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Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s (AMLO) lead in the presidential race has been growing steadily, despite receiving attacks from Mexico’s entire establishment, explains UNAM’s John Ackerman

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Mexico’s presidential campaign officially began two weeks ago on March 30. So far all polls indicate that the leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, commonly known by his initials, AMLO, is the frontrunner. And an April 15 poll gives AMLO 42 percent of the vote. His nearest rival, the centrist Jose Antonio Meade and the conservative Ricardo Anaya each have about 22-23 percent of the vote. The presidential election is scheduled for July 1st.

Joining me now to give us an update on Mexico’s presidential election is John Ackerman. John is professor at National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM, and he is editor in chief of the Mexican Law Review, and a columnist for both la Jornada newspaper and Proceso magazine. Good to have you with us, John.

JOHN ACKERMAN: Wonderful as always, Sharmini. Hello from, from Mexico City up to Baltimore.

SHARMINI PERIES: Thanks, John. All right, John, let’s get started with Obrador. He is soaring in the polls. Many polls are indicating that, so I think we can rest comfortably that they are reliable. What is it that he’s running on? What’s on his campaign agenda that is garnering all of this support for him?

JOHN ACKERMAN: Well yeah, indeed, the polls are really shooting up for him. People were wondering what was going to happen once the campaign started, as you mentioned, just two weeks ago. He had been ahead beforehand. But you know, the big question with the beginning of the campaigns was would things even out, or would he somehow, you know, break through what had seemed to be the upper limit of his support, which had gotten around, you know, 30-35 percent. But these last polls, the most recent polls, particularly Reforma poll from today, are demonstrating that the campaigns are helping him instead of helping his rivals.

Well, he’s now, you know, 20 percent ahead in the polls. This of course does not mean that he’s won the election, because things are going to be complicated for the next few months. And there’s also a very important concern of electoral fraud in Mexico, which is a frequent occurrence, unfortunately.

So his proposals, what are his platform. He’s talking about corruption. That’s probably the number one issue on his campaign, talking about, you know, fixing Mexican institutions, combating corruption, ending this failed democratic transition, trying to move towards a real transition in which government is accountable to its people. Second big point is the relationship with the United States, of course. Alone is not a fiery, firebrand, a populist nationalist, as they’re trying to call him. But he is very much concerned about defending Mexican sovereignty, defending Mexican and Latin American migrants in the United States. And you know, having a more equal relationship with Trump, because Pena Nieto and his foreign minister have really just sort of been servile clients of the Trump administration, and that’s been terrible for Mexico, for Mexico and the United States, and I would say for the United States people, as well.

And the third big point would be, you know, inequality in poverty has been a big champion of the cause of the poor, of social justice. He’s not a radical, economically . He cites Franklin Roosevelt all the time, talked about Bernie Sanders. I would say that the closest comparison for him in Latin America would be Jose Mojica in Uruguay, that would be probably the most similar leader in Latin America to what he’s proposing. He’s talking , he’s not saying that he wants to even raise taxes, much less expropriate. He wants to redistribute based on saving money through combating corruption, even lowering government salaries and ending fiscal paradises, that’s another big way in which he’s talking about bringing money in, in order to go toward infrastructure projects, scholarships for youth, building schools, hospitals. That’s his big project.

SHARMINI PERIES: John, let’s take up Lopez Obrador’s specific approach and attitude towards the United States, and how that is being received by the electorate.

JOHN ACKERMAN: Lopez Obrador is by no means anti-American. He’s been very clear about this. In his tour last year to the United States to express his solidarity with Mexicans after Trump’s inauguration he gave talks in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington, Chicago, and was very clear that what he wants is good relations with United States, specifically with the United States people. Even Trump’s bases. He says that they’ve been fooled by Trump himself and that, you know, the humble working people of the United States and Mexico and all the Americas should work together for social justice.

He has not been trying to pick a fight with Trump, but he has been much more dignified and defending Mexican sovereignty with respect to Trump. When you compare this to Pena Nieto, of course, last year, last March 2017, went to Washington and presented a case in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against Trump’s executive order s of January 25, 2017 which basically called for mass expulsion of Mexican and other migrants from the United States. He has requested the United Nations to intervene in the dispute in Mexico-United States, specifically around the issue of the border wall. And so yeah, he’s going to stand up for Mexican rights. But once again, he’s not looking to pick a fight from Trump, or with the United States at all. He’s trying to look for good relations . He has not come out against NAFTA, for instance. He’s come out in favor of, you know, updating NAFTA with more labor protections, environmental protections. He’s even publicly, you know, taken Trump’s offer of, you know, equaling this minimum wage in North America as part of NAFTA. Trump has said that he doesn’t want to do NAFTA because this would bring down salaries in the United States, that he would only do it if we equaled the minimum wage in the United States and Mexico. And so Trump, so Lopez Obrador said hey, yeah, that sounds like a good idea.

So you know, he’s playing this strategically. He’s not looking to separate Mexico from the United States. He’s looking to construct a more just and fair North America.

SHARMINI PERIES: John, let’s turn to the other candidates who are running. The two other main candidates are Anaya and Meade. N ow, I understand a new candidate has been introduced, Bronco. His real name is Jaime Rodriguez Calderon. Give us a sense of how they’re doing, and of course, who is a serious opposition candidate here.

