The era of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is coming to an end. Most Americans, particularly those following the disastrous events at the southern border, are likely to say good riddance to the cantankerous AMLO, who is completing a six-year term and legally prohibited from running again.  

The Mexican leader has been the hemisphere’s loudest voice in promoting a universal “right to migrate,” sometimes colluding with President Joe Biden to help migrants illegally enter the United States, and sometimes masterfully manipulating him. 

Although he will leave office by October 1, AMLO will almost assuredly be succeeded by Claudia Sheinbaum, his protégé candidate who is fully expected to continue his administration’s policies.  

For months, Sheinbaum has held a commanding lead in Mexico’s national polling, and most experts predict she will easily win the June voting. She is campaigning cautiously, confident that AMLO’s endorsement and popularity—he has almost 60 percent approval levels—will carry her to victory. 

Sheinbaum is an experienced politician, who proved her leadership mettle, and won AMLO’s support, by previously serving as mayor (governor in function) of the greater Mexico City capital region (population 22 million). 

Sheinbaum’s personality is cut from a different cloth than AMLO’s. She has an academic background, holding a hard-science Ph.D., and tends toward a less combative approach than the outspoken AMLO. However, she very much shares his leftist vision: critical of so-called “neoliberal” economics, while advocating the radical-chic woke agenda that is everywhere in leftist politics. Predictably, she ordered a statue of Christopher Columbus to be taken down in the capital. 

If Sheinbaum is elected, the identity-politics-driven international media story will headline her status as Mexico’s first Jewish-heritage woman president. The gushing reporting about her identity will help sweep AMLO off Mexico’s national stage, but Sheinbaum’s expected electoral victory, unfortunately, will certainly further entrench his political agenda.

Sheinbaum has embraced AMLO’s views on immigration: borders should be porous and the priority is addressing “root causes.” When it comes to handling Washington, Sheinbaum is more analytical, but her first instinct is an AMLO-like defense of Mexican sovereignty. She may have some differences on environmental policies with the Mexican president; AMLO is fine burning fossil fuels, while Sheinbaum, the green physicist, is deeper into climate change orthodoxy.

While there are several candidates running, Scheinbaum’s main opponent is Xóchitl Gálvez, a tech-industry businesswoman and former senator who heads a coalition put together by Mexico’s two main opposition political parties, the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) and the PAN (Partido Acción Nacional). Gálvez is seeking to restore something of the pre-AMLO dynamic in Mexican politics; although she brings a new twist as an indigenous-heritage woman, that era is not likely coming back. 

For decades, the PRI and PAN dominated Mexican politics in an establishment manner similar to our own Democrats and Republicans. It was in 2018 that AMLO finally overturned their dominance when his insurgent party, known as Morena (Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional), took him to the presidency in a landslide victory.  

AMLO discredited both the PRI (the old statist, establishment left) and the PAN (conservative and business-oriented) as Mexico’s corrupt ruling class. The fact that the two previously dominant parties, once bitter rivals, have come together, somewhat desperately, to nominate Gálvez says volumes about how much AMLO has remade Mexican politics. 

One key element of the AMLO realignment was his large expansion of federal welfare and pension plans. In modern Dickensian Mexico, some 20 million workers are in the informal economy that creates 30 percent of national income. AMLO has brought this significant and neglected segment of society into the welfare state for the first time, an effort that doubtless undergirds his popularity. 

The left praises AMLO’s welfare policies for “institutionalizing” Mexican support programs, like FDR’s in the 1930s. The country’s conservatives and the old establishment liberal-left, on the other hand, condemn his policies as populist vote-buying, a disreputable political tactic nevertheless regularly used to win Mexican elections. 

All of this contributes to why Gálvez has a hard path to victory. She has already gone to Washington to suggest that the Organization of American States (OAS) send election observers to Mexico

Gálvez would be marginally preferable to Sheinbaum when it comes to U.S.-Mexican security cooperation. Gálvez does talk about collaboration on the common frontier, and she might, at least rhetorically, open up to a better law-enforcement partnership. But her security vision has little in common with securing the border in an American sense.

While Gálvez denounces the unprecedented human trafficking that is taking place in both countries, her immigration “solution” is more visas and legal work opportunities for foreigners, particularly Mexicans, in the United States. This is not surprising, since Mexicans living in el Norte can still vote in Mexico’s elections. 

Mexico’s endemic corruption is another major campaign issue that directly impacts the U.S. national interest, because our large southern neighbor is both our greatest commercial trading partner and source of migrants. Both candidates, of course, denounce corruption, but neither proposes viable solutions because everybody is out of ideas. 

