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2 Years In: The Mixed Record of Mexico's AMLO

Laura Carlsen talks to guest host Greg Wilpert about Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador’s first two years in office, including his mixed record on the pandemic, corruption, social justice, and immigration.

Greg Wilpert

Welcome to the Analysis News podcast, I’m your guest host, Greg Wilpert. Last Sunday, January 24th, Mexico’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, as he is often known by his initials, became the 15th head of state to test positive for contracting covid-19. His infection is not much of a surprise, though, considering his relatively casual attitude towards the coronavirus pandemic. Exactly how has Mexico been coping with the pandemic? And more generally, what have AMLO’s other policies meant for Mexico since becoming president?

Greg Wilpert

After all, when AMLO took office a little over two years ago, as a leftist, he represented a big hope for the revival of Latin America’s so-called pink tide. Joining me to analyse the current situation in Mexico under Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is Laura Carlsen. She is director of the Mexico City based Americas Program and a consultant with Just Associates and joins me today from Oregon. Thanks, Laura, for being on the analysis.News.

Laura Carlsen

Thanks, Greg, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Greg Wilpert

So Mexico, in terms of the number of per capita deaths from covid, is actually Latin America’s third worst hit country after Panama and Peru. And at the moment, the trend line is still going up, actually, at least the death rate. In other words, according to the Covid death rate, Mexico has been worse off than Brazil under a right wing president Jair Bolsonaro. So, can you just comment on why that is and what’s been going on in Mexico under AMLO with regard to the pandemic?

Laura Carlsen

Yeah, I think it may even have surpassed Panama and just be behind for Peru in terms of deaths per 100,000 of population. So there’s a lot of factors there. But the pandemic has been pretty much out of control for a while now, as in other places in the world. What we saw in Mexico was the first spike in the springtime in March and April, and then sort of a lull and another spike now that we’ve been seeing for about the past month or so  with the numbers really rising since the Christmas break, when people, despite fairly firm warnings from the government, got together in families and and in social gatherings.

Laura Carlsen

The problem with Mexico from the very beginning, the pandemic, the pandemic was put in the hands of an epidemiologist, Hugo Lopez Gatell, who became very famous nationwide as the leader of the covid response. And it seemed to be a science based response that was happening there. But it was always balanced with the economic considerations. The problem, and that’s normal, you know, I mean, that’s to be expected, a developing country where you actually can have people pushed into life threatening poverty, you have to balance those factors because you just can’t go too far one way or the other. And it’s not an easy thing to do. We’ve seen it happening in other countries as well. The problem was that from the very beginning, the messaging from the president himself and the majority of the population looks directly to the president for its guidelines on almost everything in the country because he has so many supporters and because he’s very vocal. He has daily press conferences called the Mañaneras, where he where he expresses his opinions about things that are happening in the country and talks really directly to the people in some ways.

Laura Carlsen

And his message was very contradictory from the beginning. He refused to wear a face mask even in the worst moments of the pandemic, including very recently because the second wave has been worse than the first one and and didn’t encourage his close associates to wear face masks. He was having in-person press conferences and not large rallies, but meetings with people and was talking and even came out at a certain point to say that amulets and having an honest attitude and a good diet were protections against the coronavirus.

Laura Carlsen

So there’s been a lot of memes making fun of him now in that regard. He seems to be doing OK. He says that his symptoms are relatively mild, but so this was a big problem because you really that messaging part of it, especially in a country that’s decided that they’re not going to use obligatory measures, is very, very important in terms of social conduct to control the virus. So people were… It varied by state and it varied by city.

Laura Carlsen

In Mexico City, they have a stoplight system of green, which means there’s really not a problem. Yellow, orange going up to red and red is where they closed down restaurants and they closed down businesses. And there’s a relative lockdown, although there’s no patrolling in Mexico, there’s never been any patrolling of the streets where people are actually not allowed to go out of their houses. It’s all voluntary. The businesses have had to close on an obligatory basis at certain times under a red stoplight.

Laura Carlsen

So they had that. We are now in Mexico City still on red. There’s beginning to be a  gradual opening up. But there has been a lot of criticism because of the mixed messages and because of the volunteer nature of it. There’s some things, for example, wearing a mask that if wearing a mask had been obligatory at certain points, it could have made a big difference. And it doesn’t really affect the economy because people can still move around and carry out their activities.

