Tall, striking, and as piercingly eloquent as ever when addressing throngs of dedicated supporters, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is back at the top of a massive street-level social movement in Mexico. And this time it's not over votes. It's over Mexico's oil.
The leftist-populist former mayor of Mexico City — who in 2006 was narrowly, narrowly defeated in the contested presidential election against conservative Felipe Calderon — is leading a movement to prevent the “privatization” of the state oil company Pemex. Calderon is seeking to open Pemex to private or foreign investors who he says would be able to help Mexico drill for potential new reserves in the country's drying oil fields. The struggling Pemex is a working symbol of post-Revolution nationalism in Mexico, and the anti-privatization movement argues that any space for foreign capital or influence in Pemex's infrastructure would constitute an assault on the Constitution and on Mexican sovereignty.
Mexico's oil “belongs to all Mexicans,” they chant, and it's future should not be determined by a tiny class of Mexican politicians and businessmen whose wealth and influence seems to swell more and more while millions upon millions of other Mexicans live out their lives in dire poverty.
AMLO and his well-organized, women-led “brigades” have taken over — again — some streets in the Centro Historico, this time targeting the Senate, where Calderon's reform package is being considered. “They're afraid of us, because we are not afraid,” they sing, while promising widespread civil disobedience.
But, to put it bluntly, the whole controversy is confusing as hell.
As with many spectacles in the melodrama of Mexican political life, it's difficult to tell what is fact and what is fiction, who is allied with whom, why, and what's really at stake. Developments in the fight over Pemex cascade daily upon average Mexican news consumers out Congress, from “Mexican White House” Los Pinos, and in the chattering punditry. The overall effect is general bewilderment.
So AMLO's brigades this week are launching an “information campaign” to educate Mexicans on what they're calling the threats to Pemex and Mexico at large — as the world, we all know, continues to globalize at an alarming, almost exponential speed. This article from IPS, a globalization- and development-minded news service, declares that Pemex is in its “death throes” and needs to be at least partly opened to the private sector.
Meanwhile, as this L.A. Times piece notes, Mexico City is increasingly suffering from “protest fatigue” and is considering a law that would severely limit the “bloqueo,” a central operating tactic in Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's political arsenal. I've been intermittently attending his mass “meetings” in Mexico City's Zocalo, and can report that his supporters remain as ardent and committed as ever to the man they see as an articulator of their frustrations, and hopes.
Finally, refresh yourself on AMLO and his movement at his official website, still titled “Legitimate Government of Mexico.”