After Andrea Noel is attacked by a stranger in Mexico City, she just wants to figure out who the guy was. Investigating this question drops her right into the middle of one of Mexico’s biggest conspiracies.
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.”
The only thing I will ask you though is on the wall, you and I both have a political problem. My people stand up and say, “Mexico will pay for the wall” and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language. But the fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to. I have been talking about it for a two year period, and the reason I say they are going to pay for the wall is because Mexico has made a fortune out of the stupidity of U.S. trade representatives.
.. You have a very big mark on our back, Mr. President, regarding who pays for the wall. This is what I suggest, Mr. President – let us stop talking about the wall. I have recognized the right of any government to protect its borders as it deems necessary and convenient. But my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.
But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances.
.. I clearly understand what this issue constitutes for you in the United States. And for Mexico, it is also an issue that goes beyond the economic situation because this is an issue related to the dignity of Mexico and goes to the national pride of my country. Let us for now stop talking about the wall. Let us look for a creative way to solve this issue, for this to serve both are your government, my government, and both of our societies. Let us leave this topic – let us put it aside and let us find a creative way of looking into this issue. And let us move forward on other issues that I think are positive for both of our countries. That would be my position, Mr. President.
.. And we have to generate jobs, and we have to be stronger and we have to be growing. I share that position with you.
It is you and I against the world, Enrique, do not forget.
Mr. Trump too was conscious of his own position: “On the wall, you and I both have political problem. My people stand up and say, ‘Mexico will pay for the wall,’ and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language. But the fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall. I have to. I have been talking about it for a two-year period.”
.. Mr. Peña Nieto told Mr. Trump that he had put him in a bad position. “You have a very big mark on our back, Mr. President, regarding who pays for the wall,” he said. “This is what I suggest, Mr. President: Let us stop talking about the wall.”
He added that he understood that any country had the right to protect its border. “But my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.”.. “It is not because they are bad people,” Mr. Turnbull said. “It is because in order to stop people-smugglers, we have to deprive them of the product.” Australia by policy, he said, refuses to accept refugees who arrive by boat because it would encourage smugglers to keep charging desperate people to bring them there... “I will be honest with you, I hate taking these people,” Mr. Trump said. “I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people.”.. “Mr. President, I think this will make you look like a man who stands by the commitments of the United States.”
Mr. Trump was not buying it. “O.K., this shows me to be a dope,” he said. “I am not like this but if I have to do it, I will do it, but I do not like this at all.”
He said that he worried that the terrorists like those who killed Americans in Boston, San Bernardino and New York could be admitted to the country: “I am going to get killed on this thing.”
“You will not,” Mr. Turnbull insisted.
“Yes, I will be seen as a weak and ineffective leader in my first week by these people. This is a killer.”
.. His strategy has been to soften up the opponent with verbal abuse and extreme threats, including the possibility of tearing up Nafta altogether... “The president-elect has done a wonderful job of preconditioning other countries [with] whom we will be negotiating that change is coming,” Commerce Secretary-designate Wilbur Ross gloated during his Senate confirmation hearing. “The peso didn’t go down 35% by accident. Even the Canadian dollar has gotten somewhat weaker—also not an accident. He has done some of the work that we need to do in order to get better trade deals.”.. Maybe Mr. Trump should have Googled the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Mexicans are still smarting over that one... The White House responded by saying it would extract the money for the wall with a 20% tariff on Mexican exports to the U.S. Of course American consumers would be the ones paying. But in any case it would be the end of Nafta.Americans have to hope their new president is not that reckless.
.. “sales of food and farm products to Mexico totaled a record $19.5 billion in fiscal year 2014.” That was 13% of U.S. agricultural exports.
.. Mr. Trump says that the U.S. has been outfoxed in manufacturing because American companies now make things in Mexico. But imports from Mexico contain significant American content, and production-sharing across the continent has given U.S. companies an edge in the global market.
.. But it is being debated whether that would repeal the congressional legislation that put it into effect. If so, tariffs would revert to pre-Nafta levels, which implies using the World Trade Organization tariff schedule. American exporters to Mexico would face greater tariff hikes than Mexican exporters to the U.S., because Mexico accepted much greater tariff reductions under Nafta than the U.S. did.
.. Mr. Trump might try to invoke the International Economic Emergency Powers Act of 1977 to slap his oft-promised punitive tariff on Mexican imports. But it is hard to argue that national security is being threatened.
.. The 45th president has said he wants to craft new bilateral trade agreements. Mexico says it is not interested. It has learned a hard lesson about relying on an unreliable partner, and its aim now is to diversify its trade portfolio. Policy makers are said to be exploring new agreements in the region with countries eager to replace U.S. agricultural suppliers.