The Price of Entry: How AMLO Exchanged Ideology for Power

By Steve Fisher

AMLO during his unsuccessful 2012 presidential run in Orizaba, Veracruz. (Photo by Niña Astronauta).

The president-elect of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is probably best known for his tireless pursuit of the presidency and the fact that he has visited every municipality of the country at least once. His past two bids for the office failed and in both he decried electoral fraud. In his third, successful bid, it was clear that Andrés Manuel López Obrador would pull out all the stops to achieve his goal.

AMLO, as Lopez Obrador is commonly known, contradicted his past, anti-establishment rhetoric and created ties with the political gatekeepers of Mexico. In turn, he was given the keys, and the floodgates opened: he won the presidency by the largest landslide of any presidential candidate in recent democratic history. The combination of an electorate disillusioned with the failed promises of recent ruling parties and the “visto bueno,” or approval of those who hold the keys, won AMLO the seat he has sought for more than twelve years–and a majority in both congress and the lower house.

The president-elect is now faced with the unenviable task of meeting the expectation of his strong leftist base while at the same time navigating the demands of the old guard in his coalition.

One political gatekeeper includes the most powerful teachers union in the country, previously led by Elba Esther Gordillo, who maintains a strong influence on the syndicate. Forbes magazine named Gordillo one of the top ten most corrupt individuals in the country in 2013.

Union teachers across the country rallied as voting booth observers for MORENA. Various high profile leaders of the union are now part of AMLO’s cabinet, and in turn, he promised to revoke a controversial education law that Gordillo and the teachers strongly oppose.

Then there’s the far-right evangelical group, the Social Encounter Party, whose flag AMLO flew in his coalition party. The group is widely believed to be founded by a Secretary of the current administration, Osorio Chong, and holds some of the most hard right positions in the country, including anti-abortion stances. All this is in direct contradiction to the leader’s core, leftist base.

Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, Secretary of the Interior in the cabinet of Enrique Peña Nieto. (Photo courtesy of Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos).

And in a hail to the old Revolutionary Party guard of the 1970’s, AMLO brought under his wing the embattled former mining union leader, Napoleon Gómez Urrutia, who was accused of siphoning off $2.7 million dollars from the union coffers.

Urrutia, a powerful fixture of establishment politics, is now a prominent senator in the MORENA party. After winning the seat, Urrutia congratulated his party, MORENA. “A new chapter is coming,” he said in a video recorded from Canada where he fled after the corruption charges. “We will rebuild principles and values of the workers and national unionism.”

But perhaps the most high profile concession to the establishment was AMLO’s olive branch to the broadly unpopular, current president Enrique Peña Nieto. In his campaign, AMLO promised he would not seek to prosecute the president who has been plagued with corruption and human rights scandals.

A news investigation revealed that a multi-million dollar mansion provided to Peña Nieto’s wife by a powerful international company resulted in favorable government contracts. Forty-three student-teachers were disappeared in the state of Guerrero by federal authorities according to reports and an independent investigation, and yet nearly four years later they have not been found. And last year, homicides across the country were the highest in the past twenty years.

These and a host of other overtures to the Mexican political establishment suggest AMLO finally conceded core ideals in exchange for being given the most powerful position in the country. Still, the electorate has high hopes for a better life under AMLO.

The outsized expectations for change have not been lost on the man who promised to bring a “fourth transformation” to Mexico, which he compared with Mexican Independence and later the Revolution in the early 1900s.

Students for AMLO during his 2012 presidential run. (Photo by Eneas de Troya).

The president-elect has been moving quickly, ever since Election Day, to show he will make good on his rhetoric.

In a recent press conference, AMLO outlined the first steps in his ambitious agenda, including reducing salaries of politicians, restructuring civil law enforcement to address record high violence, and revising a law protecting presidents from prosecution.

“We’re always going to follow the law and we will protect no one,” AMLO told the press after a recent meeting with state governors.

The question is whether the foxes, which he brought into his henhouse, will allow the anti-corruption measures to mature.

Steve Fisher is a freelance investigative journalist based in Mexico. His primary focus includes the Mexican criminal justice system and human rights. Steve has published in the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones magazine and Fusion Investigates. He has a master’s in journalism from UC Berkeley, and was a Univision News Fellow at the Center for Latin American Studies.



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