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Feature 061118 Thompson

Monday, June 11, 2018

Is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, AMLO, the Man to Lead Mexico?

By Barnard R. Thompson

This observer has long had doubts about Mexican presidential hopeful Andrés Manuel López Obrador, beginning when we first met in 1988 and rising over the years, peaking since last August when I was part of 100 or so people, mostly Mexican nationals, who met with AMLO at a rally.  The latter a group of mainly political supporters.

To sum up my thoughts and concern, I cite the following to express my thinking.

In 1831, English poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, "If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us!  But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives us is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind."

As well, there is a term used in Mexico's political idiom, Gatopardismo.  Gatopardo (after "The Leopard," a 1958 Italian novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) can best be summed up with a translated passage from the book: "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."  In other words, expedient changes so that nothing might change.

To this observer, Andrés Manuel López Obrador is far more suspect than beyond doubt.  And the concern for the Mexican masses, indeed for all nations, is that they will lose hope for future change with few accomplishments and diminishing expectations of AMLO and his promises.

The following are three past columns by yours truly, each published several years ago.  Yet, with nearly 30 years of experience, observation and analysis, most of the content seems germane today.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Sedition, not Democracy, Comes to Mind in Mexico

By Barnard R. Thompson

The first time I met Andrés Manuel López Obrador, nicknamed “El Peje” (after a gar-like fish found along the Gulf of Mexico coast) and called AMLO in the media, was in September 1988, outside Villahermosa, Tabasco.  Hurricane Gilbert and its devastation had just swept across the Yucatán peninsula on its way to northeastern Mexico, and thanks to the help of a local journalist we were able to track down AMLO out in the middle of nowhere just hours before the most torrential rains I have ever experienced sideswiped Tabasco.

López Obrador was campaigning for governor of the state as part of an alliance, formed by Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) malcontents called the Democratic Current and leftist groups gathered together in the National Democratic Front, that was one of the precursors of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, the PRD (which materialized in 1989).  Earlier AMLO had seized upon the opportunity to join the fledgling coalition, and to become its gubernatorial candidate, after he lost the candidacy for his former party, the PRI, and contemptuously bolted from the then-government’s political machine.

On that mid-September day, if memory serves me correctly AMLO was meeting with rural area Indians, campesinos and ejidatarios in support of their claims against Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned petroleum monopoly, for property damage and environmental degradation caused by Pemex activities to grazing and farmlands, estuaries, tidewater areas and fishing.  And of course, he was asking for their vote – in an election that López Obrador ultimately lost (and thereafter quickly cried fraud).

AMLO graciously granted this unannounced visitor an interview, although it must be said that there were not many people around him at the time as few outside Tabasco and state political circles had even heard of the campaigner and future firebrand.  Plus feared hurricane-force winds and rain were clearly on the way.

Among the topics discussed, in connection with his bid for the governorship, were AMLO’s support of demonstrations and protests against Pemex, and some of the rather inflammatory rhetoric (especially for then) in his campaign speeches against the ruling PRI and its candidate, Salvador Neme (who won).

Three years later, in January of 1992, Neme was forced to resign following midterm municipal elections, charges of electoral fraud by the opposition, demonstrations, and an “exodus for democracy” march to Mexico City where the protestors joined others and set up encampments.  López Obrador was president of the Tabasco state PRD at the time, and among the charges made by the party were claims that the vote count in the municipality of Cárdenas exceeded its total of registered voters (officials found in favor of the PRD charges), similar to today’s allegations by AMLO at the national level.

Too, some of what AMLO said in 1988 was akin to today, notably about democracy in Mexico.  According to resurrected field notes, he insisted that to simply talk about democracy was not enough, and that common citizens need to also mobilize to bring about democratic and wanted change.

And he’s been mesmerizing and mobilizing his masses ever since.

Today however it would seem that to AMLO the idea of democracy is – and maybe was – how facts, wishes and wants are defined according to AMLO.  Kind of a mystification that blurs democracy with the antidemocratic, and leaves the rule of law to creative interpretation or obscurity.