Laura Carlsen

So there was some questions about about not doing, not imposing certain measures that could have helped. But, you know, Greg, we’ve been looking at this. We actually looked at it in a comparative way at the beginning of, in about April, I think it was, and we began to look at the statistics from different Latin American countries, and we saw what we’d expect, that Mexico and Brazil, which had been much more lenient in terms of their responses, were seeing a higher rate of covid than the other countries.

Laura Carlsen

You could compare their strategies in some ways to a Trump strategy. There was practically a no testing rule in Mexico for a long time. So there was no testing, no tracing. They managed to keep the hospitals clear in the first bout of covid-19. But now in this second one, there’s almost a complete saturation, say, in Mexico City. And that’s where you see the deaths begin to go up as well. But then later, as time went on, like you mentioned, Mexico is behind Peru. Well, Peru had a military response with obligatory measures at the beginning of the covid-19 epidemic.

Laura Carlsen

And yet now we find that it’s in top place in terms of that. So what we found were the correlating factors that were most important were the size of the informal economy, because those people have to go out and work. They just have to, because they live from day to day and from families. That’s the way their families survive the size of the informal economy and the condition of the health system. And the AMLO government has been the first to point out that they inherited a health system from a neoliberal system that was not on the verge of collapse, but it was highly deficient.

Laura Carlsen

It was in that state where the typical process that we see in Latin America, and this is why it’s been so terrible in Honduras, is to allow the public health system to deteriorate to such a point that you can press through the privatization measures. And so it was in that state where there was a partial privatization, there was a complete deterioration of the public health system. And that has, of course, really hampered the response. So far, there’s been a valiant effort.

Laura Carlsen

Health professionals are critical of the mixed messaging. They’re critical of some of the management of it. But of course, everybody is hoping that they’ll be able to get control of it. And now with the president himself, we’re also hoping that there will be some… So it looks like now there’s more attention to the problem and not… There was kind of a minimization of the threat before this in terms of not of especially AMLO’s messaging, “we’re Mexicans, we can get through this,” kind of thing, like, look at the science.

Laura Carlsen

This is a contagious disease, you know? And so now I think that there’s there’s been more orientation to attacking the pandemic now and especially being a little more clear about what people have to do to do that. And I think it’s just finally settling in. And this, again, is true of many, many countries. It’s finally settling in that this is this is a long term thing and requires lifestyle changes that aren’t just for a couple of weeks or a couple of months.

Laura Carlsen

But that’s going to be very difficult in this culture. You know, the social, the social aspect of Mexican culture is very strong. And you do find people who are you don’t find the same kind of resistance, like the anti maskers that you do in the United States. That doesn’t exist as a political thing. But you do find a lot of people who still feel like this couldn’t happen to me or who feel like I don’t care. I got to go out, you know.

Greg Wilpert

I thought it was interesting, actually, there was an article in The Washington Post today, I think, that mentioned that one of the reasons that the government had been given giving for not really cracking down was that they didn’t want to feed into kind of typical Latin American kind of authoritarian measures. I just want to get your reaction to that. Do you think that makes sense? And and, of course, it’s interesting what you said. Of course, in comparison, other countries did do that, such as in Peru.

Laura Carlsen

Yeah, I do think it makes sense in terms of controlling people’s movements, for example. It makes sense for two reasons. First of all, it does give this image of a militarized or a police state when you’re controlling people’s movements to this degree. And you also have to have a considerable deployment of security forces in order to do that effectively. And also, what they said, which is entirely true, and I mentioned in terms of the informal economy, is like, what good does it do us to criminalize people who are going out trying to feed their families?

Laura Carlsen

And then the other part of it is the police forces and the armed forces as well. Even the National Guard are so corrupt that you could get into a situation of a lot of extortion that was out of control and and basically create a lot more bad situations than you’d be resolving. So in that sense of not trying to control movements with a crackdown that uses security forces, I think they made the right call.

Greg Wilpert

I want to turn to AMLO’s other policies more generally speaking, over the past two years, you know, when he first ran for president, and got elected, he promised to put an end basically to corruption in Mexico and to the country’s notoriously kind of clientelistic insider political system and to bring about basically greater economic justice.

Greg Wilpert

Now, let’s deal with this in two parts. That is what has been first, what has been positive, and then I want to get to the negative. So what would you say has AMLO basically achieved in these past two years that you would consider have been advances or a fulfillment of his campaign promises?

