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López Obrador: The End of Romanticism for a Caudillo

By Raúl Tortolero

Mexico City, 30 August 2006 | It has been decades since this country last experienced a crisis as dangerous as today’s. During the 1988 elections, when there was a case of fraud clearly proven in favor of the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party—incumbent for over 70 years], at that time the party of the State, and when the few civically rooted institutions we did have had no real weight, the nation was never on the brink of bursting into flames.

There might have been a call for insurrection, but that is not the way it was. The prudence shown by the true winner of the elections, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, was very conducive to allowing for there to be in Mexico a gradual development of a critical movement of the left emerging on one side from the classical socialist and communist lefts and on the other from the splinters coming from the PRI party. And it proved useful for the slow but sure construction of a democracy based on respect for the law and the creation of a set of civil institutions that organized and reviewed the country’s political life, elections, human rights, the rights of women, and labor, sexual and religious rights.

Cardenas’ historic merit was precisely something that certain inflammatory individuals considered to be cowardly at the time: His not having placed his bets in favor of violence, so as -with the legitimacy conferred upon him by his demonstrated electoral triumph, social support and some factions in the government and the military- to seize power by force. He did not do it not because of a lack of arrests, but rather because his peculiar political wisdom and understanding of the country’s real conditions made him think that it was more important to build and bolster democracy in Mexico, even if such a process might have taken 20 more years, than to seize power by blood and gunfire, no matter how legitimate it might have seemed, and try it during a six-year term that would necessarily have had to be authoritarian, since occupying the presidency does not entail the disappearance of corruption and privileges, nor do people automatically become more participative in political and civil processes in their homeland. All of this can only be built up across time. One has to weave from the bottom up. It cannot be done by decree, “from the top down” and with a machine gun in hand.

From 1988 until 2006, our democracy has been gradually improving at a snail’s pace, but with no scandalous regressions. What is happening today does indeed represent an unacceptable regression.

At the same time as there was an emergence of democratic institutions, brought to fruition through such great pain, parties in opposition to the PRI were gaining ground, first in the municipalities, then in the states, in the two legislative chambers and finally, in 2000, in the presidency with the triumph of Vicente Fox of the PAN [National Action Party].

During these last 18 years, the Mexican left, of all colors, of all shades, from the most radical to the most centrist, finally contributed a great deal of ideas, laws, speeches, discourses, actions and proposals for bringing together an ever stronger democracy.

Including the birth of the EZLN [Zapatista Army of National Liberation]—that light “Marcos-Centrist” movement with its changing objectives and methods—which helped to turn the eyes of the majorities and of the powers toward the forever marginalized, the indigenous people.

The PAN, whose struggle, as a party, toward democracy can be traced even to the times before the first massive movements of the left in Mexico, generated on its own a very respectable culture of democratic values that governs us today.

Who would have thought that today, 18 years after the last fraud of great proportions perpetrated at a national level by the State, the country would be running the risk of losing all of what it has been building toward the consolidation of democracy stemming from an irrational handling of the post-electoral situation led by a slow-speaking man of yore with liberal Juarista [reference to 19th Century President Benito Juárez] illusions such as López Obrador?

No, one must not attribute it to the PRD [Democratic Revolution Party] as a political institution, but to López Obrador’s distance from reality. There are very few within that rank and file who would really want to set the country on fire by following their illuminated leader at the cost of losing their registration as a party, their legislative seats, by abandoning legality for the sake of an assumed legitimacy sustained by post-electoral hallucinations, and by beginning to act outside of the law. It does not seem reasonable to stop being legitimate critics of a backward political system in order to become delinquent romantics guided by a fundamentalist who never presented convincing evidence of any electoral fraud.

And, the most serious matter is having embarked upon a struggle against the society for which they say they are fighting, since it is what is being harmed the most by their actions “of resistance.” But most of all, against the legal and institutional path they have been following since its establishment almost 20 years ago and from which they would have to backtrack today. All for the sake of a man who uses the PRD as a hostage of his passions and his resentments, well guarded and disguised over many years. All the members of the PRD ought to begin to demolish everything they have built, the very laws they have signed, their initiatives, their proposals, their aggressive, but institutional, behavior, all because of a sort of tropical fever that afflicts the former candidate to the presidency.

