Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Why Did AMLO Wait So Long To Recognize Biden Victory?

 I do not know, but it is on the surface at least surprising.

AMLO is the nickname of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the President of Mexico since Dec. 1, 2018.  Only yesterday, along with Mitch McConnell, President Putin of Russia and President Bolsonaro of Brazil, AMLO congratulated Joe Biden on his victory over Donald Trump in the US presidential eleciton, leaving only North Korea's Kim Jong Un still not recognizing Biden's victory among world leaders.  Putin and Bolsonaro and Kim have all been personally close to Trump, with Bolsonaro also imitating him in terms of policy positions.  But what is with the delay by AMLO, especially given that polls have long shown Trump having the lowest popularity rating in Mexico of any nation in the world, down around 5%?

Besides Trump's massive unpopularity there are other reasons one might not expect this delay on AMLO's part.  One is ideological, although Kim Jong Un is a left wing Communist supporting Trump.  But indeed, even though he started out in the centrist PRI, AMLO has long been identified as the leading left progressive figure in Mexican politics, running as the presidential candidate of the main leftist party, the PRD, in 2006 and 2012 (Mexican presidents serves single six year terms), then starting his own party, MORENA, which he ran from successfully in 2018, although in that year he did have the support of a minor socially conservative party.

There is also the matter that there have long been differences over migration policy, with Trump's anti-Mexican immigration policy extremely unpopular in Mexico, along with his wall, and certainly his ridiculous demand that Mexico pay his wall on the southern border.  Trump even threatened AMLO with punitive tariffs if he did not help Trump out in slowing migration from Central America, and AMLO caved and went along with Trump's demands on that.

There have also been differences over joint operations against drug gangs and corruption, with the recent arrest in the US on drug-related charges of a former Mexican defense minister, Cienfuegos, creating a diplomatic hullabaloo. Even though the US ended up dropping the charges and releasing Cienfuegos, the reaction in Mexico has been to pass a bill that makes it much harder for there to be any cooperation on drug enforcement, with Mexican police/authorities needing official permission to cooperate with any foreign enforcement officials, with US officials saying this will severely hinder any such cooperation in the future, a great present for the incoming Biden admin.

One theory is that AMLO has been afraid of Trump since his nasty tariff threat and was trying to keep on his good side, at least until the electoral college voted, even if he really did not foresee that Trump would fail in his efforts to overturn the election result. Another is that somehow he is stupid and actually thought Trump would succeed in overturning the election result.  I doubt this, but in his first presidential election in 2006 when he narrowly lost to PAN's Calderon he contested the election result for a long time afterward, although without success.

I see two other reasons for this.  One has to do with the renegotiation of the former NAFTA, which is now officially in place as USMCA.  This may be tied to the negative of AMLO not wanting to anger Trump and have him impose new tariffs.  Trump is proud of USMCA and, of course, denounced NAFTA as "the worst trade deal ever," although I think he said that about some others also.  In any case, most observers see few differences between the two, most of them items that are in the TPP that Mexico (and also Canada) agreed to for being in that agreement, which they are, unlike the US.  So no big deal agreeing to those items with the US, some of which amounted to modernizations. The only other item that affected Mexico could be viewed as a mixed bag for Mexico, Trump's demand on higher wages for Mexican autoworkers. This looks like a loss to the extent jobs are lost but a gain to the extent higher wages actually get paid to workers who do not lose their jobs.

The other item is something less admirable, and something AMLO may well share with both Trump and Bolsonaro, a certain egomaniacal tendency to authoritarianism.  Even if it does not go that far, supposedly AMLO and Trump have hit it off personally.  Indeed, AMLO actually visited Washington in September in the middle of the campaign, something he got criticized for in Mexico.  I do not know what his personal relationship is with Biden, if any, but it is clear that he feels this personal connection, with it possibly boding ill for Mexico in the future if AMLO decides to pursue this authoritarian streak more fully. 

