In Defense of AMLO—Understanding MORENA’s Project

Some on the U.S. left have criticized Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador without grasping the project he represents, which is to challenge the old neoliberal order through sovereign development and poverty alleviation.

43 mins read
Children stay in front of their humble home in El Magueyito, Guerrero State, Mexico, on July 19, 2015. [AFP PHOTO/ Pedro PARDO]

U.S. corporate media decries AMLO as an ‘authoritarian.’ Some in the U.S. left have criticized AMLO’s party, MORENA, for its emphasis on extractivism and its conflicts with some Indigenous communities. What’s often left out of the narrative is that MORENA has successfully lifted 9 million Mexicans out of poverty since 2018. What’s the true story of MORENA’s political project? José Granados Ceja of the Mexico Solidarity Project joins Bill Fletcher Jr., a member of the TRNN board, for a live discussion hosted by Red Emma’s in Baltimore on MORENA’s political role in the context of Mexico’s recent history.


The following transcript is from an episode of The Real News Podcast.

Ken: We are going to get started. We really already have gotten started and it is always, always, always so good to see everybody when you come to visit us for an event or any other reason. I am the poet known as Analysis and on behalf of the entire Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse team, we welcome you. We know that you could be elsewhere, anywhere from a number of events going on in the Baltimore Washington area to sitting in your good chair at home. We all have that good chair. Mine is waiting for me as soon as I leave here tonight. You could have already been in yours, but you chose to be here in fellowship and community with us. And we definitely appreciate that. Is there anybody visiting Red Emma’s for the first time this evening by any chance? First time visitors? We do have a couple. Good. Excellent.

Well, first of all, you are now officially Red Emma’s fam, baptized you into the name of like Radical Left Coffee House in Baltimore organizing. Please come back. I’m not sure that everybody knows that Red Emma’s is a worker collective, so that is perhaps the most distinct thing you should know about us upfront. Everybody you see on the team is either an owner or in position to become an owner, trying to demonstrate a different economic model in the midst of a big capitalist system. We are a vegan restaurant, which many of you have already found out, and we invite you to go ahead and order something to eat or drink during the event. We have 12,000 books on the other side of those doors, so there is plenty for you to explore, two floors worth and you definitely should take time to do that, whether it be tonight or sometime soon. You can get lost in it, there are many worst places to get lost in. So you should definitely browse through.

And just so that you know, I’ve brought a couple things out with us tonight here on the table related to our conversation, but there are many, many more things when we talk about Mexico specifically, when we talk about Latin America or organizing or electoral politics generally. There are many, many, many more books on the other side of those doors and so you definitely want to go ahead and avail yourself of what is happening there. We have plenty of events, so glad that you were here tonight and there are plenty of other things going on. You can find them all at is where you want to get your info for everything that’s happening and especially right now.

This September, October, November period that we are in, the events have been popping, okay? Really, really good things. We’re not going to talk about all of them. I will remind you that tomorrow night, Erica Woodland and Kara Page will be here with the book ‘Healing Justice Lineages.’ Again, that’s ‘Healing Justice Lineages: Dreaming at the crossroads of Liberation Collective Care and Safety.’ That is tomorrow at 7:00 PM. That is going to be a very good discussion. Next Wednesday, this will be if you’re a coffee house lover and a cafe lover and a radical person, and you all are all of those because you’re sitting here, you’ll enjoy next Wednesday at seven. Alex Ketchum presents, Ingredients for Revolution, a History of American Feminist Restaurants, Cafes, and Coffee Houses. I’m looking forward to that discussion. That’s next Wednesday at seven.

So many things I won’t, as I say, get into them all, but I have to tell you that Kimberly Crenshaw will be here the last Friday of the month. That is going to be the 27th at 6:30 PM. You may know that she has a new book out, ‘Hashtag Say Her Name.’ We have it over there if you want to go ahead and beat the line and get it now, so you can just have it signed on the 27th. That might be a smart play right there. And then on Saturday the 28th, Ayu Saraswat and Tanya Golash-Boza with a joint book event on ‘Scarred’, excuse me, and ‘Before Gentrification: The Creation of D.C.’s Racial Wealth Gap.’ Bill, you and I and others who have been around D.C. long enough have watched the whole thing develop without question. And then another friend of the project, Andrea Richie, will be here Saturday also, 7:00 PM on Saturday the 28th, her new book ‘Practicing New World.’ So there’s so much stuff coming up. Please go to, go to the events tab so that you can see them all.

