Oaxaca, Mexico:
An Expatriate Life

Writing by Stan Gotlieb
Photos by Diana Ricci


From the Field: Occasional Paper #1

The Work of the “Legitimate” President of Mexico

Andes Manuel Lopez Obrador


George Colman

    At 5 PM on Monday, November 20, 2006, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) was recognized as the “legitimate” President of Mexico by  hundreds of thousands in the zocalo of Mexico City.

    On December 1, 2006, Felipe Calderon will be inaugurated as the “official” President of Mexico, an event to be celebrated by an approximately equal number of Mexicans.    

    The election of July 2, 2006 was officially close: 35.8% of the vote for Calderon, 35.3% for Lopez Obrador.

     Lopez Obrador and his followers refused to concede. They charged “fraud” and pledged themselves to the creation of a “legitimate” government committed to the creation of a new, democratic republic. Reactions to Lopez Obrador's plans range from applause to bewilderment to straight-up outrage.

     What will Lopez Obrador do? What can he do?

      Some insist the answer is obvious: he can and will do nothing but make trouble. He has no control of the nation's institutions, he is not recognized by other governments, he has no personal wealth. His only power is that of a spoiler and agitator using his gifts as an organizer to disrupt the nation precisely when the nation suffers from an overload of disruption and now needs unity and constructive action.

      His admirers, not surprisingly, see Lopez Obrador and his work differently. He is not, they remind us, a solitary figure shorn of power by a fraudulent election. Even with crooked figures the man got close to 15 million votes,  he is the leader of a major political party, the PRD, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, a former state governor, the recent mayor of Mexico City, an unusually compelling organizer with an analysis of Mexico's condition that is on the mark. He is, they say, talented, experienced and, perhaps strangest of all, an uncorruptible political leader.

     The full text of Obrador's speech at his inauguration was carried in the Jornada newspaper on November 21, 2006. The objectives he affirmed provide a useful insight into what he, his cabinet and his closest associates are thinking, proposing and intending to accomplish. The Jornada's text is in Spanish. I've summarized and translated the main points.

The twenty priority objectives of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his “legitimate government” are:

1.Initiate a national, public discussion focused on the renewal of national institutions and the constitutional changes required to achieve such renewal.

2.Require the media to be open to the full range of public opinion.

3.Create employment in Mexico, reduce emigration, protect the rights of Mexicans.

4.Denounce the crimes of public officials who serve and protect white collar delinquents.            

   Stand in solidarity with the people of Oaxaca in demanding the removal of Governor Ulises Ruiz and the Federal Police.

5.Limit the salaries of public officials and cancel the pensions of ex-presidents.      

6. Repeal taxes on medicine and food.

7.Propose a national budget for 2007 which shifts expenditures toward education, health and jobs.

8.Challenge monopolies. Mexicans pay 223% more for cement than do citizens of the United States; 260% more for broadband internet use; 230% more for long distance telephone calls; 116% more for residential electricity.

9.Investigate fraud in all aspects of public life.

10.Eliminate the clause in Mexico's Free Trade Agreement with the United States that would allow the free importation of corn and beans, an action certain to ruin 4 million farming families in Mexico.

11.Establish the legal right to a just salary.Of the 42 million Mexicans of working age, 16 million earn less than $3 US dollars a day.

12. Propose legislation to protect workers in the “informal” economy.

13. Protect the right of union members to a free and secret ballot in the election of union representatives.

14.Prohibit the privatization of electricity and oil industries.

15.Defend the national patrimony (natural resources, archeological zones, eco-systems, forests, waters and cultures) from loss and privatization.

16.Grant pensions to all older adults, assistance to people suffering disabilities, scholarships to single mothers so their children do not leave school.

17.Fulfill the San Andres Larrainzaar agreements that guarantee the economic, social, political and cultural rights of indigenous people.

18.Guarantee free and quality education at all levels.

19.Provide all Mexicans with health care.

20.Help 40 million Mexicans now living without clean water and electricity to acquire both.

     Following his presentation of priorities, Lopez Obrador invited those present to become part of his government, members of a Mexico-wide network committed to the defense of the people and the patrimony of the nation. Anticipating right wing attempts to increase the wealth of  the already rich at the expense of the majority, he called for millions of Mexicans to block the unjust actions to be launched against them. In such a way, he said, “we will govern together.”

     He also announced that he would be working in Mexico City three days each week and traveling throughout the country the other four days working to create a citizens' organization committed to the  transformation of Mexico.

     He concluded with this peroration, “To this endeavor I commit my honor and my conscience knowing that each of you will do the same. We aspire to live in a better world, one in which money no longer rules over good, where human beings value work, righteousness and generosity without regard for the color of skin or one's economic and social condition.”

     “Return to your homes assured that we are engaged in a righteous cause, assured that things will change because we're working together to change them. Stay strong in the face of discouragement and sadness. Our hope is in collective action, in our capacidad to make a profound change. We expect nothing from those in high places. We are free women and men, our destiny and the future of our country is in our hands. Dedicated to this work, we are all the government our country needs. Long live the government of the people! Long live the Mexican revolution. Long live Mexico.”

