Following López Obrador’s election in Mexico, can other Latin American countries consolidate progressive agendas and the regional integration project?

Amid an atmosphere of hope for millions of Mexicans, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has assumed the presidency of Mexico. This hope is driven by the historic promise of a fourth revolution to improve majority living conditions and end the violence and institutional degradation in which successive neoliberal governments, tied to the US, have left the country.

López Obrador’s mandate is inspired by important figures from the country’s political history, as the government’s new institutional image suggests. They are Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos, heroes of the struggle against the Spanish empire; Benito Juárez, the son of indigenous Zapotec parents and liberal president of the Reformation; Francisco Madero, a political reference to the 1910 revolution against the Porfirista dictatorship; and General Lázaro Cárdenas del Río, who promoted agrarian reform, nationalised oil and gave asylum to thousands of people persecuted during the Spanish Civil War.

It is, undoubtedly, a heritage of inclusion and social rights, of sovereignty and dignity. A legacy of national unity and courageous transformation that will seek to overcome a horizon cluttered with obstacles.

The musician Silvio Rodríguez, who as an inspiration was invited to AMLO’s country home in Palenque for the inauguration, conveyed the challenge facing the new government with a poem by his Cuban compatriot Nicolás Guillén. ‘To make this wall, bring me all the hands, the blacks, their black hands, the whites, their white hands …’, recited the troubadour, citing resistance to racist and fascist walls.

Meanwhile, in the port of Buenos Aires, another wall of police and fences shielded the G20 meeting of world leaders and other, lesser, species. There, Mexico’s outgoing president Peña Nieto executed his final act of neoliberal delivery by signing the new T-MEC trade treaty between Mexico, Canada and the United States (known in English as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA), an enforced renewal of the old NAFTA.

The hope of return to the virtuous path  

The presence at AMLO’s inauguration of several presidents and leftwing leaders, such as Evo Morales Ayma, Nicolás Maduro, Miguel Díaz Canel and Manuel Zelaya, symbolised the hope with which Latin American revolutionaries and progressives now look towards their own North. Following the painful defeat to fascism in Brazil, it is a necessarily welcome horizon.

Does AMLO’s presidency signify a possible return to the dream of Latin American and Caribbean sovereignty? Is it the possible beginning of a new ‘wave’ – ​​in the words of Bolivia’s vice-president Álvaro García Lineras – of governments aligned with their people rather than with the masters of capital? Will the new Mexican government be able to build bridges and re-draw the outlines of a regional integration project today blurred by imperialism?

Although too early to say with certainty, to address these questions we should consider the approaching regional outlook as means of understanding Latin America and the Caribbean’s main challenges in the long journey towards emancipation.

The predictable and the unpredictable

In the arena of democratic institutions, Venezuela will hold municipal elections in a few days’ time (9 December), whereby some opposition or local parties, in addition to the PSUV and its allies, could obtain good results. Beyond that, the Bolivarian government will continue seeking a return to negotiations with the opposition to alleviate a relentless economic war. The outlook remains complicated given that the United States has strengthened its position in the region and can count on a militarist and McCarthy-ite right in power in Brazil. As counterbalance to the coup regime’s consolidation in Brazil, López Obrador’s successful management of government and the possibility for a less aggressive foreign policy rooted in dialogue will be an important contribution.

Although regional peace is the primary concern, progressive forces in Latin America must also offer committed support to the Bolivarian revolution to redirect Venezuela’s economic situation. Toppling Nicolás Maduro’s government is almost as useful to the neocolonial subjugation strategy as blaming it for the country’s economic hardships, in which the depiction of Venezuela as a failed socialist experiment quashes the idea that there are alternatives to capitalist barbarism.

Such propaganda is not so easy in Bolivia, a country that alongside Paraguay projects the year’s highest economic growth at around 4.3 per cent, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). In its latest report ‘Economic Survey of Latin America and the Caribbean 2018’, the Commission pointed to Evo Morales’ government policies based in public investment and domestic consumption, noting the low level of debt issuance, among other positive factors, compared with other countries in the region.