And of course I will never have the mic without talking about my own child, which I gave birth to a little more than 10 years, actually about 11 years right now. And it is called Red Emma’s Mother Earth Poetry Vibe, Red Emma’s Mother Earth Poetry Vibe. It is our quarterly open mic of Peace Justice Poetry. So come drop a poem on us or just get all of the dynamic energy featuring on November 4th at 6:00 PM will be a Amin TMK, Amin TMK, formerly known as a Amin Drew Law, a dynamic national slam champion Palestinian American poet. And he’s got some shit to say right about now. And he is looking forward to being here at Red Emma’s where he can say it without the universities canceling him, which has already happened and things of that nature. All right, so that is November 4th at 6:00 PM.

If you are like me and you have been watching some of the leftist electoral victories over the past 10, 15, 20 years in Latin America, you sit here and you wonder, “Now how can I make that work for us here in the United States?” And I get frustrated at the duopoly that we are stuck in here in this particular country. And so anytime I see one of the electoral victories in Latin America, the first thing I want to know is, how left is it. Or is it its own Latin American version of maybe the left end of the duopoly? And so I always start looking at that.

But again, how did it happen? And I’m so glad this discussion is happening this evening so that we can take a look at exactly how decades worth of right-wing administrations and right-wing rule in Mexico was electorally overturned by the person we all affectionately call AMLO, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador. And we have an excellent, excellent top journalist here to discuss it with us. José Luis Granados Ceja is an experienced Mexican Canadian freelance journalist based down in Mexico City, has worked throughout Latin America, not only writing but as an election observer. So he brings a very important perspective to us. A member of the Canadian Electoral Mission in the 2009 election in El Salvador and as an ethnocultural outreach officer for Elections Canada in the 2011 federal election. He was there observing the 2018 elections that elected AMLO. He has written and strategized for the scholar and Citizen Network for democracy and so much more. Has a new project out and I hope he tells us a little bit more about that, a new book and project coming out dealing with Venezuela and some of the electoral organizing there.

I’m also very glad to welcoming conversation with us, Red Emma’s fam needs no introduction to most of you I’m sure. Bill Fletcher Jr. has been a community and labor strategist and organizer for many years now. The past president of TransAfrica Forum, the author of ‘Solidarity Divided, The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice,’ it’s sitting right over there. And, ‘”They’re Bankrupting Us!”: And 20 Other Myth about Unions.’ It’s sitting right over there. And in more recent years a novelist too. So you need to come check that out as well.

We are very honored that tonight’s event is also co-sponsored by the Mexico Solidarity Project, which is organized in 2019 after the 2018 elections that elected AMLO to the presidency in the United States. I’m not going to say much about it now, because I’m hoping Cameron, before the end of the night that you will take the mic and give us a little bit about it and how we might stay in contact with it. We are going to get into the presidential elections of AMLO and the organizing that it took and the cross border organizing that we can do for it. I need y’all to make some real radical Red Emma’s noise for Bill Fletcher Jr. and José Luis Granados, say hi.

Bill Fletcher Jr.: Thank you Ken, and good evening everyone. I want to begin by thanking Red Emma’s, special thanks to Ken. I want to thank the Real News who is recording tonight’s program and the Mexico Solidarity Project. And as Ken mentioned, Cameron Barron here representing it. The format we’re going to use is a discussion between me and José Luis. And then around in about 40, 45 minutes, we’ll open it up to comments and questions from you. We want to cover three general areas and they may go in and out. One is about the current political situation in Mexico. A second is about the issue of immigration, and the third is about narco trafficking and the so-called cartels. And that last issue is particularly important given some of the things that the Republican Party has been threatening if they gain power in 2024. So I want to first thank you for doing this.

José Granados Ceja: Thank you for having me.

Bill Fletcher Jr.: Pleasure. So I want to just start with you explaining to us the current political situation in Mexico. And one qualification is that in many left and progressive circles in the United States, there is a disparaging of AMLO and of Morena. And sometimes people couch that in pro-Zapatista talk, others just simply trash them. And there’s very little does useful in the mainstream media analyzing the situation. So could you tell us, how would you describe the current political situation?

José Granados Ceja: I think it’s a great place to begin. I think the introduction here hit the nail on the head. 2018 represented the end of a neoliberal regime in Mexico that largely began in the mid-eighties and really became consolidated over the last few decades. And in fact, this commentary about the duopoly that existed in Mexico, I think is very accurate because what Lopez Obrador was able to do was totally smash that duopoly. It changed the political scene in Mexico. And you’re right that a lot of people don’t know exactly what’s going on and there are many, many positives.