Laura Carlsen

Well, I think they have gone after corruption and without, again, being being really heavy handed about it, because they are trying not to alienate more of the business class than they already have, just by being a center left government with an with a declared anti neoliberal agenda. And I qualify that because we see a lot of aspects of it that actually continue with the old economic model. It’s not clear to me anyway, that there’s been a definitive break in that sense, but it’s enough to scare the business class and the right wing and the redistribution of wealth that’s happened through social programs as well.

Laura Carlsen

But he’s managed to, for example, create a little more fiscal control of companies that evaded taxes in a steady way. There have been some high profile cases like against the secretary of energy and pursuing the Odebrecht cases here in Mexico that have been swept under the rug during the prior administration. And there’s been a number of cases that have to do with money laundering.  It’s called the financial or the financial crimes unit, has a very good reputation for honesty and for going after going after white collar crimes.

Laura Carlsen

So it’s it is sending a message. And yet we do have exceptions to it that end up being very important. There’s a high degree, still a very high degree of impunity in general, moving away from just that issue of corruption to justice and actually having people pay for their crimes. You know, there’s and there’s still something like a 98 percent impunity rate, meaning that if you commit a crime, you have a 98 percent chance of not going to jail.

Laura Carlsen

So that’s like it’s almost like how does society function in those conditions? And that has not improved substantially. So that sends out all kinds of messages regarding the continuation of crimes. And we also have some situations in which there have been people close to the party that have that have been accused of crimes. And there hasn’t been a follow up in terms of justice here. The most notorious of all has been the case of General Salvador Cienfuegos, and I’ve been following that case very closely because it involves issues that we’ve worked on concerning the war on drugs, the war on drugs that’s been carried out with the United States government and all the corruption that that war and the violence that that war has engendered.

Laura Carlsen

So just for viewers who haven’t seen this case, to give a short recap, in October the 15th, General Cienfuegos was arrested in Los Angeles on charges that the DEA had gathered and presented to the district court in New York. That court had taken the charges to a grand jury. Mexico still didn’t know that this was going on. And he had been indicted in the order of arrest, was was filed for him and they arrested him in Los Angeles.

Laura Carlsen

So when Mexico and it was for drug trafficking, basically, and money laundering. So when the Mexican government found out about this. Oh, I should mention, because this is critical, that he’s the former secretary of defense. He’s not just a major general in the army, but he was the secretary of defense under President Enrique Peña Nieto. So the Mexican government under now Lopez Obrador found out about this, they were furious that they hadn’t been informed of the case, which is kind of a standard protocol in terms of how they’ve cooperated under the drug war, although it doesn’t always happen because of a certain amount of mistrust on the part of the United States government regarding the response or leaking information of cases that they’re working on by elements of the Mexican government because of the degree of corruption that exists there.

Laura Carlsen

And they said eventually sent a letter complaining that this had happened to the US government. And then they then William Barr, directly under orders from Donald Trump, went to the district court of New York and demanded that all charges be dropped against General Cienfuegos. And so the court wrote the thing and said, well, we think we’re going to drop these charges because we think the Mexican government is serious about investigating and prosecuting this case, so you will be able to go back to Mexico and face trial there and we have been convinced by the attorney general, clearly, that there are foreign policy concerns that override our intention to try him here in New York, essentially. So he goes back with no charges pending as a free man and he gets to Mexico. And the Mexican government does kind of a peremptory review of certain documents that the DEA had sent, supposedly, which they published in their entirety.

Laura Carlsen

Very strange thing to do. And to make a long story short, they fully exonerated him and there was no trial, even. He wasn’t even… There wasn’t a single charge that was brought against him. So that kind of protection of the armed forces and the whole issue of how AMLO has constructed his relationship with the armed forces is something we should probably talk about as well. But that kind of protection was a major blow to the concept of of justice and a new era in terms of corruption here in Mexico, because it was such a high profile case and of course, because it was a bi-national case as well.

Laura Carlsen

So what we’re seeing is a little, you know, with the advances in certain areas and then much less progress than we might have hoped in others.

Greg Wilpert

That story is very reminiscent, actually, and I’m going to bring in some popular culture, I don’t know if the Netflix series, Narcos, Mexico, but it happened several decades earlier, where also a secretary of defense, I think, was involved in drug trafficking. And Felipe Calderon, I think, was the president and one of the main drug lords was indeed was arrested in the US and eventually the DEA was forced to release him because of high level corruption and so on. So anyway, it’s a very interesting issue. The reason I bring it up, though, is that it kind of to the extent that that story reflects the history, I’m wondering to what extent perhaps there is just a very long tradition, perhaps, of government corruption. And in other words, that AMLO’s relationship with the military and with the whole network of drug traffickers perhaps isn’t all that different from his predecessors?