The part that really is a bit mysterious, and has also brought criticism in Mexico, is what did he think he was doing in terms of relations with the incoming Biden administration?  Most think that Putin has not helped himself with Biden by delaying recognizing the obvious, and we know that Bolsonaro is kind of a wacko as well as out there ideologically.  But I would think that AMLO would want good relations with Biden, and I think he is smart enough to have known after the outcome was declared that indeed Biden had won and would be coming into office.  Unless somehow he actually dislikes Biden personally, which I have not heard, the only way this delay makes sense is if he thinks somehow it gives him leverage by showing "independence," which is also coming with this new bill on cutting back drug enforcement cooperation, although I do not see how AMLO gains from such a lack of cooperation.  Maybe he will gain this, but my own view is that I think AMLO has made an error here, and he is going to have to do some adjusting down the road, preferably sooner rather than later.

Barkley Rosser


Fred C. Dobbs said...

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a leftwing populist,
has developed something of a rapport with his US counterpart

Mexicans for Trump? Amlo supporters have unlikely pick in US election

The Guardian - October 30

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador identifies as leftist, dismissing his opponents as “conservatives”.

Donald Trump launched his 2016 bid for the US presidency by describing Mexican migrants as “rapists” and threatened economic ruin by ripping up a trade deals between Mexico, the United States and Canada.

But some of the Mexican president’s supporters are pulling for an unlikely candidate in the upcoming US election: Donald Trump.

“We want President Trump to stay in office. Why? Because there’s good communication between him and President López Obrador,” said Carolina Mayor, a veterinarian. “They understand each other perfectly because they’re nationalists. They’re nationalist presidents.”

Amlo, as Mexico’s president is known, has not commented on the election, saying he wants to stay out of US politics. But he has forged a surprisingly close relationship with Trump, going out of his way to praise the US president, and deploying the national guard to crack down on Central American migants.

Trump, meanwhile, has dialed down the insults and repeatedly called Amlo a “great guy”. ...

Anonymous said...

The other item is something less admirable, and something AMLO may well share with both Trump and Bolsonaro, a certain egomaniacal tendency to authoritarianism....

[ An offensive, shameful sentence. Yuck! ] said...


You deny this for Trump? I doubt it.

Note that for AMLO I used the term "may." I did not say for sure that AMLO has it, but it has been claimed in the past by quite a few observers, not all of them meanie right wing critics or obviously super biased sources that he has such a tendency, with this even being brought up in connection with his ability to get along with Trump. I am not the first to notice this.

That he refused to accept the election results in 2006 that he clearly lost is one sign of it, which I provided. It certainly seems to be the case that almost every foreign leader Trump seems to have personally friendly relations with is actually an authoritarian, some of them murderously so, e.g. Putin, Erdogan, MbS, al-Sissi, Duterte, Kim Jon Un, with Bolsonaro maybe not so much so but being OK with Trump for being sycophantic, and even he has made noises praising the past military dictatorships of Brazil. Probably the only clearly non-authoritarian national leader Trump seems to like a lot is Boris Johnson of the UK, and some have suggested that he as well has such tendencies, if not all that strongly.

I do not like the idea that this may be the case with AMLO, as I tend to be sympathetic with him generally ideologically. But we have seen some progressive Latin American leaders go authoritarian, notably in Venezuela, even as ones in a lot of other nations, Brazil, etc. have not. If AMLO has such a tendency, I hope it just remains a tendency and that he does not pursue it fully. It is part of what concerns me about this seemingly odd behavior by AMLO that is not at all in the interests of Mexico.

How do you explain this weird behavior on his part, Anonymous? He and Trump just like each other because, well, why? said...


I have checked, and I suggest you do too. Google "Lopez Obrador as possibly authoritarian." There are lots of hits from a wide range of sources, ideologiically both right and left, from various countries, from former supporters and even current ones. The reports started in April, 2019, four months after he took office, when he moved to remove several limits on central state power in Mexico, yes, an outright authoritarian move. This is not at all bs, and your complaint showed ignorance. Most recent report was less than a month ago, Nov. 24. Sources in the top ten hits include Reuters, Cato, Guardian, New Republic, Global Americans, WaPo.

Indeed, when I brought this up it was partly because I had read some of these reports as they came out, although so far they have not been extreme actions on his part, and I have been hoping for the best. I have long paid close attention to Mexico, and it is one of the cases in our textbook on comparative economics. So far AMLO has held back behind really serious lines, but the tendency is clearly there. He may yet resist stepping aside in four years when his non-renewable term is up, much as it seems his good friend in the White House is doing, as so many predicted (and I fully expected). I simply hope for the best, but this bit is something I consider a bad sign, and I have now publicly said so, and I am certainly not retracting it at all. lots of people all over are saying it, not just me. said...