And that’s what I want to talk about, because with the Mexico Solidarity Project, what we’re trying to do is present that other narrative, that counter narrative. I think unfortunately, like you said, mainstream media cannot be relied upon. There are very specific class political interest behind the coverage of Mexico. There is, I think a deliberate effort to try to mask what’s happening, because it can serve an inspiration to people in the United States who are looking to do the same exact thing.

I’ve been doing this tour for about a week now, and one of the things that I always like to highlight is I’m not here to tell people in the United States how to organize or what to do. But I do hope that people can take inspiration from what’s happening in Mexico, because if the Republican Democrat duopoly here in the United States seems daunting and almost impossible to defeat, that’s exactly how we felt in Mexico a few years ago and we pulled it off. So I think that’s part of the reason why you don’t hear about it. And I think as a matter of answering why maybe some elements of the left here in North America have a hostility towards it is because it’s true.

I think the engagement that many people had with the Mexican left was mostly the neo-Zapatista, and I think it’s respectable, we should defend it. It is a different kind of left project. It’s an autonomous project, but it’s one that’s not interested in state power. They’ve totally decided that that’s not their priority, even though they were involved with an independent candidate in 2018. Running that candidate was not actually interested, it was about achieving state power, but kind of affecting the debate. And so I think I’m here to talk about that electoral left, that left that does decide, “We’re going to conquer state power via elections through a peaceful democratic transfer of power.” And like I said at the beginning, one way of summing it up, it’s not just a change of government, it’s a change of regime.

What’s happening in Mexico is incredibly exciting and just as a matter to very broadly outline it, I would say what’s happening in Mexico is definitely a leftist project. It’s definitely a progressive project. It’s a project that in some ways can be summed up by a slogan that the president likes to use, which is, [foreign language 00:14:29]. Which is, for the good of everybody, but the poor come first. And it’s a project that’s very much aimed at the Mexican working class, the Mexican campesinos, the informal sector. And yes, some elements of the middle class, but it is antagonistic to that old regime that controlled all the levers of power of the state of government in Mexico, that elite, that political economic elite, the 1%, the ruling class, whatever term you want to use to describe them, that previously enjoyed so many privileges that have now ended. And I think that’s a lot of explains on why the coverage has been so negative.

In terms of the impact, because you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s what I think is important that I think deserves to be highlighted when we talk about Mexico. First of all, it’s a project that’s aimed around meeting people’s needs through a rights-based discourse. So it’s not about charity, it’s about building a welfare state and actually attending to people’s needs in a universalist way. Gone are the days of clientelist social programs.

One of the most popular ones in Mexico is the pension for seniors. For lots of reasons that perhaps we can get into, most people in Mexico don’t have a pension. In fact, anybody who’s ever been to Mexico, if you go to a grocery store, you’ll see senior citizens at the checkouts bagging groceries for tips and it’s because they don’t have a social safety net. Well, Lopez Obrador and Morena party now made it a constitutional that senior citizens get a pension. And it’s not a lot of money, but it’s a life-changing amount of money for many people in the sense that, and when you talk to senior citizens who enjoy this benefit, they say, “Well, now I can afford my medicine. Now I can go out to eat with my grandkids once a month,” or once a week or whatever the money helps them be able to do. Something that wasn’t possible because it was just unaffordable to do anything else. Scholarships for students, programs so that campesinos can stay in their communities, et cetera, et cetera.

One of the other things I always like to highlight is the dramatic reduction in poverty. These change in social programs are having an effect. Very recently, the institute that evaluates poverty in Mexico released a study and from 2018 to the present date, which is about to say the five years that Lopez Obrador has been in power, there are now almost 9 million people less living in poverty. And I always like to highlight that because that’s the material difference. I mean, we can debate about what is the best tactic, but many of us in Mexico have decided to support this project because it’s able to deliver those very real outcomes. That’s a lot. I mean, that’s the size of a country, 9 million people who no longer live in poverty. And it’s thanks to these social programs. It’s thanks to that change.

In fact, it’s funny when you read some of the mainstream coverage of this issue, I remember reading something in Reuters which said, “It’s a mystery as to explain why the poverty went down,” but it happens to coincide with the change in government and the change of policy. They refuse to admit what’s actually behind it, and even try to say, “Oh, it’s thanks to remittances.” The impact is minimal of remittances. And so these are some of the very real things that are happening that I think deserve to be talked about and aren’t being talked about.