Laura Carlsen

Yeah, well, first of all, I think it’s really important that you bring up that series and there’s been so many now lately, a couple anyway, very popular series regarding the work of the DEA. In this case of Cienfuegos, it was it was a disappointment in terms of the commitment of this government to to fighting impunity and also because of the reflection of its close relationship to the degree of protection and many would say cover up with the armed forces.

Laura Carlsen

But we also have to understand that this is the nature of the war on drugs and that also you can’t just say, oh, the United States was trying to bring about justice and then the Mexican government blew it again. You know, because if you look at this whole history of the war on drugs, what you find is that justice is like one of the lesser concerns. You know, what you have is the DEA will construct a case and then they’ll take someone who is clearly guilty and say, OK, we’ll let you off the hook if you help us get this other person, you know, and they’re just they’re playing with these relationships between the different cartels.

Laura Carlsen

There’s always rumors that they’re favoring one, that they’re going after another, that there’s protection for one here, that there’s offensive against another cartel here. You know, and so I remember one interview with someone who has looked very closely at… A reporter who is who has really studied the on the ground movements of the army and the crackdowns and which cartel is, again, working against each other one. He goes, yeah, what what do you think they call it the Drug Enforcement Administration. What they do is administer illegal drug flows. You know, this is going to go OK here. This is going to go ahead with a drain of some here. You know, and we see so many stories historically of this. So it happens on both sides, number one. And number two, it certainly happens within the security forces. And we’ve always known that the justification for having the armed forces involved in the drug war here in Mexico, although it goes against all the recommendations of international human rights organizations, that the armed forces be involved in tasks of domestic public security.

Laura Carlsen

But the excuse was always that the police were so corrupt after years of having direct contact with the drug cartels that operated in their localities or in their states, that they couldn’t trust them and that they actually totally got rid of the federal police. And so they had to have the armed forces involved and they were going to gradually have a transition and be able to pull the armed forces out and have a retrained police force that could take over these these tasks.

Laura Carlsen

Well, as it turns out, what they managed with this is to further corrupt the armed forces themselves, that they, as they became put in charge of an illicit business that generates someplace close to between 30 and 40 billion dollars a year, you know, and wanted their piece of the pie, whether they were local, whether they were like just a regional armed forces or commanders or on whatever level. So we’ve seen that happen. Again, it’s not entirely new, but it creates a situation that’s very hard to roll back until we see legalization of the drugs so that we’re not handing this huge black market to criminals by definition, you know, and we begin to see a de-militarization of the drug war with real effective control by police, then we’re going to continue to see these kinds of things. And that’s what we’ve been calling for for a long time with allies in Mexico and in the United States. And it’s not easy. It’s like completely changing the logic of this major business and this and this system that’s become a war for territorial control in the country and that has affected citizens who we’re now looking at three hundred thousand people dead since the end of 2006, when the drug war was launched, as a result of this. And for official numbers show over eighty two thousand disappeared. And that oftentimes doesn’t even count migrants. And it’s it’s by far an underestimation in that sense, unfortunately.

Greg Wilpert

One last point before we move on to other topics, but in relation to this, I did hear that AMLO did or is about in the process of loosening the marijuana laws? Wouldn’t that have, if that happens, wouldn’t that have some impact on the situation of the problem with drug trafficking in Mexico?

Laura Carlsen

Yeah, that’s considered a very positive step in the right direction. Now, of course, the last time I looked in there, probably more recent statistics of the marijuana that’s produced here goes through Mexico. Only about eight percent is consumed domestically, which means that still, you know, most most of the problem with illegal drug trafficking in the case of marijuana is the US market. However, it’s a good example and civil society organizations have been working on this for years and they just extended the deadline because they want to make sure that they get all the implementation in place, because a lot will depend on the implementation.

Laura Carlsen

But yes, it will then… It takes away a source of extortion by cops. It takes that affects especially young people, you know, that victimises, especially young people. It takes away the domestic market from cartels. It creates a better health and regulation system. So we’re anticipating seeing very positive results as a consequence of the new law that’s been passed.

