Lopez Obrador Back on the Battlefield

Like an old warhorse that won’t surrender, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is back on the battlefield.  On a national tour connected to the 2015 mid-term elections, the two-time presidential candidate (2006 and 2012) is once again criss-crossing Mexico with his message of hope and change. This year, however, Lopez Obrador is on the campaign stump as the chief of a new political party, the National Movement for the Regeneration of Mexico (Morena), that is competing in the polls for the first time.

In a Puerto Vallarta appearance this weekend, Lopez Obrador delivered strident denunciations of the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, lashed out against corruption and excessive government spending, lamented the economic fortunes of common Mexicans, and criticized the leaderships of other political parties.

The left opposition leader was preceded in his remarks by words from local and state Morena activists. Lupita Joya, Morena elections promoter, asked a crowd of about 300 people gathered on Puerto Vallarta’s famous Malecon if they had lived stable and content lives in recent years. “I don’t believe any of us has had this. On the contrary, our well-being has suffered blows,” she said.

Joya decried Mexico’s international reputation for corruption as a “shameful” stigma for a hard-working people, adding that Morena intends to “give life” to the 1917 Constitution and its ideals of social rights. Morena’s goal, she declared, is nothing less than “to rescue and to regenerate Mexico.”

Looking dapper in black slacks and a purple shirt, Lopez Obrador arrived about an hour late as usual.  The former Mexico City mayor put Morena in a historical context, describing his movement as blazing the path for the fourth great transformation of Mexico, after the eras of independence, the liberal reform and the 1910 Revolution. Fundamental change, the veteran politician insisted, can be accomplished in “a peaceful manner, without violence…we want to transform the country in a democratic way.”

Notably, Lopez Obrador did not directly address the issue which dominated Mexican politics for the last quarter of 2014 but is now beginning to slip from center stage: the mass killings and disappearances of the Aytozinapa rural teachers’ college students in the state of Guerrero. Instead, the left politician focused on questions of economy and corruption.

“The contradiction, the paradox of Mexico, is that it is a rich country with a poor people,” Lopez Obrador told an attentive audience gathered under a tropical sun. “If we combat corruption, which is the principal problem of Mexico, it will lead to the rebirth of the country.”

The 61-year-old politician praised Mexican migrants, crediting them for sending $24 billion home in remittances.
“It’s a shame that the gas in Mexico costs twice as much as in the U.S., where a worker earns 10 times as much as in Mexico,” he added.

Lopez Obrador repeated his long-standing contentions that money which could be spent on social needs is squandered by excessive bureaucracy, inflated salaries for high officials and outright thievery.

As an example, Lopez Obrador cited President Pena Nieto’s new $500 million-plus plane, a price tag that is roughly equivalent to 10 years of Puerto Vallarta’s municipal budget, he told the crowd.  What’s more, a big leak of resources “conservatively” derives from the 10 percent of the federal budget that is simply stolen, Lopez Obrador charged.

Revisiting the 2012 presidential election he officially lost, “El Peje,” as Lopez Obrador is nicknamed, contended that five million votes from the poorest sectors of the public were purchased through the free distribution of Soriana department store cards, cash payments ranging from 500 to 1,000 pesos and giveaways of goats, pigs and other farm animals.

Alluding to the capture of drug kingpin Chapo Guzman last year, Lopez Obrador termed “the cartel of Pena Nieto” as the biggest one in Mexico. Aiming his rhetorical guns, Morena’s leader pledged to scrap the energy, tax, labor and education reforms collectively known as the Pact for Mexico.

“When out movement triumphs, we are going to cancel all the reforms,” Lopez Obrador vowed.

Once a leading figure in the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Lopez Obrador said he resigned from the party because the other leaders agreed to the Pact for Mexico, which he renamed “The Pact against Mexico.”

Some protesters and hecklers turned out for the Puerto Vallarta speech. Several people held signs protesting the alleged imposition of local Morena candidates in the current primary period of the June 5 elections.
A young couple carrying two signs stood in front of Lopez Obrador, who was speaking from the stage of the stone Greek-like forum on the city’s waterfront.  Like a makeshift human rights atrocity list, the man’s sign read: “Ayotzinapa, Tlatlaya, Atenco, ABC Daycare, Acteal….,” while his female companion held a message that simply urged “Civil Disobedience.”