We’re also here to talk about labor. This is one of the most labor friendly governments in Mexico’s history. A monumental reform was passed in 2019 to democratize the country’s labor movement. Something that is really inspiring and instills in me a lot of optimism, because it’s the labor movement that we know that can continue to push this project and continue to pull it to the left, which I think is really important. And I’ll close with that, a little bit of comments on democratization, because I think it’s important to kind of view it that way. And I don’t mean necessarily like a liberal understanding of democratization. I don’t mean like, “Oh, we had free and fair elections.” Yes, we did, and that’s important and that’s a historical conquest, and it wasn’t delivered from above and it wasn’t thanks to the electoral authority in the country, which is again what some of the mainstream media has been trying to say about Mexico and that Lopez Obrador is threat to and now represents an authoritarian past.

No, I always like to say when we think about the democratization experience of Mexico, in a sense, it actually starts in 1968 with the student movement, which was militarily repressed. Where its leaders were either jailed or murdered or disappeared. That’s the legacy that we are inheriting, those of us that support this project. We can fast-forward to the year 2000 when there was a first free and fair election according to many observers, where there was a transfer of power, an end to the 70-year rule of the institutional revolutionary party. But the right-wing National Action Party takes over, and everybody who thought this maybe would’ve represented a step forward in the country’s democratization was very soon disappointed, because it was basically a consolidation of the existing regime.

Vicente Fox ruled just as like the pre did and in many ways was worse, and actually relied on the pre and its structures to actually be able to govern. Then we move on to 2005 when Lopez Obrador decides to run for office and they try to prevent him from being a candidate through something that was called the Desafuero, and the people taking to the streets and saying, “We will not tolerate this.” And they were forced to concede and allow him on the ballot. But of course in 2006, they commit electoral fraud. They stop him from being able to take office. There was a very inspirational militant movement, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. There were too many other factors. The balance of forces did not allow that to actually prevent that fraud from being consolidated.

And then you see this neoliberal regime of Felipe Calderon, of Enrique Peña Nieto who also, it wasn’t the same kind of fraud, but they basically bought the election. They overspent, they use state resources, they use social programs to buy their way into office. But finally, 2018, it’s a watershed moment. Lopez Obrador wins and he doesn’t win by a small margin. He wins by more than 52% of the vote, beats his next rival by 30 points, wins a majority together with Morena and its allies in both houses of Congress, and is able to really begin what they call inside Mexico the fourth transformation of the country. Why do we say fourth? The first one struggle for independence. The second one, the reform period with liberals and conservatives, the struggle to oust the foreign occupation by the French in the country successfully. And then the third, the Mexican revolution.

And so there’s a deliberate effort to tie what’s happening to these historical moments, to understand it is monumental. And I’m really glad that we’re here to be able to talk about what that means for the North American relationship, because there are very serious threats coming from imperialism to this project.

Bill Fletcher Jr.: So you mentioned earlier a duopoly in Mexico, but it’s actually not, I mean there’s the pre, there’s the pam, there’s the PRD, which I can’t quite figure out how it went off the deep end. Then you have Morena. So who are the forces? When you talk about the balance of forces, who are the forces that are largely supporting the Morena project and who is opposed?

José Granados Ceja: Yeah, that’s a great question. So as a way of answering that is actually, you mentioned the PRD, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which in a sense owes its birth to that earlier fraud in 1988. That happened against Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, who the son of Lazaro Cardenas, who is widely regarded as probably Mexico’s best president until the 20th century. A man who actually was consistent with the ideals of the Mexican Revolution. So Cuauhtemoc Cardenas runs for office as part of a breakaway from the pre, the commit of fraud. That’s the famous [foreign language 00:22:22], where quite literally they were using very early computer system to calculate the votes. And then it was obvious that Cardenas was about to win. And somebody flipped the switch and somebody went on TV and said, [foreign language 00:22:35], which is a phrase we use a lot when you try to buy something in the convenience store and you can’t use your debit card, like, “[foreign language 00:22:41].”

But it was kind of really almost poetic, the whole system fell apart. Anyway, all that to say, so the PRD was founded, but it went off the rails. And [foreign language 00:22:52] who runs the Cultural Institute in Mexico today, he’s a well regarded figure, a novelist as well. You probably know him, you’re probably friends. He said, we actually had to found this movement twice. The first time in the PRD and then it became corrupted. It became not the vehicle for change, and we had to found Morena. That’s something worth remembering. Morena as a movement was started only 14 years ago and only became a party around 10 years ago, and now controls both houses of Congress, the presidency, 22 of 32 states, including Mexico City. I mean, it’s incredible. And a lot of those victories actually came after 2018, which tells you that this is a popular government. It’s a government that continues to win election. If it wasn’t popular, they wouldn’t be winning.