Let me note again AMLO's long refusal to accept his election defeat back in 2006. That was a close race, and it was long alleged with some good reason that in 1988 Cardenas of the PRD had a victory stolen from him by the then ruling PRI. But PRI was no longer in in 2006, and almost nobody was supporting AMLO's claims in contrast to the 1988 situation. As someone who keeps a pretty close eye on Mexican developments, I confess that I have suspected AMLO of having these unfortunate tendencies ever since 2006, and it was a very very long time (not sure exactly how long) before he stopped pushing that stuff.

That also is consistent with him being sympathetic to Trump's resistance to conceding, even if AMLO is only a semi-partial-not-full-blown authoritarian. But indeed, he has faced the reality of Trump's defeat, even if Trump and Kim Jong Un have not yet, with the latest reports having Trump making noises about refusing to vacate the White House on Jan. 20, which is becoming delusional. It is one thing for his many followers to be that, but for him? This is a dangerous period we are in.

But I shall say I am glad that AMLO is not delusional and has recognized Biden's victory, even if he waited an embarrassingly long time to do so. said...


Based on comments on AB, I think you really seriously need to google this and read the sources. It is not me who started commenting on AMLO's authoritarian tendencies. This has and is coming out of progressive leftists in Mexico. Are these people imperialists? Are you out of your mind? Please, you have a history of fairly checking things out, and on this you really need to. You are not in position of the facts at this moment. said...

Maybe I should comment on AMLO's presidency more generally. It is a mixed bag so far, neither wonderful nor awful, despite the moves he has made to consolidate power in his hands that has a lot of people worried. I note that he did what was widely viewed as a generally good and progressive job as Governor of the State of Mexico, basically mayor of Mexico City, one of the largest metro areas in the world, 2000-2005, which was the foundation of his popularity, which continues to hold for now.

Probably the best thing he has done has been to expand the social safety net, something certainly to be expected given his political stance. Some other things are more mixed. Ideologically consistent and not necessarily a bad thing has been his move to restrict foreign companies from operating in the Mexican oil industry. This is arguably anti-imperialist and nationalist, although it is probably making it harder for that industry to revive production. Probably the least wise and also idiosyncratic and personalistically assertive has been his cancellation of completing the building of a new airport for Mexico City, something sorely needed and also with this leading to throwing large amounts of money away for no particularly good or clear reason.

Another thing not all that admirable has been his moves to remove limits on central government power. That is of course the main manifestation of what has a lot of people in Mexico worried about him.

On other matters, Mexico faces serious problems that are very hard, and I am not willing to say that AMLO has done especially better or worse than his predecessors. The biggest such issue is of course the war on drug gangs and corruption, which is a hugely difficult problem, and also one that is tangled up with US relations in complicated ways. I think the US's arrest of the former Mexican Defense Minister Cienfuegos was unwise and arguably imperialist. I understand unhappiness by many in the Mexican government over this, although I note this happened under Trump as president, which further makes me mystified as to why AMLO has been so favorable towards Trump, and is making moves to reduce cooperation with the incoming US administration.

I am mostly optimistic that in the end AMLO's presidency will be better rather than worse. But it is precisely this weird support for Trump's anti-democratic moves that has made me worried, and was why I made this post.

Anonymous said...

Since the initial essay and comments took considerable effort, I read and reread all carefully. The only interest I can find is a need to demean and discredit a truly liberal, truly economic reform minded Mexican president. Mexico has struggled economically these last 30 years, but Mexican and especially American conservatives are unconcerned. Mexico's president understand the need for structural economic change.

This is Wall Street Journal opinion page sort of stuff.

Anonymous said...

August 4, 2014

Real per capita Gross Domestic Product for Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and United States, 1992-2019

(Percent change)

August 4, 2014

Real per capita Gross Domestic Product for Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and United States, 1992-2019

(Indexed to 1992)

Anonymous said...