“El Pejelagarto” or “El Peje” [nickname given to López Obrador] fought shoulder to shoulder with Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas during many long years until he judged it pertinent to overtake his mentor, to run for president and now to generate chaos that could very well unravel the country, at least partially.

It so happens that when it was Cárdenas’ turn to face a colossal fraud against him, he set his ego and ambitions aside for the sake of the country, knowing that democracy needs decades in order to get off the ground and placing his bets in this direction, strategically pursuing the fight along his party’s democratic channels, those of the “democratic” Revolution—watch out!—not those of the armed revolution. A democratic revolution ought to be built within the law, and an armed revolution is the most undemocratic thing there can be; it means placing a bet in favor of a return to authoritarianism, which always leads to the dictatorships we already know and there are more than enough examples to illustrate this.

But now when the time for López Obrador to face up to what he alone believes to be a fraud came —that is to say, not even a fully documented fraud, an imagined fraud that international observers and the TRIFE [Federal Electoral Tribunal] assured did not exist— his response is incitement to act outside the law. Might this gentleman be thinking that he is not going to accept what was done to Cárdenas, and that “he is not going to allow himself to be had, nor shown to be a coward,” as he has repeated so many times, and that he will therefore lead his followers, the few he has left, into a peculiar state of conscience where he would be the true president?

Some days ago, Sunday, August 27th, López Obrador said that he gave no recognition to any of the Mexican institutions. And he invited his faithful followers to create their own institutions. This is totally unacceptable and hallucinatory. If for him all institutions are illegitimate, then why did he enter the competition by legal means in the first place in seeking the presidency? Has he just realized that all institutions deserve to be denied recognition?

If this is what he was thinking, there is no justification for his having entered into the presidential race as a candidate. How was he able to be head of the government of the capital city for 5 years and to meet with President Fox on several occasions? López Obrador found himself inside institutional dynamics until he was defeated, and since he chose to withdraw recognition of all institutions and invent his own, certainly according to his own tastes.

At his “Informational Assembly”—the name he gives to his public appearances before his followers—the gentleman from Tabasco affirms the following: “We have no respect for your institutions and we are going to create our own institutions, of the people, according to Article 39 of the Constitution.” According to news reports, he later added that “the political system is rotten and does greater harm if we say nothing about what’s happening.” These statements are outrageous, alarming and really call for his immediate expulsion from the PRD party. A legitimate political institution must not perish at the hands of a feverish former politician who is totally on the wrong track. He has fewer and fewer unconditional followers, nevertheless the fewer he has the more radical they get and the more prone to violence.

There have been some militants who have said they are willing to die for his cause, without taking into account the absence of serious proof of an electoral fraud and without realizing that it cannot be in the interests of the country to toss into the rubbish bin its economic stability, its peace, its democracy, in exchange for what would turn into an illegal, authoritarian régime that can only evolve into a sort of dictatorship of the left.

But, what cause is being talked about by those who say they are willing to do anything for “El Peje”? López Obrador did not win the elections and therefore the only cause his loyal followers would be supporting would be that of a losing candidate who now wants to seize power by whatever possible means. This is very harmful: López Obrador had a great chance of winning, but eventually he did not win.

At his own pleasure, he entered into the democratic-electoral game to see if he would win, and if he were to win then the first thing he would have done was to say to the IFE [Federal Electoral Institute] and the TRIFE [Federal Electoral Tribunal] that they availed themselves of their historical opportunity to legitimize themselves in the eyes of society, and would have congratulated the presidents of these entities. But since he lost, it does not matter if by a few votes, he then rants and raves against all institutions, and discredits them without people knowing where and how the alleged colossal fraud took place along with the process known as “hormiga” [total vote being diminished by subtracting a minute number from thousands of different voting centers, much as ants steal grains of sugar one at a time].

I know many members of the PRD—some are even friends of mine, and I am speaking of congressional representatives, senators, directors, deputy directors of delegations, etc.—who are tired of having to attend the useless camp-in on Paseo de la Reforma, and sick and tired of the lack of internal democracy within their own party starting from the time “El Peje” first decided to convert an institution into a monolith of his own liking. Does everyone have to think the same way he does? Is refusal to think as López Obrador tantamount to being a traitor, playing PAN’s or Fox’s game? How serious and how worrisome it must be when everyone has to think and act the same way in order to not displease the great chief, in order to not go to the firing wall and suffer the consequence of being segregated.


