Smith: Anti-NAFTA AMLO, Mexico’s next president?

Author: Morgan Smith - June 19, 2017 - Updated: June 16, 2017

Morgan Smith
Morgan Smith

Now that the Trump administration has initiated the process of renegotiating the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), let’s hope that this process is marked by thoughtfulness and not rhetoric like the president’s earlier comments that NAFTA was “the worst trade deal in history.” Despite the anti-trade rhetoric, NAFTA has been a great success, resulting in a dramatic increase in trade with both Canada and Mexico, making those two countries Colorado’s largest export markets. Here in New Mexico, Mexico accounts for 41 percent of all New Mexico exports. And in Texas we are talking about tens of billions of dollars in exports to Mexico.

Nonetheless, the agreement is now more than 20 years old and it’s logical to consider updating it. The process should be quick and without controversy because our Mexico relations are very likely to become much more difficult next year.

I’m talking about Mexico’s presidential elections that will take place in the summer of 2018. There is a strong likelihood that the winner will be Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, better known as AMLO. A fiery 63-year-old populist, he ran in 2006, barely lost, claimed fraud and shut down the center of Mexico City in protest. He ran again in 2012, lost by a slightly larger margin and again claimed fraud. I was in Mexico City for both elections and remember referring to him as a “has been” in a 2012 article.

That was wrong. Seeing him in person at a recent rally in El Paso, Texas, I realized how articulate and well prepared a candidate he is. Unfortunately, he is not in favor of NAFTA and trade in general, in opening up Mexico’s energy sector to foreign investment, or in reining in the teacher’s unions that have done so much to damage educational opportunities for young Mexicans. How well he would work with the United States on other key common issues like drugs, border enforcement and immigration is problematic. He was the mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005, left office with an approval rating of 84 percent and has experience actually governing. Unfortunately, he has been on a much more radical path since then.

Three years ago, he formed his own party, Morena or the Nationalist Regeneration Movement and on Sunday, June 4, Delfina Gómez, his candidate almost defeated the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the race for governor of the state of Mexico, the most important election in the country after next year’s presidential election and a significant accomplishment considering that the state had been in the control of the PRI for decades.

“He’s the only man who can save Mexico,” a young woman named Aida sitting next to me cried out as we waited for AMLO to at the El Paso, Texas, rally. He visited a number of U.S. cities with the goal of showing support for Mexican immigrants who live in the U.S.

When AMLO suddenly appeared on stage, the music shifted to The Joker by the Steve Miller Band. As he then slowly made his way to the podium, we heard “ I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker.” Curious!

I was expecting to see a radical, angry man who was going to spend much of his time attacking Donald Trump regarding immigration and the wall. He is now way ahead in the polls with about 45 percent and every time Trump attacks or insults Mexico, his ratings go up.

Despite having run for President twice, he is 7 years younger than Trump and very vigorous and fit looking. He is an excellent speaker and, although Trump and his policies are a major issue for all Mexicans, AMLO spoke on what he would do to improve life for his Mexican citizens.

First, he contended that Mexico’s biggest problem is corruption. If he can do something about it, that would be an extraordinary accomplishment. He spoke about income inequality and said that Mexico’s 4 top billionaires have as much wealth as the bottom half of the population, and the wealth of Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man with about $55 billion, equals 6 percent of Mexico’s GDP.

He promised to double the minimum wage which is now about $5 a day. That compares to over $10 an hour here in Santa Fe. In other words, a worker in Santa Fe earns in a half hour what a worker in Mexico earns in a full day!

Most impressive in his El Paso speech were AMLO’s ideas for enhancing the natural advantages of each region of Mexico, whether it be tourism along the Caribbean, the automobile industry, a special economic zone in the Tehuantepec area, forestry in the south, two new refineries so that gas doesn’t have to be imported, or an expanded “free zone” in the north to stimulate business with the United States.

Frankly, he was far more specific about what he would plan to accomplish than most American candidates I have heard. Nonetheless, I still believe that, at heart, he is an angry, ultra-leftist nationalist and would be disastrous for U.S.-Mexico relations.  It would be a tragedy — and one with certain negative impacts on Colorado — if Trump’s efforts to bring Mexico to heel were to result in AMLO’s election.

Morgan Smith

Morgan Smith

Morgan Smith served with Steve Hogan in the Colorado House of Representatives in the 1975 and 1976 sessions. He can be reached at Morgan-smith@comcast.net.