Greg Wilpert

Now, regarding the other big issue that, of course, promise to tackle, which is economic injustice in Mexico. Now, there his record seems to be kind of contradictory, that is, on the one hand, there’s been the implementation of a cash transfer program for the poor and the the number of people receiving support from the government has increased quite dramatically, it seems. But at the same time, he’s also dismantled all kinds of government programs. Can you just comment on that? What does that look like and what has the effect been?

Laura Carlsen

Yes, there has been an expansion of social programs, which is positive. I think that that’s probably the main reason why you see that Lopez Obrador continues to have an approval rating of oftentimes above or hovering around 60 percent, which is quite high, especially given the adversities that Mexico has had to face, if you look at the last year between pandemic and record homicide rates and a number of areas where things are clearly not going very well. These social programs, I think, have been very important for a lot of people.

Laura Carlsen

But there’s been a lot of controversy regarding the implementation. Essentially, he set, about to eliminate intermediaries. And while it was true that there were a number of of corrupt intermediaries, whether it was for child care services or for shelters, for or against violence, against women, whatever these different social programs that were being carried out, the model that he was working on is that the government’s going to give the money directly to the beneficiary. Now, a lot of those were corrupt, as I said.

Laura Carlsen

But a lot of those were actually the result of grassroots movements, organizing and creating these services and getting funding from the government to provide these services in a much more effective and much better way than the government itself said it could. So essentially what he did was throw out the baby with the bathwater, instead of looking, say, which these intermediaries are are functioning well, which of these intermediaries are corrupt and just siphoning off federal funds? But there’s this presumption that that the federal government can do everything better and that everything else basically is an intermediary.

Laura Carlsen

We see it now, too, with the attack on the autonomous organizations and also the presumption that everything about previous regime should be changed instead of taking a finer view of what’s worked, how things are working and what’s possible.

Laura Carlsen

So there have been able to, with a lot of public protest in some cases, like in the case of shelters for women who faced increased violence under the pandemic here in Mexico, as in many other countries, I say here in Mexico as I’m usually there, although not there right now. And they they began to kind of patch up the damage that they’ve done by getting rid of, with one stroke of the pen, practically by getting rid of some of these services that have been funded by the federal government, thinking that they would just convert them into direct federal government services.

Laura Carlsen

So, yeah, there’s been there’s there’s a relatively good intention, but without the kind of attention to detail and to implementation that we would have needed in order to have it carry out well. And this has created controversies that, in my opinion, were pretty much unnecessary. In the case, again, of the shelters for women, they added to a huge problem that Lopez Obrador has had with the feminist community and women in women’s rights organizations in Mexico, where there’s just like one, I don’t know if you call them misunderstandings or basically offensive comment, after another, in terms of the relationship with women.

Laura Carlsen

And when they and when that got wiped out, they were just like, oh, my gosh, you know, why this government that has been historic in terms of parity, in terms of having women be half the Congress, half the Cabinet, why can’t it understand our issues?

Greg Wilpert

One of the criticisms that I’ve also seen, and you kind of alluded to it earlier, when you, when AMLO was elected, he also said that he was going to pursue an anti-neoliberal program.

Greg Wilpert

And you suggested that. Well, that’s not quite true. And one of the things that I saw that seems to be headed in that direction is precisely his obsession with balancing the budget, which, of course, in a time such as the pandemic is extremely difficult. But not only that, there’s also the question of, well, you know, OK, maybe you can balance the budget, but at least in order to redistribute wealth, maybe you should raise taxes.And he has been unwilling to do that, it seems, as well. How do you see that? I mean, what’s been going on there in terms of this anti-neoliberal aspiration and the reality?

Laura Carlsen

Well, yeah. I mean, this is  insistence that there’s neoliberal austerity and then there’s I don’t know what you call it, non-anti-neoliberal austerity. But the fact of the matter is that austerity is austerity when it comes down to people and jobs, especially in an economic crisis. The idea was that everything they wanted to do, even now with the pandemic and the extra expenses for vaccines and everything, would be funded by savings from cracking down on corruption and by increased tax collection because there was so much evasion without having to raise taxes.

Laura Carlsen

I think we’re coming to a critical point where it will be found that it is insufficient. Well, nobody likes to see public debt increase. There’s also a many, many, as we know, progressive economists who insist that there are times, particularly in economic crisis, when an increase in public debt is going to create a healthier economy and in the longer run, a lower debt, combined with more well-being, you know, then then taking very strict austerity measures.

