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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Democracy on the March--out of Mexico

Harold Meyerson, writing in yesterday's Washington Post on the "desafuero" of populist (and popular) Mexican politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador:
And what was the response of our government? Did we invoke the president's mighty line that leaders of government with long habits of control must learn to trust their people? Did we tell the crowds gathered in the Zocalo that America walks at their side?

Not quite. While Condi Rice waxes eloquent about our concern for democratic rights in Central Asia and the Middle East, the most the Bush administration has managed to say about democracy in the unimaginably faraway land of Mexico has been the comment of a State Department spokesman that this is an internal Mexican affair.

Democracy may be all well and good, but Lopez Obrador is just not Bush's kind of guy. As mayor of Mexico City, he's increased public pensions to the elderly and spent heavily on public works and the accompanying job creation. He's criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement as a boon for the corporate sector and a bust for Mexican workers. (As economist Jeff Faux has documented, while productivity in Mexican manufacturing rose 54 percent in the eight years after NAFTA's enactment, real wages actually declined.) He's opposed to Fox's plan to privatize Mexico's state-owned oil and gas industry -- a stance that probably doesn't endear him to the Texas oilmen currently employed as president and vice president of the United States.

Worse yet, Lopez Obrador's populist politics and smarts have made him the most popular political leader in Mexico today. The much touted "free-market" economics of President Fox have done nothing to improve the lives of ordinary Mexicans. Lopez Obrador's victory in next year's election would mark a decisive repudiation of that neo-liberal model. Coming after the elections of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

in Brazil, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina and Hugo Chavez (repeatedly) in Venezuela, it would be one more indication, a huge one, that Latin America has rejected an economics of corporate autonomy, public austerity and no worker rights.

So, democracy in Ukraine? We'll be there. Lebanon? Count on us. Kyrgyzstan? With bells on. Mexico? Where's that? Maybe they should move to Central Asia, change their name to Mexistan and promise to privatize the oil. That's the kind of democracy the Bush guys really like.