August 4, 2014

Real per capita Gross Domestic Product for Mexico as a percent of Real per capita Gross Domestic Product for United States & Exports of Goods and Services by Mexico as a percent of Gross Domestic Product, 1992-2019

(Indexed to 1992)

August 4, 2014

Real per capita Gross Domestic Product for Mexico as a percent of Real per capita Gross Domestic Product for United States & Exports of Goods and Services by Mexico as a percent of Gross Domestic Product, 1992-2019

(Indexed to 1992)

Anonymous said...

There we find the unfortunate result of increasing trade with the United States since 1992 while Mexico has actually lagged far behind the US in per capita growth since 1992. said...


US growth may have been more rapid than Mexico's since NAFTA came in, but more important is Mexico's growth compared to itself earlier. It has been higher since NAFTA came in than it was in the 1980s and late 1970s, although it was higher previously.

Hard fact is that pretty much all political sides in Mexico have supported NAFTA, and Trump's threat to simply end it garnered considerable upset and opposition. It is considered to be one of AMLO's successes that he successfully salvaged it mostly, given that while Trump may think USMCA is this tremendously different agreement from NAFTA, most of us know better and know they mostly overlap, something I think you know as well.

I will also note that while this has not gotten much attention in the media, and while continuing concern with its still high level has been one of the major reasons for popular support of AMLO in Mexico, income inequality has been declining in Mexico gradually since about 2000. You can check this out. said...

On the matter of whether or not AMLO may have authoritarian and egomaniacal tendencies and whether or not it is unacceptable offensive and imperialist to say so, let me note a couple of further points.

One is that I listed Duterte of the Philippines as being another authoritarian leader, although one nominally democratically elected, unlike say Kim Jong Un or Mohammed bin Salman, and is also one who has had many people arbitrarily killed, along with also being a big pal of Trump's. You did not give me a hard time about mentioning him, but the relationship between the US and the Philippines has been far more imperialist than that between the US and Mexico. The US outright ruled the Philippines for half a century and killed many thousands in the early years of that rule, whereas the US has never ruled Mexico, although it did take away a lot of its territory in the Mexican War.

Mexico has long maintained a strongly independent foreign policy, recognizing the Castro regime in Cuba when almost no other Latin American nation did so at the behest of the US government. Mexico nationalized its oil industry, taking it over from mostly US companies, 80 years ago, and FDR did not send in the Marines to undo that, with management of that nationalized company one of Mexico's current major issues that AMLO is dealing with.

It is true that the US has a domineering and huge influence on Mexico, with this famously characterized by a 1900 wisecrack by then dictator, Porfirio Diaz, "Poor Mexico, so far from God, yet so close to the United States." But Mexico is now a middle income nation and a member of the OECD as well as the G20. It is not a pathetic imperialized nation that somebody in the US cannot say anything critical about any of its leaders.

The final point is to further note a particular similarity between Trump and AMLO that I think shows the tendency to egomania of both. AMLO to this day has refused to accept the outcome of the 2006 election, which while narrow at 0.58%, was verified in a recount that covered 10% of the ballots that found essentially no change. He encouraged major demonstrations during the whole period from the election in the summer until Calderon was sworn in on Dec. 1. His political party moved on, but he never did. This is what has me worried about when he supported Trump for so long in his efforts along these lines, although it will be hard for him to stay in office given that presidential terms in Mexico are strictly once for six years, with nobody since Diaz staying on longer.

Anonymous said...

Yes, having read all the suggestions I realize that Barkley Rosser was entirely right and I was wrong. I simply did not understand and foolishly argued about what I did not understand. I was wrong and I am sorry.

I thank Mr. Rosser for the necessary teaching. Again, I am sorry. said...

Apology accepted, Anonymous. Mexico is very complicated place with a complicated history I could go on at some length about. I shall only note two minor current things. One is that the latest polls in Mexico show Trump's positive rating there at 6%, about what it has been his whole presidency. I note that for AMLO he had a peak popularity of 83% in Feb. 2019> It fell to 54% a year later, but has come up somewhat during the pandemic, with hitting 65% at the beginning of September, but apparently has declined a bit after he went to DC for his meeting with Trump. Still remains a mystery why he has been so taken with Trump, although I have put out some possible suggestions. But it is indeed a good thing that he has moved on since the EC voted last Monday and now recognizes Biden's victory. The US and Mexico really do need to have friendly relations to cooperate on a variety of issues.