Yet for what he wants to accomplish, and first and foremost to inventively keep his supposed “victory” in the presidential race from being denied him through claimed electoral fraud, AMLO is justifying his demands, public calls to action, and demonstrations with the rule of law, citing Article 39 of the Mexican Constitution: “The national sovereignty resides essentially and originally in the people.  All public power flows from the people and is instituted for their benefit.  The people at all times have the inalienable right to alter or modify their form of government.”

In other words, if the government “imposes” Felipe Calderón as president, according to AMLO, and the Constitution according to AMLO, his people are endowed with the right to change their government, even if it first takes sedition or anarchy to do so.

And all this time I thought that the certified fair and transparent election held last July 2 was an exercise in democracy, and that the will of the Mexican people as expressed through their vote was “… the inalienable right to alter or modify their form of government.”

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Monday, April 26, 2004

AMLO does not bode well for the future of Mexico

By Barnard R. Thompson

While near daily reports of corruption and scandal in the Mexico City government may be a growing monotony for outsiders they continue to dominate Mexico’s national news.  Actually, coupled with the political machinations and at times bizarre antics of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Federal District’s mayor, the scandals and their domino effects continue to make headlines internationally.

As well, that which foreigners may find wearisome is in reality of global significance — as what is in play is the future of Mexico and its role in international relations.  All of this because López Obrador, AMLO in the print media, has his sights set on the Mexican presidency in 2006.

And this must be of concern to observers worldwide as AMLO increasingly shows his true colors and less than stellar values.

Up until the 1980s, in his home state of Tabasco and in the Federal District, the politically embryonic AMLO was active in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).  However, he broke with the PRI in 1988, not for ethical reasons but because he failed to win that party’s gubernatorial candidacy for the Tabasco state elections.  The ambitious AMLO then moved into a leftist coalition that was later to further merge and become the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD.

In 1988 and again in 1994 AMLO unsuccessfully ran for the governorship of Tabasco on the left-winger's ticket, in 1995 losing to a probable PRI-engineered fraud.  Next the aspiring leader moved to Mexico City and there, in the centralistic capital of all things political in Mexico, AMLO’s meteoric rise in the PRD led to his 1996 election to a three-year term as national president.  And in 2000 he won the coveted Mexico City mayoral race.

Working like a cacique with portfolio among the lower classes of the Federal District — virtually a nation within a nation with a population of 8.6 million people, since taking office the politically expedient populist mayor has proven to be a master illusionist.  But in more recent months things have started to breakdown and the people are now seeing that the marvel is more like magic realism.

While the PRD mayor drives around in an economy car, his chauffeur it turns out is paid more than many corporate executives make in Mexico.  And most of the AMLO deputies have late model luxury sedans at their disposal.

The multimillion-dollar contract given to the firm headed by former New York City mayor Rudy Guliani, to cleanup crime in Mexico City, has proven to be more show then accomplishment.  In other words, crime still abounds — and that includes crime within the Mexico City government.

And then come the more recent scandals.

It would be hard however to claim no smoking gun when nearly US$2 million is missing from the Mexico City treasury and there are video recordings of AMLO’s finance chief gambling it away in Las Vegas, videos that were broadcast on Mexico’s national news.  Too, it would be difficult to deny that an AMLO kitchen cabinet insider was taking bribe money when the whole thing was caught on tape, another video that was shown worldwide.

But AMLO, rather than confront the problems and ferret out the real culprits yelled bloody murder as he blamed, and continues to blame, anyone and everyone — including several U.S. entities — for plotting against him.  As such, AMLO has proven to be a conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, however he has failed to produce promised evidence and proof each time he has vowed to do so.

A last straw for the U.S. government came when AMLO revealed a classified report during one of his daily news conferences.  The document, by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Treasury Department, had been obtained through a U.S.-Mexico agreement on financial information sharing that specifies material will be kept in strictest confidence.

But AMLO, having no regard for agreements, treaties or trust, flagrantly used the document to supposedly show that Mexican federal officials knew of the videos showing corrupt acts before he did, which he alleges is somehow proof of a plot against him.

The actions of AMLO regrettably forced U.S. officials, on April 21, 2004, to suspend the bilateral agreement with Mexico until safeguards, guaranteeing that unauthorized persons will not have access to or use of sensitive financial information, can be assured.  In the meantime, AMLO has helped to reopen doors to money laundering, drug traffickers and terrorist financing that were in fact being cooperatively closed through the joint efforts of Mexico and the U.S.

