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How the ‘Bernie of Mexico’ won the presidency

THIS is Trump’s nightmare.

I’m writing minutes after the victory of the Bernie Sanders of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Everyone calls him “Amlo.”

This is actually Amlo’s re-election. He first won the presidency in 2006, but back then the thieving, scheming, blood-stained criminal gang that rules Mexico — and I’m being polite — declared Amlo’s dissolute opponent the winner.

In 2006, rather than concede to vote thievery, lick his wounds and toddle off on a book tour, Amlo took his supporters into the streets, raised hell, blocked the capital’s central square for months, held a People’s Inaugural, and vowed to never, ever concede.

And tonight, 12 years later, Amlo has won a crushing, too-big-to-steal victory in Mexico’s presidential election.

And while the good and great told him he’d be finished if he kept protesting against the stolen election, he made counting every vote the very first of his five-point campaign platform. He understands that even those with empty stomachs also hunger for democracy.

And there’s a lesson here. Are you listening, Al Gore? Mr Kerry and Mrs Clinton?

And Amlo gave the people something to vote for. The rest of his platform included expanding free college education, raising the minimum wage, fighting income inequality and creating a massive infrastructure-fixing jobs programme.

If that sounds like Bernie Sanders, that’s no accident. Amlo, like Bernie, said he is taking his programme from that great Mexican hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Nevertheless, Mexican media blared apoplectic prophecies that Amlo would be the Second Coming of Hugo Chavez, with mass nationalisations to follow. The hysteria was parroted in the New York Times, not coincidentally, owned by Mexico’s richest man.

I can tell you, Amlo is way more Bernie Sanders than Hugo Chavez and I’ve known all three.

Both Amlo and Sanders were mayors who ran their cities as what I’d call “pothole populists.” It’s get-the-job-done socialism with the emphasis on social not -ism.

Amlo proved he could tamp down corruption, keep a stingy hold on budgets while increasing pensions and providing education grants. 
Mayor Amlo, unlike a certain Mr Trump, completed major city infrastructure projects — all out of the savings from cutting waste and corruption.

But, unlike Bernie, who did his good works in the mean streets of Burlington, Vermont, Amlo worked nothing less than a miracle in Mexico City, which is bigger than New York and 10 times as ungovernable. Like Bernie, Amlo is a working-class kid who worked in the social movement trenches — Sanders as a Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee organiser in Chicago, while Lopez Obrador spent six years living with, sharing the lives of and fighting for the poorest Mayan families.)

Let’s not get carried away with our democracy high. This election is being stolen as I write.

Not the presidency. Amlo’s poll lead of 52 per cent to 25 per cent for his nearest competitor, is just too much to steal. But every seat of the Mexican Congress is up for grabs, and the powers that be, the laughably named Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) are fighting for their lives — and sometimes they fight with bullets.

So, far, 132 officials and candidates have been murdered in this election cycle. I spoke with voting rights activist and movie star Yareli Arizmendi in Mexico City, who told me that the old-guard politicians were tied up with the Zetas and other drug gangs.

In all fairness, I should note that many victims were not just Amlo allies but also PRI, Green Party and independents who challenged the control of their cities and states by narco-traffickers.

Indeed, Amlo’s campaign gained fuel when, in 2014, the public learned of the disappearance of 43 students and three investigating journalists. 

Evidence now indicates they were hacked to pieces and dissolved in acid by the Guerreros Unidos gang, on orders from a politician connected to the ruling party.

Arizmendi reports that ballots have been burnt in gang and ruling-party-controlled districts. She sent me a video of a woman pre-marking a stack of ballots.

I saw this game up close in 2006 when I was sent by the Guardian and Democracy Now to investigate Amlo’s shock loss by just half a per cent of the vote.

On election night, Amlo was way ahead when the official count was halted — then resumed with a massive reversal in the final count. 
Our investigators found massive ballot-box stuffing, ballot box dumping and intimidation of voters at gunpoint. 

There were games with electoral rolls apparently orchestrated by the Bush administration which, I found, had used the same company that helped Katherine Harris rig the 2000 election in Florida, ChoicePoint, to steal Mexico’s entire voter roll! 

And this time, the incumbent PRI hired Cambridge Analytica. Trump’s social media manipulators and data thieves were paid $7.2 million on their promise — I can’t make this up — to repeat a Mexican variant of their “Corrupt Hillary” campaign to smear Amlo.

It was a hard sell, especially as the wife of the current president, PRI man Enrique Pena Nieto, was caught taking a $7 million condo from a government contractor.

As I write, it looks like Amlo has crushed the second-highest candidate vote two-to-one and swept the House of Deputies. 

However, his coalition of parties is, as of the moment, showing poorly in the Senate race, way below pre-election polling data.
Mexicans have had enough of the Trump-ito grifters who have held the Mexican presidency, usually by theft, for decades.

President Pena Nieto made his nation cringe with his invitation to Trump during the US presidential campaign, boosting Trump’s candidacy. And he’s not had much to say about the caging of children on the border.

Although Trump’s child prisoners and their families detained at the border are not Mexican citizens — most come from Central America — Amlo has called for Trump’s arrest for the kidnappings as violating international law.

That’s just one indication Amlo’s victory is Trump’s nightmare. Amlo has shown he is not afraid of privileged pricks, even if they try to make themselves look fierce by staining themselves orange.

Weirdly, Lopez Obrador has also been called “The Trump of Mexico,” simply because they both speak to the desperation of their nation’s working classes. And both have few good words for Nafta.

But Trump’s act, the billionaire turned class warrior, was always a fake. Amlo is for real.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has demanded that Mexico raise the wages of all auto workers so that the US can better compete within Nafta.

Amlo is calling Trump’s bluff. He said yes,  which may come as a shock to Secretary Ross, who owns eight of those auto factories.

The slogan of Amlo’s coalition is Juntos Haremos Historia. Together, we’ll make history. But history has a way of bleeding to death in Mexico.

In March 1994, Luis Donaldo Colosio was on the cusp of winning Mexico’s presidency, but his political turn to the left infuriated his PRI bosses. At a public rally where he supposedly had government protection, one assassin, and possibly a second, put two bullets in his head.

I hope Amlo’s story will have a happier ending.

Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, now out as major motion non-fiction movie: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: The Case of the Stolen Election, now available on Amazon and Amazon Prime.

 

 

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