[Marxism] A Mexican Mayor's Legal Problem Energizes His Base
walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Apr 15 05:23:05 MDT 2005
The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Cuba-basher-in-chief takes a whack at
the mayor of Mexico City, but advises her readers south of the
border that the attack on his right to run for office might again
tarnish what she refers to as Mexican democracy. Not that she's a
big fan of democracy, especially when it has a social dimension,
but she recognizes that denying Lopez Obrador the ability to run
might cost capitalism more than it would be worth, though she
doesn't use this precise technology. Discretionary law? How about
Halliburton, Bechtel, untold hundreds held for years without any
charge at Guantanamo, torture at Abu Ghraib and let's not forget
the Cuban Adjustment Act, por favor?
All that's missing to make this picture complete would be strong
denunciations from the ultra-left that Lopez Obrador is really a
sellout and a betrayer. That will come soon enough, I'm confident.
"Arbitrary use of law by politicians is a longstanding tradition
in Latin America and explains a lot of the region's inability to
advance politically and economically. Socialist and Marxist
doctrines focus on economic "inequality" as the source of Latin
backwardness -- as did the Mexican Revolution that brought forth
the dysfunctional PRI -- and claim that redistributing wealth
will end poverty. But after decades of such cynical politicking,
serious development economists now conclude that what the state
ought to aspire to is equality under the law, not equality of
economic outcomes. The former allows economic and social
mobility so that individuals can progress. The latter brings
WALL STREET JOURNAL
April 15, 2005
A Mexican Mayor's Legal Problem Energizes His Base
By MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY
April 15, 2005; Page A11
For my friends, anything; for my enemies, the law.
-- Oscar R. Benavides, President of Peru, 1933-1940
A collective cry against the "unjust" use of power in
Mexico rose in the U.S. this week as sundry editorial
writers attacked the Mexican Congress's decision to strip
Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka "Amlo")
of his immunity from prosecution. The desafuero, as it is
called in Spanish, means that the populist mayor could be
charged soon with contempt of court in a land takeover. He
might land in jail.
Yet, in the parlor game that asks who wants to see the
mayor in this pickle, don't rule out Amlo himself. The man
relishes theater and the "desafuero" has opened to rave
reviews, boosting his ratings as the leading presidential
candidate of the hard-left Democratic Revolutionary Party
(PRD). An estimated 150,000 protestors turned out last week
to support him.
President Vicente Fox is nearing the end of his six-year
term (sexenio) and Mexico is gearing up for presidential
elections in July 2006. Amlo's legal problems would be far
less notable if not for the fact that as mayor of the
country's largest metropolis -- with wide support from the
city's massive bureaucracy -- he has been a front-runner in
opinion polls for some months. His supporters claim the
desafuero is a vast right-wing conspiracy to deny him the
nation's top office.
Having secured his victim status, the mayor is benefiting
both from sympathy and a certain outrage among his
aggrieved and often militant constituency. "Intellectuals"
-- many of whom have sided with Fidel Castro over the years
-- are rushing to his defense. PRD congressmen are camping
out in front of the presidential palace, mobilizing marches
and holding hunger strikes. Markets were a bit jittery this
week. Mexico is once again bracing for a round of "sexenio"
What worries a lot of Mexicans and their neighbors to the
north is not the prosecution of Amlo, who by all
appearances deserves to be held accountable for flouting
the law. The trouble is that if this dispute isn't
resolved, the victor in 2006, whoever he might be, could
have his term tarnished by challenges to his legitimacy.
The Fox government seems to be acknowledging this.
Yesterday it said it was considering a "pardon" for Amlo if
he is found guilty, so that he can still run for president.
Yet the greater worry for Mexican democracy ought to be
what this case demonstrates more broadly: that since the
70-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
ended in 2000, Mexico's leadership has failed to secure the
rule of law so that justice is meted out uniformly, without
regard to politics. The Lopez Obrador case is hardly the
"witch hunt" that his defenders claim, since he apparently
defied a court that ruled against his dubious use of
expropriated land. But given Mexico's history of PRI
high-handedness, Mr. Fox's well-known dislike for Amlo and
the timing of it all, Mexicans are suspicious that the
legal action is, at least in some part, political.
Arbitrary use of law by politicians is a longstanding
tradition in Latin America and explains a lot of the
region's inability to advance politically and economically.
Socialist and Marxist doctrines focus on economic
"inequality" as the source of Latin backwardness -- as did
the Mexican Revolution that brought forth the dysfunctional
PRI -- and claim that redistributing wealth will end
poverty. But after decades of such cynical politicking,
serious development economists now conclude that what the
state ought to aspire to is equality under the law, not
equality of economic outcomes. The former allows economic
and social mobility so that individuals can progress. The
latter brings forth Cuba.
If anyone ought to understand how the law can be used by
the ruling class against its political enemies, it's Amlo.
He came up through the ranks of the PRI in his native state
of Tabasco, earning straight As in patronage politics.
When the PRI began to drift away from the authoritarian
corporatism of the 20th century, he broke away, along with
other reactionaries, to form the PRD.
In his own city government he has played fast and loose
with the law whenever it suits him. The case for which he
has lost his immunity is but one example. In another
expropriation case, when a judgment went against him, he
declared that he would refuse to pay because the money was
needed for the poor, a favorite populist dodge. His
government has been plagued by corruption scandals,
including the videotaping of his former campaign manager
allegedly taking $45,000 in bills from an Argentine
construction magnate and stuffing it in his briefcase and
pockets. He has been unwilling to advance reform among the
city's law enforcement bureaucracy, favoring its political
support over the population's need for security. If Mr.
Lopez Obrador is a victim of discretionary application of
the law, he is also a practitioner.
Goldman Sachs Emerging Markets reported on Wednesday that
in a recent poll, "about half of the [Mexican] population
is opposed to the lifting of Amlo's immunity and about
two-thirds are against a prison sentence or barring him
from running for President." It's not that the man is
wildly popular. Such poll numbers mostly reflect distrust
of the system.
Under seven decades of PRI rule, Mexico suffered badly from
discretionary law. Mexican political scientist Luis Rubio
says that many had hoped that the Fox government would find
a way to break with the past, as Spain did after Franco
died, and form a consensus that would allow the country to
go forward. "Implicit in the rule of law is the principle
that everyone accepts it," says Mr. Rubio. "In the absence
of the origin of such a social contract, you need to find
ways for stakeholders to agree." Mexicans still wait for
that development. "Everything remains discretionary," says
Mr. Lopez Obrador is basking in the support his case has
engendered. But if he does pay some penalty for his
contempt for the courts, he will only have gotten caught in
the web spun over decades by his own machine politics. As
for Mexico, the case presents dangers but also an
opportunity to finally confront the hard-to-banish demons
of PRI authoritarianism and put them to rest by securing an
agreement, once and for all, that no Mexican is above the
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