Early on in Lopez Obrador’s speech when the politician defined the purpose of his current trip as ensuring that the “light of hope wasn’t extinguished,” the young woman, drooping two peace-sign earrings, blurted out, “It already has.”

Lopez Obrador responded to the dissenters with tact, promising to address some of the issues raised. He also joked about government spying as well as a December 2013 heart attack that knocked him out of the political game for months.

“I had a problem. I am about 100 years old,” he cracked to a roar of laughs. “As long as I am alive, I will continue struggling.”

Lopez Obrador’s speech was followed by a Morena assembly organized to help select candidates for the June 7 elections. In the state of Jalisco and Puerto Vallarta, the elections will also decide new city governments and state legislative positions in addition to the federal congressional posts.

In comments to FNS, Morena activists laid out their game plans. Efrain Valencia Sanchez, Morena state secretary for sexual diversity, is running for a proportional representative slot in the state legislature.

Valencia contended that Morena was the only party with an open door policy to LGBT community. LGBT advocates within the party are campaigning for same-sex marriage, an end to violence against sexual minorities, general sex education, and an official declaration of Puerto Vallarta as a gay-friendly place, Valencia said.

Morena activists also propose a specialized police force to interact with the sexually-diverse population, Valencia said. “We need to train the police to give our community a dignified treatment,” he added. Special jail cells for LGBT people under arrest is another change in the justice system Valencia proposed.

He asked, “If you put a man dressed as a woman in a cell with men, what do you think will happen?”

Humberto Ortiz, Jalisco state Morena president, outlined a proportional representation candidate selection process he said differed from the other parties, which pick insiders for the coveted posts. Under the Mexican political system, most legislative positions are decided by direct election but a percentage of the seats are assigned according to the number of votes received by each party.

“It’s a little like the North American system and a little like the European parliamentary system,” Ortiz said. Unlike the other parties, the state political leader said, Morena will choose its proportional candidates by a lottery system in which the winners, half of them women and half of them men, will be drawn from a pool of hopefuls that is not necessarily connected to the upper echelons of the party.

“The most humble member of Morena has the same opportunity as a leader,” Ortiz insisted.

Given Morena’s status as the new contender on the block, Ortiz was asked his assessment of the party’s chances in a state that has been historically dominated by two parties, President Pena Nieto’s PRI and the conservative PAN, with a third grouping, the Citizen Movement (MC) recently making some headway. The MC backed the coalition that supported Lopez Obrador’s 2012 bid for the presidency, but Morena and the MC are not in an alliance this year.

Ortiz said Morena had signed up 25,000 members in Jalisco, and could win 10 or so municipal elections. “Those elections are the preparation for 2018,” he said, referring to the next presidential contest. With far fewer resources than the longer-established parties, Morena will rely this year on a ground game of going door-to-door, Ortiz added.

On Thursday, January 15, only two days prior to Lopez Obrador’s Puerto Vallarta visit, a possible electoral red flag was raised over the resort city when a city council member, Humberto Gomez Arevalo, was reported missing.

Although it is not publically known whether the disappearance of Gomez has anything to do with politics, the event occurred at the same moment that city hall was undergoing a hectic transition marked by the departures of the mayor, another city council member and an assortment of functionaries- all before their terms in office finished-to run and campaign for other posts in the 2015 elections.

Gomez was a member of the MC party, which has controlled Puerto Vallarta’s city government since 2012, but resigned and continued in office as an independent.  Reportedly, he was considering joining the PRI.  Previous to the councilman’s disappearance, Morena participated in meetings with Jalisco Governor Aristoteles Sandoval to precisely hack out guarantees for the June 7 voting, Ortiz said.

“There is a worry about security in some focalized points of Jalisco. We are concerned that insecurity won’t hinder the participation of citizens,” he said. “There are some places in Jalisco where citizens are afraid to become candidates because of a fear of organized crime.”

The primary phase of Mexico’s 2015 elections will be completed by the first week of February.

-Kent Paterson


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