JOHN ACKERMAN: Well, the serious opposition candidate is L opez Obrador. That’s the interesting thing. He’s way ahead in the polls, but he is the opposition. That’s what defines him and distinguishes him from the other candidates the other candidates are all very close to the ruling system, all four of them.

Jose Antonio Meade is the candidate of the PRI, which is officially the ruling party , Pena Nieto’s party. He’s way down in the polls, you know, 15-16 percent, because when you ask people whether they’re in agreement with the Pena Nieto administration, you know, only about 15 percent or 20 maximum approve of Pena Nieto’s administration, and the PRI has really become the most repudiated party in the country. The other candidate who has some support in the country is Ricardo Anaya. He’s cobbled together a rainbow coalition of the PAN, which is the right-wing party, the Christian Democrats, the PRD, which is the old, used to be the left party, but today has basically been replaced by Morena, which is Lopez Obrador’s party. The remnants of the PRD has come over and is now supporting the right-wing candidate. Ricardo Anaya comes from the PAN, very interesting.

And then there’s a smaller party called Citizens Movement, which is also supporting this coalition. But it’s, it’s really a mix of so many different orientations, both right and left. You know, it could, that could create an interesting rainbow coalition but it’s been more contradictory than, anything else. And this has created confusion, and he hasn’t, Anaya hasn’t really taken off either, hasn’t been able to really set the agenda. He’s also been accused of serious corruption issues in terms of money laundering, et cetera, which we’d go into more detail if you wanted to. And the other two candidates are the so-called independent candidates. They’re independent because they are not being proposed by a political party, but they actually are very much linked to these same parties, the PRI and the PAN. Margarita Zavala is an independent candidate. This is the wife of Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s ex-president 2006 – 2012. The president who really, you know, brought the bloodbath to Mexico, started this violent, militarized war on drugs which continues to this day really rip apart the social fabric of Mexico.

And the other independent candidate is Jaime Rodriguez Calderon. He has just been mandated and sent onto the ballot by the electoral tribunal in a decision which is, you know, it totally has no juridical or legal substance. It was a political decision by these federal magistrates, probably responding to some sort of external pressure, because he’s, ever since he’s been put on the ballot last week, every single one of his press conferences he has attacked frontally Lopez Obrador. So it looks rather it looks like his role is not going to actually be to compete for the presidency, but to be on the ballot, in the debates, to be sort of the attack dog, anti-Lopez Obrador attack dog, to try to get him down in the polls.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, John, one last question. Reuters just reported on Wednesday that at least 82 political candidates for local office have been killed since the campaign season began last September. Now, according to reports most of these killings are probably linked to drug cartels. What’s your take on all of this?

JOHN ACKERMAN: Yeah, this is a very sad situation. This is just an expression of in general the collapse of institutions and of law enforcement throughout the country. It’s interesting that almost all of these politicians who have been killed are at the local level they’re running, running for or want to run for municipal offices. That’s, that’s the really important level of control that the narcos want to have, over, you know, local police officials, local tax collectors, or anyone who’s doing any kind of supervision at the local level so that they can have freedom of movement. And if you don’t, you know, cut deals with these guys then, you know, the bullet or, silver or the bullet. Plata o plomo is the expression. If you don’t accept the bribe then you’ll either be pressured, or if you don’t accept that either then you’ll be, you’ll be killed.

So this is just a demonstration of institutional collapse of the entire country, and the real need to, you know, whoever wins in July 1 to take that on as the number one issue in the future of Mexico. Trying to combat impunity, and trying to put Mexican institutions back on their feet. And we hope that this violence doesn’t have too much an effect on the elections themselves in terms of, you know, Election Day, you know, if the violent elements, who are not independent of politics, by the way. These aren’t just narcos. Most narcos are protected by the ruling class, the ruling politicians, the government itself. And so the risk here is that they might try to use those groups to somehow break up the election if local [inaudible] or otherwise participate in some kind of fraud. But we could talk about that next time.

SHARMINI PERIES: Next time it is, John. We’ll be having weekly reports from John Ackerman about the Mexican elections. And please join us for our next interview with him. Thanks for joining us today, John.

JOHN ACKERMAN: Thank you very much, Sharmini. A pleasure, as always.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.

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John M. Ackerman is a professor at the Institute for Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), editor-in-chief of The Mexican Law Review and a columnist at both Procesomagazine and La Jornada newspaper.  (


Disclosure:  Dr. Irma Eréndira Sandoval, one of Mexico’s leading experts in anti-corruption theory and practice, was recently announced by López Obrador as his future comptroller general, if he wins the election. She does not receive any salary from López Obrador or MORENA, nor does she work directly on the campaign. This is one of many strictly honorary invitations that AMLO has made to a series of leading figures in civil society to form a part of his cabinet without requiring any specific political loyalty from them.

Sandoval holds a PhD from the University of California and has been a fellow at both Harvard University and the Sorbonne, so she definitely doesn’t owe this future job to her husband. And it is public knowledge that my own support, as an independent intellectual, for AMLO goes back years (see, for instance, this previous piece in The Nation). The views expressed in this essay are strictly my own and should not be attributed to Sandoval, López Obrador, Putin, or anyone else.