Friday evening AMLO showed up at the Coátepec city park. AMLO is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the almost-President of Mexico – or as a sizable number of people would say, the should-be President of Mexico.
It wasn’t just for AMLO that people were out for the evening. Families and balloon sellers and venders and lovers drifted around and draped themselves on benches and sat at the tables at the nevería in the fancy gazebo in the center of the park.
Along the street an in the park in front of the City Hall banners hung to delineate the area for those who came to hear AMLO. A speaker’s stand dominated one end with extremely bright stage lights which seemed to lose control from time to time so that they spun around mindlessly, blinding spectators. The crowd spilled beyond the banners and onto the lawn in the park, and finally our friend Alberto cut down the biggest one so that those of us who’d inched up into the grass (no one stepped on a single flower) could see.
AMLO was two hours late. When he finally arrived, the crowd which had been very patient had to wait even longer as local congressmen put in their two cents before he stepped forward. It reminded me of going to hear John Kerry speak a couple of years ago in San Antonio, TX: same wait, same list of local speakers, same bank of dignitaries standing in line in back of the stage. It was midday in San Antonio, though, with temperatures soaring and the sun glaring. Here it was a beautiful, balmy evening.
By the time it was AMLO’s turn to speak, efforts to fix the lights had failed completely and the spotlight on the speaker’s area was out. AMLO spoke in shadow. It didn’t seem to faze him or the audience.
He is an impressive man, much better looking: handsome, in fact, in person than in the photos of him I am seen. He is a very good speaker as well, a low keyed orator, if you will. Not a rabble rouser, more of a teacher, though definitely charismatic. He did not need the spotlight.
He showed a grasp of problems that does not appear particularly ideological, except for the fact that he distinguishes the very rich as different and inward-turning: isolated from the problems of the rest of the population.
One of the issues he talked about was immigration. People in the U.S. have to understand how profound a problem this is for Mexico. Below, I have translated a bit of an article from the newspaper La Jornada so you can see how it is viewed here. Even though the information is from The World Bank, I would say the conclusions are shared here.
“Mexico, biggest expeller of migrants in the world.
-- More people than from China, Pakistan or India: The World Bank
-- Two million people left Mexico to look for work in the US between 2000 and 2005.
-- The phenomenon unleashes social and psychological consequences according to the international organization.
-- Helplessness characterizes the passage of undocumented workers through Mexico.
-- The lists of those who died trying to cross the border are hidden.
… This is a movement of people who are looking for work and who are the manifestation of a growing phenomenon which, however, must not be considered a recipe for development because its costs are too high,” asserted the World Bank.”
While the above snippets quote World Bank sources, they echo what AMLO said. He also talked of the need to find jobs that would give people not just a minimum income, but meaningful work and lives. Unfortunately, another trend here is the return in even greater numbers, apparently, of maquiladoras, and in even more areas of the country. The reason for this: even lower wages than in Asia. Maquiladoras are low-pay mostly assembly line factories which draw people from their homes (internal migration) and leave them few resources to build lives outside work.
I don’t think there is any politician in Mexico unaware of the situation. However, the means by which the problem of lack of jobs is solved will have everything to do with the future of the country and will have a strong impact on the US.
USAers should see migration a problem for Mexico even graver than it is for the US, a problem that has transnational roots and ties. But it would be good to look at it calmly.
Here is a link to an article written by Pamela Starr for the Council of Foreign Relations. It is a cool analysis from “the professionals”, but a good one. It addresses not just migration, but the other issues facing the new Calderón government.