Mexicans are mad as hell at a system they see as self-dealing, under-performing and corrupt. That should sound familiar to Americans — not to mention Italians, Britons, and those in every other nation swamped by the populist tide. In Mexico’s case, they’re largely right.
.. Enrique Peña Nieto, the outgoing incumbent, came to office promising to cut the crime rate in half. Instead, Mexico suffered more than 25,000 murders last year, a modern record. He promised an end to corruption. His administration is suspected of spying on anti-graft investigators, and his wife was caught buying a $7 million mansion from a government contractor. He promised economic growth of 6 percent a year. It hardly ever got above 3 percent. The average wage fell by about $1,000 during the Great Recession and hasn’t recovered since.
.. American president, who is also on record saying he couldn’t care less whether his policies hurt them. If AMLO wins, Trump will deserve him.
.. AMLO’s popularity rests on the belief that he will end corruption, bring down crime, and redistribute ill-gotten gains to the people. How, exactly? Just as Trump declared at the 2016 Republican convention that he “alone” could fix a broken system, AMLO seems to have convinced his base that he can just make things happen. “Everything I am saying will be done” is how he punctuates his pledge
.. It’s the way of demagogues everywhere.
.. Trump promises to build border walls, win trade wars, keep us safe from terrorism, and end Obamacare, all at the snap of a finger
.. AMLO promises to fix social inequities that date back 500 years in a single six-year term.
.. compares himself to Benito Juárez, Mexico’s answer to Abraham Lincoln.
.. The idea of steady improvement and gradual amelioration isn’t for him. In Mexico’s current anger he seems at last to have found his moment.
.. it isn’t clear whether the softer rhetoric is anything more than an attempt to allay the fear (which factored heavily in his previous defeats) that he’s a Mexican Hugo Chávez.
.. It especially doesn’t work out well when populist policies collapse (as they generally do) on contact with reality. What typically follows isn’t a course correction by the leader or disillusionment among his followers. It’s an increasingly aggressive hunt for scapegoats: greedy speculators, the deep state, foreign interlopers, dishonest journalists, saboteurs, fifth columnists, and so on.
That’s been the pattern in one populist government after another, from Viktor Orban’s Hungary to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey to, well, Trump’s America. Now Mexico risks being next.
ON JULY 1st Mexicans are set to elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador as their next president. Since they twice rejected him, in 2006 and 2012, by coalescing behind the opponent with the best chance of winning, that requires some explanation. Mr López Obrador is of the left, but he is a would-be saviour rather than a social democrat. Instead of a better future, he promises to return Mexico to a better, safer past of strong, paternalist government. He invites voters to trust in him, rather than in democratic institutions. As the last two contests showed, in normal circumstances he would not win.
.. But Mexicans are not looking for politics as usual. Under the outgoing president, Enrique Peña Nieto, they suffer rampant crime and corruption, and mediocre economic growth. Each day 85 people are murdered. Voters “want blood”, in the form of systematic punishment of corrupt politicians
.. Many think that centrist politicians have failed them and that things cannot get any worse.
.. Brazilians are in a similar mood ahead of their election in October.
.. one of the front-runners in the opinion polls is Jair Bolsonaro, a crudely authoritarian, misogynistic and homophobic former army officer. Brazil, unlike Mexico, has a run-off vote; Mr Bolsonaro may well figure in it but is unlikely to win it.
.. A recent poll found that 62% of respondents aged 16-24 would leave if they could.
.. It is not the first time Latin Americans have turned, in an emergency, to would-be saviours. In 1990 voters in Peru found one in Alberto Fujimori, an obscure former university rector. A political outsider, he was elected when his country faced a terrorist insurgency, hyperinflation and economic meltdown. When he sent tanks to shut down the congress two years later, polite society was appalled but ordinary Peruvians cheered. Mr Fujimori won a second term in 1995.
..Or take Venezuela. The collapse of the oil price in the 1980s and 1990s weakened a stable social democracy, hollowing out its welfare state, causing bank failures and exposing corruption. In anger, Venezuelans turned to an army lieutenant-colonel, Hugo Chávez, who had led a failed coup ..
