Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador another Chavez?

Andres Manuel Chávez Frias or Hugo Rafael Lopez Obrador?
By Gustavo Coronel

The information about Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, one of the Mexican presidential candidates, reveals a personality that has so many points of coincidence with that of Hugo Chavez Frias, the Venezuelan strongman, that I wonder if there exists, somewhere, a manufacturing site where people like them are being mass produced to take over political power in the western hemisphere. Ollanta Humala, the recently defeated Peruvian candidate also seems to be built with the help of the basic blueprint while Nestor Kirchner of Argentina and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua share many of the same characteristics.

Lopez Obrador and Chavez are both provincial and parochial. Lopez Obrador comes from the state of Tabasco and prides himself in not having a passport since "the best foreign policy is the domestic policy." He confesses that, even moving from his native state to the plateau of Mexico City, put a strain in his adaptive capacities. "The culture is very different," he complains. Chavez comes from the state of Barinas, where people walk around in alpargatas (crude sandals), eat meat on skews and are prone to recite cheap romantic poetry about the plains, the inclement sun and the white herons. Although he has learned to travel abroad and overdoes it, he remains a small town boy, handling his relations with kings and presidents in the same manner he would handle an outing with his boyhood friends. His rhetoric is full of quotes from tacky poems and he does not shy away from breaking into songs on national TV.

Lopez Obrador likes baseball and played baseball. Chavez played baseball and tried to become a professional player but, unfortunately for the country, did not have enough talent. Lopez Obrador's favorite subjects seem to be Tabasco and baseball. Chavez's favorite topics are baseball and Barinas, where his grandfather Maisanta is now famous due to the myths Chavez has created.

Lopez Obrador has been a populist governor. Chavez has been a populist president. They both prefer handouts to structural solutions to poverty since these take too much time. As Governor of the Federal District Lopez Obrador instituted a bonus of 700 pesos per month to all residents over 70 years old. In Venezuela Hugo Chavez literally throws money at the poor, in an effort to keep them believing that "big daddy" is going to take care of them forever. As a result, both in the Federal District of Mexico and in Venezuela poverty has actually increased and real, stable, tax-paying employment has been replaced by an ever growing informal economy.

When confronted with political dissidence both react in the same manner. Chavez dismisses opposition leaders as escualidos, "oligarchs," "traitors," "the rich white boys," and frijolitos (after the name of the horse of his 1998 adversary Henrique Salas). Lopez Obrador talks about political adversaries as los de arriba (the upper class), the "rich," the "exquisite" and other terms such as picudos (big mouths) and finolis (effetes). Any popular protest against them, they will claim, has been organized by the extreme Right or by the CIA. Both are prone to use racist terms against their adversaries: the white, the rich, the well to do, the pirruris (blond).

Neither Lopez Obrador nor Chavez favor transparency in government. They use national money as if it were theirs, to achieve their own political objectives. Chavez has stopped accounting to the people on how he spends Venezuelan money and decides arbitrarily and viscerally to give away billions of dollars to his favorite ideological allies: Castro, Morales and Kirchner. Lopez Obrador does not handle that kind of money but he resisted the Law of Transparency instituted by Vicente Fox and made it impossible to operate in his dominions. Some of his collaborators have been filmed taking bribes. Chavez's close circle is full of hyper-corruption since there are no controls, no accountability and no formal administrative procedures in the chaotic regime.

Violence is no big deal in their eyes. Chavez is responsible for the death of many innocent Venezuelan citizens during his bloody military coup of 1992 against the democratically elected president Carlos Andres Perez. Lopez Obrador is reported to favor the traditional manners of behavior based on ignorance, including violence, to the application of the Mexican law. He has been quoted as saying: "A Law which is not just is simply no good. The law was made for man, not the man for the law," suggesting that he is the one who decides about the usefulness of the law. He is reported to have a "Marxist concept of the law, as a tool of the bourgeoisie to dominate the proletariat."

Both have gone on record as claiming they are above the law. Chavez publicly instructed his Ministers not to abide by the rulings of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice whenever these rulings were not in line with the revolution and, in fact, some of the decisions made by that tribunal were simply ignored by his regime. Lopez Obrador has also publicly rebelled against judicial decisions, saying that the courts cannot be above "popular sovereignty" and saying that he would go to prison before accepting those decisions.

They are both autocratic and do not believe in checks and balances. They share a messianic approach to the exercise of power and promote the popular belief that they are put there by the divine providence and constitute the champions of the poor and the dispossessed. Both have been close to the Catholic Church in their early years and have now become bitterly anti-clerical. Lopez Obrador says: "I am a mystic, I am in the hands of my people." Chavez says: "I am a piece of straw in the winds of the revolution."

They promote social and political polarization as a tool to consolidate their political power. In doing this they sow hate among the people and fail one of the fundamental duties of political leaders, which is bringing society together and not tearing it apart.

In the early 1980's Lopez Obrador became the organizer of PRI, the official political party, in his native Tabasco. He created a communist type of organization that was rejected by other local leaders, including Governor Enrique Gonzalez Pedrero, as "reflecting a Cuban type of organization." "We are not in Cuba," admonished Gonzalez, who went on to dismiss him.

They both love and promote gigantic mass mobilizations, as long as they are in their support. Chavez, of course, has already used extreme force to repress popular marches against him and Lopez Obrador has gone on record to say that "this country does not move forward with elections but with mass mobilizations," establishing a theory of permanent social mobilization as a means to gain his political objectives.

Enrique Krauze, the author of an excellent profile of Lopez Obrador ("El mesías tropical," June 2006, Letras Libres) that I have used to base much of my comparison between the two men, says that the main problem with Lopez Obrador is … Lopez Obrador. I have also come to the conclusion that the main problem with Hugo Chavez is … Hugo Chavez. These men carry their best friends and worst enemies inside. Krauze says that Lopez Obrador "does not represent the modern Left but the authoritarian Left." The same applies to Chavez. They are not pragmatic but obsessed with ideology. As such they are incapable of recognizing their errors and will persist in committing them ad infinitum. In some ways they remind me of the definition of madness offered by Albert Einstein. Madness, he said, is "the incessant repetition of the same actions, always expecting a different result."

Lopez Obrador will not succeed in establishing an authoritarian regime in Mexico, even if he wins the election. That country is too imbricate with the US economically, socially and politically, for this to happen. It is too close to the US geographically and otherwise. In addition, Mexico is already in a stage of economic and political evolution that will make such pretensions impossible. The country is too big and already too decentralized.

In Venezuela conditions are slightly different but Chavez is having a hard time imposing a Cuban style regime. Venezuela, used to say one of our 19th-century dictators, is "like a dry animal skin. You step on it on one side and the other side jumps up." In spite of the enormous oil wealth being pilfered in propaganda-oriented social programs and in creating paid, artificial support all over the world for the ill defined "Socialist" revolution, Chavez is not moving forward but, like a crab, manages one step forward and another step backwards or, at best, sideways. He wins Bolivia and loses Peru. He wins Iran and loses Brazil. He wins Kirchner, or does he really? He loses Uruguay. They love him at the TransAfrica Forum but dismiss him as a clown in the European Union. All in all, not so good and, meanwhile, the money from oil is being spent at such a rapid pace that the Venezuelan Central Bank is now technically broke. Can readers imagine a Central Bank going broke?

Hugo Rafael Lopez Obrador or Andres Manuel Chavez Frias? You take your pick. It does not really make much difference!

© 2006 Gustavo Coronel

About Gustavo Coronel.

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