Sheinbaum is almost philosophical, rejecting the notion that Mexican corruption is a “matter of culture”; she improbably calls for “peace dialogues” among governors, judges, and police to address “impunity.” Sheinbaum claims, dubiously, that fundamental change is already under way as AMLO’s administration is not only setting a new tone, but has begun to historically remake the country—AMLO pompously calls it the “Fourth Transformation”—by overturning corrupt privileges deeply embedded in Mexican society. 

Gálvez of course rejects Sheinbaum’s positive spin and has made credible charges that AMLO is no different than past presidents, specifically accusing his adult sons of illicitly profiting from the government-led, massive construction effort of the Maya train line in southern Mexico. This train line is AMLO’s signature infrastructure project, and its costs have ballooned from about $8 to $28 billion as contractors wheel and deal.

Gálvez’s criticism is certainly more valid than Sheinbaum’s optimism. Mexican society, by measures like Transparency International’s annual rating, is still hopelessly sunk in widespread corrupt practices. These continue despite Mexico’s success in attracting significant new foreign investment and trade, which comes to the country mainly because of its nearness to the U.S. market. Outsiders who seek to do business with Mexico—and increasingly Chinese businessmen are first in line—simply navigate around corrupt practices or participate in them.

Where AMLO has succeeded on the corruption issue, however, is in fiercely defending his own, highly valuable, personal reputation as being incorruptible. For millions of Mexicans, accustomed to watching their politicians become vastly wealthy (sadly, not unlike in the U.S.), AMLO’s clean record, if it is indeed true, is something remarkable. It certainly helps Sheinbaum’s campaign as she, too, is substantially free from charges of illicitly using politics to become wealthy.  

In this context, AMLO has been a grandmaster of symbolic acts that his grassroots supporters never forget. For example, he canceled Mexico City’s massively over-budget new airport project (thought to benefit the corrupt rich); he refused to use and sold off the president’s luxury jet, a Boeing 787 “Dreamliner”; and he never took occupation of the chief executive’s elaborate living quarters known as “Los Pinos.” 

While this was brilliant political theater, no president’s policies can remake a country as vast and complex as Mexico, particularly on corruption, in a handful of years. There is a case to be made, perhaps, that the long road of reversing Mexico’s ingrained corruption must start by examples from the top. Certainly, nothing else is working. Sadly, however, when it comes to daily governance issues, such as overhauling the country’s dysfunctional criminal court system, AMLO’s gameplan is as empty as those of Mexico’s previous presidents. 

Perhaps there is no higher U.S. national interest than curbing transnational organized crime from using Mexico to strike into our country. Mexican politicians, of course, approach their widespread criminality crisis differently, but they acknowledge that “insecurity” is the main concern this election cycle, which includes campaigning for Congress, state, and local offices, too.

Mexico’s 2024 election kickoff was accompanied by the murders of two local candidates, tragically symbolizing how violence infects all aspects of Mexican national life. Understandably appalled and frightened, most Mexicans are resigned to their fate that, no matter who is elected president, the country is likely to continue to just muddle through in dealing with a gigantic national crisis. 

Both candidates have called for a larger National Guard, since Mexican state and local police are unreliable or even part of organized crime. Gálvez is recommending doubling the number to 300,000 guardsmen, but the record of the National Guard, first created by AMLO to replace the corrupted Federal Police, has been unimpressive. AMLO basically backed away from his own National Guard strategy, gradually moving towards putting more and more authority in the Mexican military to deal with crime (and many other issues).

The national armed forces should not be in the forefront in the fight against organized criminals, but Mexico’s disastrous law-enforcement performance—corrupted police forces, dysfunctional courts—reflects a vicious societal struggle that more resembles guerrilla war than a crime wave. No state security institutions except the army and marines seem capable of keeping things from getting even worse. It is certain that la Presidenta Sheinbaum will have nothing behind the curtain to deal with this national catastrophe.  

When Mexico’s voting is over, and elected candidates take office, there will be little hope, unfortunately, that U.S.–Mexican bilateral relations will get a meaningful new start. More than a new president in Mexico, what is needed is a new chief executive in the White House. We need an American president who will reverse the Biden administration’s calamitous open-borderism and use forceful U.S. diplomatic leverage to focus Mexico’s political leadership, whoever it is, on our mutual security problems.  

Originally found on American Conservative. Read More

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