how hard the president and his supporters try to minimize them, tens of thousands of Mexicans – perhaps many more – gathered willingly in about 30 cities to show their opposition to the regime and defend democracy. The initial goal was to defend the National Electoral Institute (NEI) – which organizes elections around the country – from interference from the president and his party, Morena. But it wound up being a show of civility and patriotism.
I am convinced that millions of Mexicans, who worked so hard to establish a democratic system, will never again allow one single person to determine the future of the entire country. We suffered enough with three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, the Porfirio Díaz dictatorship and 71 years of PRI rule. Never again.
López Obrador, it’s true, has said several times that he would not seek reelection, which would be illegal under the constitution. But it is necessary to also limit his influence after he leaves the National Palace in 2024 and keep his party from remaining in power by taking advantage of changes in the NEI.
AMLO will leave behind a worrying legacy, with a militarized country and more dead than any other government this century. He has failed in his principal obligation: to protect the lives of Mexicans. Since he was sworn into office, official data show that more than 131,000 Mexicans have been murdered. And this October was the second most violent month of the year, with 2,766 murders.
That is the Mexico we have.
Divided. Polarized. Violent. Blind to the other half. On the extremes, with leaders not even capable of talking in a civilized way with their opponents. With marches in opposite directions. And that will not get us anywhere.
Mexico, as I see it, has two great challenges: to effectively reduce the violence and its enormous inequalities. I believe we can all agree on those two points, regardless of political parties or ideologies.
When the national soccer team plays – even when it fails, like in Qatar, we all put on the green t-shirt. The same thing happens when race car driver “Checo” Pérez races or in the privacy of those long meals with relatives and friends. So yes, there are spaces for sharing.
I hope some day everyone in Mexico can participate in a single march.