     For Lopez Obrador the fault lines in Mexico, the critical divisions that guide his analysis and his commitments are between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, those “above” and those “below”. In his mind the primary threat to the peace, health and security of Mexico is the almost unimaginable avariciousness of the privileged classes whose greed for money and power corrupts the government and lays waste the land. He has made it clear that his own commitment is to the poor and to justice.

     Given his commitments and talents, it is probable that his contribution to the poor and to the nation during the next six years will prove to be as important as it would have been as President of the country. As President his commitments would not necessarily change but his responsibilities certainly would. As Head of State he would immediately be enmeshed in a web of national and international relationships and duties which would preclude giving, as he now intends to do, 50% of his time to the task of organizing Mexicans into new, militant and democratic formations capable of articulating and fighting for a more just society.

     Unencumbered by Presidential responsibilities, Lopez Obrador now commits himself to work in the cities and pueblos of the nation on “Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays of every week creating with those ‘from below' the strongest citizens' organization in the history of Mexico dedicated to the political, economic, social and cultural transformation of our country”.

      His eyes are also on the midterm congressional elections of 2009 and the Presidential election of 2012. If he were President of the country today his legislative proposals would face great difficulty in a House of Representatives and a Senate controlled by other parties. But if PRD, Obrador's party, gains strength in 2009 and again in 2012, the year he may be elected President, the way would be clear to effect many of the fundamental changes his and other citizens' organizations propose.

       He is, of course, far from alone in his commitment to the poor and social justice. The Zapatistas of Chiapas, for one well known example, seized headlines and the nation's attention in 1994. APPO (Asemblea Popular Pueblo Oaxaca) did the same when it emerged this past summer and across the nation there are thousands of less well known organizations working in a variety of ways toward a generally similar end.

          Cooperative relationships between these movements would serve most of their purposes but cooperation will not be easy. The Zapatistas, for example, have no desire to work with recognized political leaders of Mexico and have no use for conventional, electoral politics. In a clear reference to Lopez Obrador, Marcos of the Zapatistas told a reporter for NarcoNews, “We recognize neither the official President nor the ‘legitimate' one. Those ‘above' are unimportant to us. What's important is what comes from ‘below'. When the general uprising begins, we'll sweep the entire political class from office including those who are said to be the ‘parliamentary left'.”

       The Assemblea Popular Pueblo Oaxaca (APPO) is far more diverse than the Zapatistas. It's an organization of some 350 organizations, some of which are open to electoral politics and cooperation with other movements and political parties. Less than six months old, APPO's commitments include decisions by popular assemblies rather than by leaders,  democratic practices,  peaceful mobilizations and a long term commitment to a new social system. Many of its members supported Lopez Obrador in his electoral campaign and he has pledged his solidarity with them and their demand to drive Governor Ruis from office. At the same time, the organization is wary of attempts by politicians to use the movement for its own purposes and will certainly be cautious about alliances.

     Lopez Obrador,  Marcos of the Zapatistas and APPO of Oaxaca: three  very different efforts to organize “from below” for the transformation of Mexico.

     As Felipe Calderon prepares to be inaugurated President of the country, subcomandante Marcos is in the state of Tamaulipas listening to women, old people, workers, small shopkeepers, the indigenas. He tells a large crowd that what he hears during his travels is the same everywhere in Mexico: stories of suffering. He calls the governor of the state “corrupt and shameless” and declares that all across Mexico governments and judges sell themselves to the rich. He calls for a new constitution affirming that land belongs to the campesinos and work places to  the workers.

       At the same time, the APPO of Oaxaca is reeling from violent confrontations with the Government of Ulises Ruiz and the Federal Police, street battles in which buildings and cars got torched, sixty people injured and some 150 arrested, detained and sent off to prisons in Nyarit and Tamaulipas. The federal police, armed with arrest warrants, are searching homes for APPO leaders. Newspapers report that negotiations with the federal government will begin soon.

         And Lopez Obrador, inaugurated “legitimate” President of Mexico little more than seven days ago, is in Sinaloa warning the national Commission on Energy not to even think about privatizing the electric and oil industries. He is accompanied by a member of his cabinet, by the President of PRD in Sinaloa and by grassroots leaders. Thousands gathered to hear him. He invites them to join his government and to work together against the abuses and injustices sure to come from the government of Felipe Calderon.

       “If a better future for the people of Mexico is what we want,  we must do away with what now exists. A purification of public life is necessary, a complete purification because nothing, nothing worthwhile will be achieved by the present regime of corruption and privilege. On the contrary, things will get worse. Poverty and violence, problems resulting from social and economic injustice, will only increase without a complete change.” Our hope, he said, is in the creation of a new social force, a citizens' movement stronger than any in the history of Mexico, a movement of millions dedicated to justice for all.