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Monday, May 8, 2006

The “Dirty War” Against López Obrador in Mexico

By Barnard R. Thompson

“A huge and overwhelming dirty campaign against (Andrés Manuel) López Obrador” is in motion in Mexico, said Dr. Agustín Basave during an educational roundtable presentation at the University of San Diego, in California, on May 3.  And he referred to well-established rumors that US political advisor Dick Morris has been contracted by the campaign of Felipe Calderón.

Calling Morris a “dirty war expert,” Basave said that this US campaign specialist is behind the negative ads by Calderón and his National Action Party (PAN) that are painting populism as a peril and López Obrador as “a danger for Mexico.”  They are conducting “a campaign of fear” Basave said in flawless English, adding, “this dirty war could boomerang.”

Explaining boomerang, “people get sick and tired of negative advertising,” he said.

Agustín Basave, a prominent academic, political analyst and former member of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party – as was AMLO (the popular acronym for López Obrador), resigned from the PRI in 2001 when he joined the administration of Vicente Fox.  During his tenure with the PRI, Basave served in the Mexican Congress as well as in high-level posts in the party and the Mexican government.

Fox named him Mexico’s ambassador to Ireland, where he served from 2001 to 2004.  Subsequently Basave left the administration and returned to his native state of Nuevo León, where today he oversees the López Obrador and Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) presidential campaign.

Calling the ongoing attack spots on television against AMLO “lies,” Dr. Basave pointed out some of the alleged Calderón and PAN sponsored falsehoods.

One ad says that the debt of Mexico City tripled while AMLO was mayor.  Calling AMLO prudent, Basave said that the claim is simply not true.  The fact is López Obrador “decreased the increase in debt” during his administration, which is acknowledged by responsible economists according to Basave.  He also said that the “support senior adults” program of AMLO, a Milton Friedman-like negative income tax arrangement, has been a success.

An inflamed debate is taking place in Mexico today over voter preference polls and surveys, a subject Basave went into somewhat in depth at the request of a USD professor.  This particularly considering an early May Reforma newspaper poll that gave Calderón a surprising seven-point lead over AMLO (Calderón 40 percent; López Obrador 33; and Roberto Madrazo of the PRI 22).

Among other comments on the subject, Basave said: AMLO has serious doubts about the accuracy of the polls, believing they are being manipulated; we are suspicious, “I personally am suspicious of manipulation”; and many people have no confidence in the polls.

The way poll questions are presented is a concern, as it is like asking a man if he (still) hits his wife?  And the Mexican people are afraid to say that they would vote for the opposition.

Yet he also said, regarding AMLO’s claimed lead: “I do believe that the gap has shortened, that the lead has lessened.”

The latest jump ahead by Calderón comes on the heels of Mexico’s April 25 presidential candidates’ debate – which AMLO skipped.  Reforma concluded in its poll notes that the PAN candidate has advanced by winning over undecided voters owing to the debate.

Not to debate was an apparent strategic mistake by AMLO, a decision based on his supposed polling suspicions – or maybe it was a campaigning ploy?  Whatever, the PRD candidate has announced that he will participate in the second and final contest on June 6.  As for Basave, he said the June debate will be “very important, maybe decisive” as to the July 2 election.

Regarding AMLO’s “center-left” party, Basave condemned current and past governments, and the Mexican system, by implicitly saying “up until now the PRD has been deprived of victories in several states.”  And differentiating between modern and moderate leftists vis-à-vis the more radical left, he noted that Mexico should change from a system that excludes some to a system that includes everyone.  He said that the PRI was guilty of exclusion for 71 years, and the PAN has followed in its footsteps since 2000.

Yet Basave still gives the trailing PRI a chance to win.  Noting that many analysts have written off Madrazo, Basave is not so sure since the PAN’s fear campaign and dirty war could help Madrazo.  As voters’ aversion to the negative campaigning grows so will absenteeism on Election Day, he said, which could turn the election into a hard vote contest.  Should that happen the PRI has the hard vote edge.


Barnard Thompson, editor of, spent more than 50 years in Mexico and Latin America providing multinational clients with in-depth information as well as actionable intelligence; country and political risk reporting and analysis; plus professional, lobbying and problem resolution services.

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