Laura Carlsen

So, yeah, it’s it’s kind of ironic because what we’re seeing is that the economic emphasis has been precisely on those traditional neoliberal measures of deficit and inflation. Inflation’s been very well controlled, whereas that has meant that some of the more progressive measures have been a little less bold. Raising minimum wage, there have been increases in minimum wage and they have been above inflation. And that’s certainly a change from the trends that we saw before Lopez Obrador took office.

Laura Carlsen

But they’ve been very small, particularly when you compare them to the goal of, for example, decreasing the gap between Mexico and the United States or even the reality in the United States of moving toward a 15 dollar per hour minimum federal wage. Now, then you’re going to have a tremendous gap because the increases that we’ve seen here, with the exception of a slightly higher one in the border zone, have been have been very small.

Greg Wilpert

Now, the other area that you’ve worked on a lot of immigration and there AMLO  clearly has also pursued some very controversial policies, particularly working with the Trump administration. What has that looked like so far?

Laura Carlsen

Immigration is a really, really important issue and certainly the issue in the binational relationship. But Greg, let me let me back up just one second, because there’s one other aspect that’s been kind of a red flag in terms of this, is it neo liberal or is it not? Agenda of the economy? And it’s also an aspect that creates a lot of social conflicts in Mexico regarding the strategy, the economic strategy of the Lopez Obrador government, and that is extractivism. The promotion of the oil and gas industry, the promotion of mining, although mining’s kind of been slowing down because of the crisis, but, and the promotion of these mega projects like the train Maya, and a number of others in the isthmus Teohualtepec and other places, is causing a tremendous amount of friction with indigenous communities and it’s been seen as, instead of of fortifying the types of indigenous sustainable economies that exist in these regions, which are impoverished, there’s no doubt about it. But instead of taking a different economic approach to it, the idea is to pull them into the capitalist centralized economy through these mega projects that are also having tremendous economic and social impacts.

Laura Carlsen

So it’s setting up, and we’ve already seen it, a scenario for conflict with indigenous communities, with rural communities, as well as a scenario for environmental destruction that has provoked a lot of criticism and again, is being seen as an extension in many ways of the same kinds of development plans that the neoliberal agenda had laid out for Mexico from decades back and advancing them even faster, actually, than than previous neoliberal governments did.

Laura Carlsen

Moving on to immigration, it’s been probably the most disappointing area in terms of AMLO’s policies within Mexico, because what happened, many people will remember, is that Donald Trump took office bashing Mexico in general, but particularly immigrants with a white supremacist agenda that focused on border control, supposedly, and on anti-immigrant measures.

Laura Carlsen

And then he kept pushing and pushing for Mexico to assume especially the task of stopping Central American migrants who are flowing up through Mexico and going to the United States, because several years ago, almost a decade ago, we began to see a flip in migration to the United States, where instead of being primarily Mexican, it was primarily Central American. And instead of being primarily single males, it was beginning to be much more families, complete families, women, children and men who were coming up to seek refuge really in the United States. This is a reflection of the collapse of Central American countries, particularly El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, both in terms of economic opportunity and in terms especially of the rising violence due to political crisis in those countries.

Laura Carlsen

So there was a lot of pressure on the Lopez Obrador government and it got to the point where Donald Trump was threatening to send the army in if the Mexican government wasn’t going to control its own border with the United States and threatening to impose twenty five percent duties on Mexican exports. So when that happened, they completely buckled, basically. And the Mexican government agreed to what’s called the Remain in Mexico program, where Central American migrants who were legally applying for asylum in the United States because of the violence back home and the death threats were forced to go back to Mexico to wait for hearings that in some cases never happened and in other cases took months or even longer to be scheduled, and then they’d be sent back again for another hearing.

Laura Carlsen

It was a permanent limbo in these refugee camps where and I went up and reported on it several times in the Tijuana area where people faced terrible conditions. They didn’t have basic food, water, hygiene. Children were living there without any kind of protection. So they also at that time agreed to deploy the National Guard against migrants and they sent twenty seven thousand National Guard to the border. You can even see this in Donald Trump’s last visit to the border right before he left office, when he went to Alamo, Texas, to show off his border wall, his signature infrastructure achievement, so-called, during his during his presidency.