.. As the oil price surged again, he became a popular hero. But long before his death in 2013 he had propelled his country towards its current feral state of corruption, brutality and penury.
.. Colombians in 2002 were suffering the tightening grip of the FARC guerrillas over much of the national territory as well as a recession and a banking crisis. They normally chose moderate presidents, but they elected Álvaro Uribe, an intense conservative who promised to be “the first soldier of Colombia” and to double the size of the security forces.
Mr Fujimori and Mr Uribe saved their countries, but in both cases there was a dark side. Mr Fujimori governed as a dictator and resorted to systematic bribery. Mr Uribe appointed officials with links to right-wing death squads.
.. When voters choose candidates they normally wouldn’t, the negative consequences are long-lasting. In Venezuela, Colombia and Peru these include political polarisation.
.. This lasting polarisation is what may face Mexico and Brazil. It is the high price that countries pay when the political establishment fails in its most basic functions of protecting the lives of citizens or preventing the pilfering of public money. When that happens, it is hardly surprising that voters look elsewhere. But the problem with saviours is that, sooner or later, countries have to try to save themselves from them.
Messrs. Trump and Peña Nieto had a “tense” phone call lasting nearly an hour last Tuesday that culminated in what U.S. officials described as a mutual decision to put off a meeting at the White House.
Things got difficult as Mr. Trump was “exasperated” at Mr. Peña Nieto’s insistence that the U.S. president steer clear of talking about his campaign pledge that Mexico would pay for construction of the border wall, senior U.S. and Mexican officials said.
.. After the call, Mr. Trump directed his senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to call Mr. Peña Nieto back to “discuss ways to keep moving forward on other issues,”
.. The decision to cancel the visit was understandable, said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank.
“It would be completely humiliating for Mr. Peña Nieto to show and agree that Mexico will pay for the wall,” Mr. Shifter said. “No self-respecting Mexican president would do it.”
.. With Mexican presidential elections less than five months away, the canceled trip could boost leftist nationalist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is leading in polls.
.. The canceled trip will also complicate negotiations among the U.S., Mexico and Canada to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“It complicates Nafta negotiations and a host of other issues the U.S. has with Mexico,” Mr. Shifter added.
.. There is broad consensus in Mexico against Mr. Trump’s proposed border wall, and that goes beyond ideology, income levels or party lines
.. “There can’t be a dialogue between presidents if there is no common understanding on fundamental issues,” said Ms. Rojas, who belongs to the Senate’s foreign relations committee. “If Mr. Trump refuses to accept the reality that Mexico will not pay a cent for the construction of the wall, a meeting isn’t possible.”
By antagonizing the U.S.’s neighbor to the south, Donald Trump has made the classic bully’s error: He has underestimated his victim.
Instead of branding Trump a toxic threat to Mexico’s well-being, he lavished the Republican nominee with legitimacy. Peña Nieto paid a severe, perhaps mortal, reputational cost for his magnanimity. Before the meeting, former President Vicente Fox had warned Peña Nieto that if he went soft on Trump, history would remember him as a “traitor.” In the months following the meeting, his approval rating plummeted, falling as low as 12 percent in one poll—which put his popularity on par with Trump’s own popularity among Mexicans. The political lesson was clear enough: No Mexican leader could abide Trump’s imprecations and hope to thrive. Since then, the Mexican political elite has begun to ponder retaliatory measures that would reassert the country’s dignity
.. Memos outlining policies that could wound the United States have begun flying around Mexico City. These show that Trump has committed the bully’s error of underestimating the target of his gibes. As it turns out, Mexico could hurt the United States very badly.
.. The episode seemed a return to the fraught days of the 1920s, when Calvin Coolidge’s administration derided “Soviet Mexico” and Hearst newspapers ginned up pretexts for a U.S. invasion.
.. Anti-Americanism, once a staple of Mexican politics, has largely faded.