Despite this, conservative sectors will not halt their attacks against the re-election of the Morales-García Lineras pairing in 2019’s primary and general elections. The opposition will deploy all known manipulation strategies, and perhaps others, since any objective reading of the situation favours the current government.

In El Salvador, the FMLN government will encounter difficulties to stay in office and obtain a parliamentary majority in the election on 3 February 2019. Currently, the former mayor of San Salvador, Nayib Bukele, who was expelled from the FMLN in 2017, appears best placed for victory against the rightwing ARENA party candidate, Carlos Calleja. Defeat for the FMLN would constitute a new setback for the regional left and, of course, for the blocks of sovereign regional integration.

The presidencies of Panama (in May) and Guatemala (in June) are also at stake in Central America. Although it is difficult at this stage to make predictions, most contenders belong to establishment parties and the right, which does not encourage optimism for positive changes.

Additionally, in Central America, perhaps unpredictability is the most predictable outlook. The Hernández government’s weakness in Honduras, social deterioration in Costa Rica, US aggression against Nicaragua, the immigration issue and the prevailing US-China dispute make Central America an unstable powder keg where unexpected shifts could occur during the year. Something similar could happen in Haiti if demonstrations over President Jovenel Moise’s unpopularity intensify.

Another key moment comes in October when, in addition to the Bolivian elections, new governments will be elected in Uruguay and Argentina. The Frente Amplio in Uruguay will encounter difficulties to continue after three consecutive years in power.

In Argentina, the unpopularity of the neoliberal Macri government is sky-high, but returning to a popular Peronist government is not assured. The monopolistic media and the US government will work hard to divide and smear the opposition’s public image. Only a strong and unified mass movement will be able to prevent the catastrophe of a new victory for concentrated power.

The enormous fragility of Peru’s political system adds to the regional instability, as President Vizcarra’s barely manages to navigate stormy seas. The loss of institutional legitimacy of the Lenin Moreno government in Ecuador, downplayed by the hegemonic media, and economic deterioration caused by adjustments could, as history tells us, ignite the spark of indignation and swiftly set the prairie ablaze.

What will happen to regional integration?

Today, people around the world are confronted by capitalism’s lack of opportunities, an uncertain future and widespread insecurity. Suffocating cultural globalisation and alienation is produced by rapid changes and the anguish of a social model that promotes the severing of ties, individualistic competition and irrational consumption. In Latin America, this accompanies the demoralisation driven by ‘anti-corruption crusades’ promoted by the United States to eliminate political and, consequently, economic competition.

Rather than take the only possible path – a humanist revolution of social values ​​and organisation, the emergence of a new common-sense redistribution of wealth and collective emancipation – a large sector of the population, perhaps the most vulnerable, opts for regression, providing a lifeline to conservative morals, religious fundamentalisms and authoritarian leaders. All of this serves established power. The rightward social shift raises questions around systemic decline, globalised oppression and even the rationalist social foundations that emerged from the revolutions of the eighteenth century.

In this adverse climate, the slow progress of integration and sovereignty in recent years is today being swept aside by a global and regional wave of fragmentation. As it falls from the pedestal of unipolarity, the US aspires to eradicate all resistance to reaffirm its dominance over the nations south of the Rio Bravo. The progressive governments of Latin America, beginning with Mexico’s new beacon of light, will have to confront internal shock forces that will consume most of their available energies, impeding this energy’s ability to flow towards shared integration projects.

Nevertheless, we can already see the renewal of ties of a broad mass movement which offers a more promising future in which the social grassroots and, especially, young generations and women will be at the forefront. The fire of the people’s unity and sovereignty cannot be extinguished but, having dimmed to a glow due to institutional political adversity, it must be nurtured until the powerful flame ignites once again.

Translated by Alborada

This article was originally published in Spanish in América Latina en Movimiento.