Laura Carlsen

And he said and I want to thank the Mexican government for sending twenty seven thousand troops to our border. No. As if the Mexican army were protecting the United States from desperate Central Americans and the Mexican government accepted this paradigm. They accepted this narrative. They crack down. They put more people in detention. They broke up and they continue to break up the caravans at the southern borders with repression, at times with deportations, a huge rise in deportations, you know, so they had promised to have a different strategy, to have a different approach to immigration.

Laura Carlsen

But as soon as push came to shove, it didn’t change. And now what we’re finding that’s really weird is that Donald Trump is out of office. Joe Biden has eliminated the remain in Mexico program, and it’ll take some time to get that all sorted out. But he’s announced that and he’s eliminated most of the executive orders that froze asylum seeking and that criminalized migrants at the border. Also with this promise of a pathway to citizenship, it’s a very far reaching plan.

Laura Carlsen

It’s a complicated plan to get rid of backlogs. Just that in itself is enormous, but it’s a very far reaching plan. And he sent the legislation to Congress and is determined to not make the mistake Obama did by losing political capital and then not being able to get it through. So it could mean a major difference in people’s lives and certainly in the approach of the US government to immigration. And then here, instead of seeing a reset in immigration policies from the Lopez Obrador government, so far what we’ve seen is a series of messages defending Donald Trump and saying that the Democrats are just as bad. And while they do welcome the end of the Remain in Mexico program, Lopez Obrador actually came out saying there was no violation under his government. There been no violations of migrants rights. That’s simply not true.

Laura Carlsen

I mean, reporters like our program have documented the human rights first came out with one thousand three hundred assaults or crimes committed against against migrants in the way in the Remain in Mexico program. So we’re still waiting to see apparently there’s going to be a speech next week to to talk about or perhaps later this week to talk about more in depth how the immigration is going to change. But unless there’s a change in attitude to see this as a real opportunity to to create a different model for handling immigration, especially Central American immigration, then I don’t know what’s going to happen or why the Mexican government now, without the excuse of Trump’s threats and bullying, wouldn’t be eager to to change that model to a more human rights oriented one, which goes closer to the principles that they themselves have espoused.

Greg Wilpert

Now, I just want to turn to another issue, which is that in in July, there will be mid-term elections for the Chamber of Deputies, the legislature in Mexico and recently the three main opposition parties, the PRI, the PAN and the PRD, who have all traditionally been strong opponents of each other, always running candidates against each other and so on, and formed the presidencies. They have now announced an electoral pact under the name go for Mexico, Va por Mexico.

Greg Wilpert

Now, what does that mean for the political constellation in Mexico? Is this going to be a serious challenge to AMLO and his position and his chance of maintaining a majority of his party, which is Morena, in the Chamber of Deputies?

Laura Carlsen

It depends on where you’re talking about. You know, I think in the in the different states and in the different districts, the opposition may be stronger. But I think one of the biggest impacts of that has been that it really impoverishes the political discourse and debate. Already the, as you mentioned, the elections are in July, but already the elections and jockeying for position and trying to especially attack the opposition, whether it’s the president or the opposition to the president, you know, has become a daily occurrence within the country.

Laura Carlsen

And it’s very obvious that in many ways and in most places, the election will end up being being treated as a referendum on the president, either for Lopez Obrador or against him. So for a US audience, I think it’s easy to understand this kind of polarization because you just lived through it with Donald Trump in that sense. And it’s really almost as deep in Mexico, except that the president has the overwhelming majority in in his favor. But there’s a virulent right wing opposition to Lopez Obrador.

Laura Carlsen

They’re willing to stoop to anything, pretty much, to slam him. Every public issue turns out to be an opportunity. You know, if there’s a problem, it’s not like how are we going to solve this problem? It’s like, how can we criticize the president because of this problem, you know? And so the fact that these groups got together is just proof of that orientation. Here you have organizations that supposedly are very far apart ideologically.

Laura Carlsen

You look at the history of… You’ve got the Conservative Party of the National Action Party PAN. You’ve got the party that ruled for 71 years, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, that has a more nationalist and at times kind of times pseudo left leaning that then more right neoliberal in that last period. But that’s the PRI, and and and then you’ve got the PRD, which was the forerunner of Morena and was founded as the left opposition to the PRI. And the fact that they it’s just like ideology has been or principles themselves have been thrown out the window in these elections so that they could try to wrest control from the president and from the Morena party.