.. What Mexican analysts have called the “China card”—a threat to align with America’s greatest competitor—is an extreme retaliatory option.
.. The painful early days of the Trump administration have reminded Mexico of a core economic weakness: The country depends far too heavily on the American market.
.. It rightly considered China its primary competition for American consumers. Immediately after nafta went into effect in 1994, the Mexican economy enjoyed a boom in trade and investment
.. Then, in 2001, the World Trade Organization admitted China, propelling the country further into the global economy. Many Mexican factories could no longer compete; jobs disappeared practically overnight.
.. Barack Obama’s administration urged his country to steer clear of Chinese investment in energy and infrastructure projects. These conversations were a prologue to the government’s decision to scuttle a $3.7 billion contract with a Chinese-led consortium to build a bullet train linking Mexico City with Querétaro
.. The average hourly wage in Chinese manufacturing is now $3.60. Over that same period of time, hourly manufacturing wages in Mexico have fallen to $2.10.
.. Mexico increasingly looks like a sensible place for Chinese firms to set up shop, particularly given its proximity to China’s biggest export market.
.. Mexico sold a Chinese oil company access to two massive patches of deepwater oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico. And in February, the billionaire Carlos Slim, a near-perfect barometer of the Mexican business elite’s mood, partnered with Anhui Jianghuai Automobile to produce SUVs in Hidalgo
.. Let’s pause to consider the illogic. Trump says that China is a grave threat, both militarily and economically.
.. Barack Obama’s vaunted “pivot” to Asia tried to keep China’s neighbors from succumbing to its gravitational pull. Thanks to Donald Trump, China is now better positioned to execute the most difficult maneuver in its own, North American pivot—pushing the U.S. and Mexico further apart.
.. One common complaint of populists, no matter their country, is that their nation has ceded sovereignty. This, in fact, has happened in Mexico’s case.
.. the Mexican government has been integrated into U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
.. The passenger list of every international flight that arrives in Mexico is run through American databases, and the results are passed along to American officers, some of whom are posted in Mexico City’s Benito Juárez airport.
.. Cargo bound for the United States is inspected before it leaves Tijuana.
.. it is the most frequently crossed border in the world
.. Mexico could assert its importance by dialing back these efforts.
.. America’s everyday relationship with Mexico is like The New York Times’ presence at White House press briefings or a president’s avoidance of conflicts of interest: It’s a modern norm that seems a fixture of governance, until it erodes and perhaps irreversibly disappears...So much of Donald Trump’s rise was predicated on a nonexistent fear: that Mexicans are pouring over the border. In fact, more Mexicans now leave the United States each year than arrive. But Trump could inadvertently trigger the waves of newcomers that he rails against...For the past few years, the border has been periodically flooded with Central Americans fleeing gang violence. Those surges could have been far larger had Mexico not stepped up enforcement of its southern border with Guatemala in 2014, largely stanching the flow of migrants. From 2014 through July 2016, with American prodding, the Mexicans detained approximately 425,000 migrants who were attempting to make their way to the United States...Remittances are extensively studied by economists. Ample evidence suggests that they are as effective an antipoverty program as anything devised by governments or NGOs: Families that receive remittances are more likely to invest in their own health care and education... Next year, the country will pick a new president... the likely winner is a familiar loser: the left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador.. there’s a good chance that, in a year’s time, the populist Trump will be staring across the border at another populist... Amlo’s political party is called the National Regeneration Movement (morena)—he wants to make Mexico great again. Like Trump, Amlo professes an almost mystical connection with the people. He alone can channel their will... He despises collaboration with the DEA and relishes the idea of renegotiating nafta on terms more favorable to Mexico. “Everything depends on strengthening Mexico,” he has said, “so we can confront aggression from abroad with strength.”If Amlo becomes president, all of the worst-case scenarios, all of the proposals for petulant retaliation, would become instantly plausible.
.. Unwinding this relationship would be ugly and painful, a strategic blunder of the highest order, a gift to America’s enemies, a gaping vulnerability for the homeland that Donald Trump professes to protect, a very messy divorce.