Where is the PRD? There is no PRD. There is a messiah and his hypnotized audience. Those who might eventually raise their voices against this former politician’s excessive authoritarianism would later feel proud of having done something serious for the preservation of democracy. I say “former politician” because López Obrador has ceased to be a politician—that is to say he is no longer someone who makes a privilege out of dialogue, understanding, negotiation, conciliation, reconciliation, peace, order, democracy, over and beyond discrediting institutions, proclaiming the need for a revolution, an insurrection as the way toward a better Mexico, subliminal or implicit incitation to violence, authoritarianism, unique truths, confrontation.

He has ceased to be a politician in order to become or embody what in his heart he wished to be: A caudillo who would be followed by the masses and, within the cyclic context of the anniversary of the independence of 1810 and the agrarian revolution of 1910, approaching in 2010, incite the population to revolt when faced with the presumed exhaustion of institutional structures in order to seize power and become a part of history as a combined “revival” of Benito Juárez, Emiliano Zapata, Francisco Villa and General Lázaro Cárdenas.

Something very similar, not in form but in background, to what today Mr. Hugo Chávez believes himself to embody with respect to the spirit of Simón Bolívar, whose legitimate heir he believes himself to be, not to say that is his only descent, but furthermore, that he is also heir to Fidel Castro and perhaps, quite soon, also in certain aspects touching upon the “cultural revolution” of Mao Tse Tung.

People who are conciliatory and “political” in the true sense, such as Jesús Ortega, Ricardo Monreal, Amalia García, Manuel Camacho Solís, for example, among others, ought to immediately take the reins of the PRD and reintegrate it into the democratic normality that they have been building through so much effort.


This situation in which we are living today as Mexicans is not a game; it is a very serious matter and deserves all possible attention.

I have been able to perceive how many militants or simply sympathizers of the PRD who voted for Andrés Manuel López Obrador last July 2nd now regret it. And they regret it because voting for him did not mean granting him a blank cheque so that he could do with it whatever is suggested by a consensus reached between himself and himself. An agreement between himself and himself, while holding the PRD as an institution following his own orders.

His camp-in on Paseo de la Reforma (from which a sizeable group of leftists, who supported him previously, withdrew and complained) is discomforting primarily to citizens who are made to pay the price for an alleged and illusionary fraud that no one has been able to prove.

If it were so, perhaps even López Obrador’s detractors themselves would go out onto the streets to defend his triumph, not for the sake of López Obrador’s figure itself, but because they would feel they had been robbed, assaulted and deprived of the advance of democracy and that is unacceptable. Well, I myself would feel proud of participating in a camp-in wherever it might be and of doing what was necessary out on the streets in order to defend democracy when faced with a very clear case of electoral fraud, such as that of 1988. But that is not what we have here.


Andrés Manuel’s movement, detached from reality, furthermore has properties that show serious social decomposition. More than being a movement that is opposed to an alleged fraud, and that fights for legal reconciliation for a presumed López Obrador triumph, has turned into the best opportunity for channeling large doses or overdoses of social resentment whose accumulation began decades ago, because of governmental neglect as well as collateral effects to the very “lumpen” condition of some of its components.

Social resentment has been manifesting itself in most of López Obrador’s speeches, for quite some time. That is the way it was during the electoral campaigns: This man, while still a true member of the PRD, would always display the whim of referring to Mexicans using words that divide us, such as “the upper crust” against “the underdogs,” “the right wing” against them, “the rich” against the people, etc. There was never an inkling of conciliatory or peaceful language, but one that seeks to find a way for the aggravation of differences to take place. It is a “class struggle” discourse and we know the direction in which such aggravation of differences intends to evolve.


And the fact is, “El Peje’s” repugnance toward the existence of rich people exceeds his discomfort toward the alarming levels of poverty. It is not the case that he loves the poor and fights on their behalf, for their claims, but rather that the existence of wealthy people angers him. It does not disturb me that rich people exist; it worries me that wealth is so poorly distributed in this country and that the contrasts are so deplorable.

