International News Editor
“There’s currently more democracy in Mexico than in the United States,” stated President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (Amlo) of Mexico after the U.S. State Department criticized a new law passed by his government, which critics say would weaken the electoral system, reports Deutsche Welle. On February 26, tens of thousands of Mexicans came out in Mexico City to protest the controversial electoral overhaul law passed by Amlo’s party, reports the Associated Press.
With democracy seemingly on the decline around the world, including in the United States, the Mexican president’s statements may not be so far off from the truth. Part of the strength of Mexico’s democracy, however, stems from the very institution Amlo has just weakened with his new law. The law passed by the Mexican Senate by a 72-50 vote margin, would reduce funding for the National Electoral Institute (INE), which has conducted independent elections in Mexico since 1990. Before the introduction of an independent electoral commission, Mexican elections were rife with controversy and corruption as the country was subjected to one-party rule for nearly 70 years, according to Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera furthers that the INE was not immune from its own controversies, however, the greatest of which occurred in 2006 when Amlo lost the presidential election by a razor-thin margin of 0.6 percent. His party filed election lawsuits and requested recounts, but the INE (known then as the IFE) denied his party’s petitions. This led to weeks of mass protests in Mexico from Amlo’s supporters, who alleged fraud and mistrust in the electoral system was reignited. Amlo was later elected in 2018 in a landslide victory, leading his popular Leftist coalition, Morena, to win majorities in Congress, reports BBC News. Amlo was a popular former mayor of Mexico City and led a populist campaign that denounced the high salaries of federal bureaucrats, like INE commissioners, and called for more money to be spent on the poor. Even today, according to the Council of the Americas, his popularity remains at nearly 60 percent, one of the highest for a Mexican president in recent years.
Amlo is term-limited, however, and won’t be able to run for reelection. Despite his popularity, leftist leaders in Latin America have faced challenges from the establishment institutions in their countries and have faced coups in countries like Honduras in 2009 and Bolivia in 2018. The Intercept and Guardian both report that both these coups were supported by the U.S. government, so Amlo’s response to the U.S. State Department is understandable. Even in Peru, former leftist President Castillo faced impeachment attempts from the political establishment from the beginning of his presidency after defeating the right-wing daughter of the country’s former fascist dictator, according to Reuters. While Castillo’s subsequent actions of suspending the parliament to avoid another impeachment were unjustifiable, Amlo continues to support the former president and has denounced his ousting as a coup, reports Reuters.
While Amlo’s fears may be justified, one thing remains clear: the U.S. has no leg to stand on to defend democracy in Latin America. The single greatest obstacle to democracy in Latin America over the past 50 years has been U.S. interventions, usually to overthrow popular leftist presidents, explains Harvard’s ReVista. Now is it a coincidence that the U.S. denounces Amlo right after, as Reuters reports, he decreed that his government would nationalize large lithium reserves in the country, an element critical to producing electric vehicles? Even if it is a coincidence, there is no doubt that it would spark fear in the Leftist president’s mind. The United State’s hypocrisy is on full display as it criticizes Mexico’s electoral changes but has yet to denounce Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s own massively unpopular judicial overhauls, according to the Associated Press. The United State’s unfettered support for Apartheid Israel and other authoritarian regimes across the Middle East shows the weaknesses in the Biden administration’s supposed support for democracy worldwide.
Mexicans, and in fact citizens of every country, should be free to protest their own governments without U.S. interference. Amlo’s actions should be criticized as the moves he has taken will only weaken faith in the country’s electoral system. His accusing the protestors of Narco links does not help his claim either, according to CNN. The threat to democracy should also not be overblown, however, as Amlo has not as of yet acted outside the law or tried to stifle political dissent by cracking down on protestors. Mexican citizens will be allowed to make their voices heard at the next election, and while Amlo’s opponents can point to recent electoral changes as reasons for potential losses, the fact remains that Amlo is still incredibly popular. At the end of the day, voters, not protestors, will render their judgment on the president’s actions.
Image Courtesy of Greensefa, Flickr