Laura Carlsen

Meanwhile, Morena has, especially from the presidency, has also stooped to their level in the sense that their constant attacks on the right, oftentimes any kind of criticism of his presidency, would be viewed as a conspiracy of the right against him, when oftentimes it comes from civil society who have a very specific concern about a certain policy or or a certain measure that’s been taken. But there’s a real defensive reaction. And part of it is is justified in the sense that this is a dangerous right wing.

Laura Carlsen

As we’ve learned with the Trump administration, the ultra right is dangerous. They are willing to go so far as an attempted coup in Washington. They are organized not just nationally, but also internationally. That’s what Steve Bannon was doing in Europe. You know, there’s an international organization on the right. They are organized through the Internet. They are very virulently racist and misogynist. They’re looking for a rollback of most of the progress that’s been made in terms of human rights and and basic civil rights and liberties of social movements over the years.

Laura Carlsen

So there’s a there’s a serious concern. This, in fact, going back to what we talked about earlier is, I think, a good part of the basis for his keeping the armed forces so close and protecting the armed forces. There are many people who argue, and I would argue as well, that by by prosecuting members of the armed forces who have violated the law, you actually make the armed forces stronger. But I don’t think they see it that way.

Laura Carlsen

And so their line has been to to not only protect the armed forces and individuals, which they think they’re doing by protecting corrupt individuals within it, but also to give the army jobs, like distributing the vaccine, like building the airport, like things, administering medical tests. You know, there’s a number of jobs that the army has been given to to improve its image and its prestige within society that are not jobs that the armed forces should be doing.

Laura Carlsen

So people begin to talk about a militarization of society in that sense. But a lot of it’s based on the very real fear after seeing what happened in Bolivia, after seeing what can happen in other places, that a coup could happen if you’re not real sure about your relationship with the armed forces.

Greg Wilpert

Yeah, that’s a very good point, I was going to mention the comparison to Bolivia and of course, there’s also the 2009 coup against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, where the military also overthrew him because he didn’t have that strong connection to the military. In contrast, of course, and the two most famous other contrasts are Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, where there are very close relations of those governments to their militaries. Of course, those have been criticized on the same basis that you’ve mentioned, and particularly in the case of Hugo Chavez, who wanted to actually give the military another role, just like apparently Amlo wants to do, that one that integrates the military in society in a way not necessarily in a militarization.

Greg Wilpert

He usually would describe it more as a kind of an effort to to civilize, so to speak, and that is bring them more into civil civilian life, the military not necessarily to militarize civilian life. Anyway, I think those comparisons are interesting.

Laura Carlsen

Any democracy, it’s a debate worth having. And I was interested, by the way, that the debate came out, now with Lloyd Austin’s nomination. It’s not the first time that a military person was nominated as secretary of defense, but he had to get a waiver because he hadn’t been retired long enough. And and it brought out some good points. I heard some good strong arguments about why you want a civilian in charge of the military and you generally want that military rule confined to what most constitutions say, you know, the defense of the country and deployment in nature and in natural disasters basically along those lines, you know, because it’s a it’s an institution.

Laura Carlsen

There’s a feminist analysis. Know, I think we’re really clear on this. It’s an institution that’s based on brute force. It’s based on dominance, you know, a model of dominance and annihilation of a clearly identified enemy. We are in the drug war. The idea, the identity, is not clear. There’s, you know, the drug traffickers don’t walk around in uniforms. You don’t know if you’re shooting at a regular civilian or someone you just think is a drug trafficker.

Laura Carlsen

You know, it’s… And the enemy is within. And so it’s just it’s just not a logic that works for building strong democracies and civil societies.

Greg Wilpert

I think we’ve covered a lot of ground, so I think we’re going to leave it there for now. But there was a very interesting analysis covered, like I said, a lot of issues. And hopefully we’ll have you back again sometime to see how things continue to develop in Mexico. So, first of all, thanks so much, Laura, for talking to me. And as I said, hopefully we’ll have you on again.

Laura Carlsen

Thanks, Greg, I’d be delighted to come back.

Greg Wilpert

So I was speaking to Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City based Americas Program and consultant with Just Associates. And thank you to our listeners for tuning in to the Analysis.News. Please don’t forget if you’d like these kinds of programs to go to our website and to donate to the Analysis.News website.

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2 Comments

  1. Greg Wilpert! Now if Sharmini Peries shows up, I’m going to have to find some things to sell so I can up my donation.

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