“El Peje” cannot forgive the rich. He feels as if he is their enemy and sees them as despicable people, without even listening to them beforehand. He discredits them because they are rich. For that reason alone. What kind of politics is that? None. That is no way to practice politics. How can he keep the rich from being rich? That could only be achieved by way of arms, and only partially so. But the people would be soaked in blood and at the end of the day others would become rich, as has always happened in the history of revolutions throughout the world. A new elite becomes rich and the more things change the more they stay the same. Society is the one to suffer in the middle of all this. But for now López Obrador does not seem interested in society and its welfare.

We were saying that embarking upon operating on the margins of the law and of institutions mean starting an insurrection, and all insurrections mean placing a bet in favor of authoritarianism. Nobody takes up arms in order to take power and build a democracy. A word of caution: Withdrawing recognition from “all Mexican institutions” and creating parallel substitutes is not a path that is democratic but rather one that is visibly authoritarian.

A democracy cannot be built with weapons, unless they are the arms of dialogue, politics, laws, institutions. If those minorities who are highly prone to armed violence answer this call by López Obrador to withdraw recognition from institutions and create their own, we are then faced with an incipient flame that could turn into the danger of a future dictatorship.

There are already some worrisome symbols. How is it that portraits of Stalin are appearing at the Paseo de la Reforma camp-in? We have also seen repeated instances of flags that are not of the PRD but display the hammer and sickle instead. How can this be? What time of day was it when these demonstrators crossed over from being repudiators of an alleged fraud to being participants in enthroning communism? As far as one can tell, the PRD electoral proposals were paternalistic, in favor of rendering assistance, but never of a communistic nature. Then, what is happening?

In doing honor to justice, there are many worthy people within the Mexican left. But there is a need to continue building a modern democratic left, not this messianic and authoritarian thing we see now. We need a left that competes in the elections but does not make the country break out in a sweat if it does not win, one that casts doubts on institutions just because it did not win, but rather a well matured left whose platform and proposal do not imply modifying macroeconomic stability and social peace, but rather an orientation more in the direction of social justice in its programs.

It is true that there was a certain amount of intervention by the federal government in these elections, with numerous spot announcements in favor of “following the same path,” and there were government programs used in a clientelistic manner in favor of candidates of the PAN. But there were also some meant to favor the PRI and the PRD. The IFE called a halt to all of these a little too late.

There were also numerous spot announcements by PAN, loaded with sour grapes aimed at López Obrador, where they announced that he was “a danger for Mexico.” All of that is true, but today we are able to see that such spots proved to be prophetic, because we can appreciate how has indeed turned into a danger for Mexico, someone who has crossed over from advocating peaceful civil resistance within the institutions to inviting his followers to ignore all institutions.

Andrés Manuel had many factors working against him from the beginning: They were not allowing him to be a candidate for the governorship of the DF [Federal District], arguing that he had not been living there sufficient years, since he is from Tabasco. Finally he was able to be the head of the governorship. Then came the loss of his parliamentary immunity. Why did they embark upon that, when eventually they would have to retract? And it was not fair to keep him from running for office legally by using legalistic machinations.

But Andrés Manuel continued to be involved in the electoral process, using what validated him, and only when he found himself defeated at the polls did it occur to him to discredit the sum total of Mexican institutions. It is incredible. The man is committing suicide, and following the custom of whales that die together on some beach, he expects his fans to accompany him to a ghoulish bay to which nobody wants to go.

It is predictable that he is going to be left by himself, lonelier than he can imagine, since the life of our democracy must go on. Legislators from his party, elected by the people in their sovereign role are not going to abandon their legislative seats for his sake, and owe more loyalty to their electors than to any caudillo and, being well within the law, will not support any illegal quest no matter how legitimate AMLO wants it to be.

So, “El Peje” has only two paths before him today: Rectify and re-channel his struggle in the direction of institutional and peaceful legality, or choose loss of recognition and banishment for most of his companions in the PRD and resorting to arms and underground activity. And that means a lone man against his own party. And against most of society, including many who voted for him and regret it today. Now something certainly seems clear to them: If the elections were repeated, they would never vote for him again, seeing as he has lost the political equity he had carefully accumulated during his six year term as head of the city government. Harsh remarks and politics do not mix. And peace. Peace is a value much too appreciated in Mexico to have it traded for some dream or other, no matter how heady or pleasurable it might be.

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