Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s win in Mexico could be a gift or a curse for relations with America

Reducing the power of the drugs barons and the gangsters is obviously in both sides’ interests

Monday 02 July 2018 20:09 BST
Lopez’s most important challenge will be to build some kind of working relationship with Donald Trump
Lopez’s most important challenge will be to build some kind of working relationship with Donald Trump (AFP/Getty)

It is doubtful that the Kremlin even thought to bother interfering in Mexico’s presidential election. Even if they did, it is somewhat less likely that they would have backed the winner, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a man who looks to be immune to foreign influence. Nor would even President Putin’s bot army have had the wherewithal to engineer the scale of Mr Lopez Obrador’s vast majority. For Amlo, as he is familiarly known, garnered some 53 per cent of the vote, to his closest opponent’s 22 per cent. Even allowing for a generous slug of fraudulent ballots, Mr Lopez Obrador plainly enjoys a genuinely strong mandate.

He will need it. His most important challenge, as has been well noted, will be to build some kind of working relationship with Donald Trump; but, tricky as that may be, the domestic agenda is the much more formidable one. After all, Mexico’s poverty, corruption, organised crime and drug wars are the very factors pushing desperate migrants, often from other parts of central and South America as well as Mexico itself, up towards the American border and the clutches of the people smugglers.

Were, for the sake of argument, Mexico suddenly to achieve the same kind of prosperity and stability as Canada, then there would be little talk of building the wall. Solve Mexico’s economic problem, in other words, and most of its other woes, including friction with the US, would fade away.

On this, Mr Lopez Obrador deserves support and encouragement. As a sort of Latino counterpart to Jeremy Corbyn, who he apparently counts as a friend as well as ideological soulmate, Mr Lopez Obrador has that same high-minded intolerance of corruption in public and business life. Like Mr Corbyn he is an ascetic by nature, and has pledged to set an early personal example by selling off the presidential jet and vacating the presidential palace. Maybe he will get himself an allotment and start making jam.

More usefully still, Mr Lopez Obrador will act for a people weary of petty corruption, the abuse of power by police and the large-scale theft of assets and money by some at the top of business and government. As countless others have found across the world, corruption is almost impossible to eradicate, even in richer societies than Mexico, but that does not mean that the state has to give up or to collude with the gangsters. He deserves his chance.

One thing on which Mr Lopez Obrador and Mr Trump might find it fruitful to work together is closer cooperation between law enforcement officials and intelligence agencies from both sides of the border. Reducing the power of the drugs barons and the gangsters is obviously in both sides’ interests. Mr Lopez Obrador is said to favour a less confrontational approach to dealing with the drugs trade; that may not survive many brushes with the methods of these desperadoes.

Mexico elects Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as president

Less promising is Mr Lopez Obrador’s statist economic agenda. Already Mexico is suffering from a rollback in globalisation – President Trump’s dismantling of the North American Free Trade agreement – and the loss of manufacturing jobs to his northern neighbour. A less accommodating attitude towards foreign inward investment, from the US, China and Europe, would merely exacerbate the problem of creating new jobs for Mexico’s young people (though its population, at 123 million, seems to have peaked for now).

Nor should the lessons of Venezuela’s failed experiment in socialism be lost on Mr Lopez Obrador (nor, as it happens, Mr Corbyn), and simply blaming America for shortages and hyperinflation will work no better in Mexico than in Venezuela. Should Mr Lopez Obrador attempt to impose socialism in one country on Mexico, a nation that depends crucially on trade with its powerful neighbour, it will not end happily.

As for Mr Lopez Obrador’s eventual meeting with Mr Trump, it will be scarcely less bizarre than that between the president and Kim Jong-un. They are closer in age (Mr Lopez Obrador at 64 is close to Mr Trump at 72) but, more important, Mr Trump seems to enjoy meeting “disrupters”, and the more unconventional the better. He prefers Emmanuel Macron, who seized power using his own newly invented political vehicle and tries to charm him, say, to Theresa May, a plodder who contrived to lose her parliamentary majority and who browbeats him.

Despite all the insults levelled at Mexicans – another parallel with North Korea’s “rocket boy” – President Trump and President Lopez Obrador are capable of building some sort of personal relationship that would surprise the world. That would be a nice surprise.

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