And actually they’re facing the pan, the right-wing National Action Party, the pre, the Institutional Revolutionary party, and the PRD. Even though they’re separate parties, they’re actually in what I call a forced marriage Because they’re desperate to try to survive, one of the hypothesis I have is that they haven’t read the political moment. They think that this is an aberration and things will go back to normal eventually. But because they don’t know how to read the moment, they keep making these kinds of decisions that further and further marginalize them, including with their own party support, their own party basis. They’re in this forced marriage, the pre and the pan used to be rivals. They hate each other, and now they’re together and they’re in an opposition block. In fact, they’ve come together, present a single candidate for themselves representing the three parties in the coming election in 2024. And then the other side obviously is Morena and its allies, which is the workers’ party, PT, and the Green Party.

And there’s one more, which is [foreign language 00:24:34], which is, it’s a small party. It gets less than 10% of the vote, but it’s kind of not neither, [foreign language 00:24:40], as we say. And then neither Morena neither the opposition, but they’re very much kind of seen as part of the opposition. And it breaks down along class lines largely. The opposition is supported by the people who benefited from the old neoliberal regime. And Morena is representative of the marginalized, the excluded, the people who never felt represented and now do feel represented largely. Again, this is mostly the people who are placing their bets on the electoral path to change there. There obviously is others, there’s a left opposition that is very critical of Morena, very critical of the government, but again, they’re not really engaged with electoral struggles.

Bill Fletcher Jr.: Now, when you mentioned the marginalized, I immediately think about the indigenous and the question of the Zapatistas and what they did. I also think about afromexicanos who are not referenced very much, at least until very recently. To what extent do you see Morena as reaching out to those sectors? Or is it more focused on class issues?

José Granados Ceja: It’s definitely more focused on class issues, but that doesn’t mean that these things fall to the side. Particularly around indigenous peoples, it’s a controversial approach. I think we should be forefront about it. But what the government is doing is placing its bet of developmentalism, but with underpinned by social justice.

And so what do I mean by that? There is this project that maybe some of you have heard about the Tren Maya, which is a train project in the Yucatan Peninsula. And it’s controversial because there are many communities that are opposed to it. But I would argue, and I think the polling it substantiates it. The majority of people want it, because the majority of people want gainful employment. They want access. They want to be able to finally benefit from the country’s wealth, to be able to see some of that reflected in their own livelihoods and do that.

And so the key thing I like to highlight when it comes to something like the Tren Maya is the fact that for the first time, maybe ever, at least in a long time, the government is explicitly trying to promote economic growth for the masses in these parts of the country through these kinds of projects. The poorest parts of Mexico is actually Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero, that’s the country’s south. But it’s followed very closely by the Yucatan Peninsula. And in fact, it’s this part of the country, for the first time, actually has the most growth economically than anywhere else in the country. Whereas usually it was the northern states because of its proximity to the United States, it’s in a more industrialized part of the country, it’s export oriented. And so it shows that the actual policy changes are making a difference.

It’s controversial because I think it weds that part of the country to a certain kind of development, something that focused on resource extraction, which does affect communities. It’s one that is tied to tourism, which can be a very harmful effect on local communities. But like I said, at least it’s a bet on this. And then there’s also been a deliberate effort at restitution to some of the historical crimes committed. For example, the first thing that comes to mind is what was done to the Yucci people who live in extreme poverty. Not just poverty, but extreme poverty. And there’s an effort to return their land to them to make sure that the projects that do happen, because they are resource projects. A lot of lithium projects are being proposed in a lot of the areas where they live or close to where they live, that some of that wealth actually makes it to them.

And it’s a project of trying to redistribute wealth, yes, through the state, through the social programs that I mentioned, but also developing roads and infrastructure, making sure there are doctors and hospitals and schools, that the state is present within these communities, not just through its repressive state security forces, but through actual investment in these communities.

And finally, on the question of Afro Mexicans, it’s awful because for the longest time people would say there are no black people in Mexico. And of course there is, there was slavery in Mexico, but it’s actually one of the first countries to abolish slavery. It was in [foreign language 00:28:57] by José Maria Morelos, who was explicit about that. The first black president in the Americas was not Barack Obama. It was Vicente Guerrero who was a black man. In fact, he’s been whitened in some of the pictures, in the paintings of him, but he was a black man. And so that’s part of the erasing. But this idea that yes, they are visible, yes, they count, yes, including things like making sure their ethnicity is on the census. Things that didn’t happen before. And so also increasing their visibility in order to decrease their marginalization.

Bill Fletcher Jr.: You are an observer of politics in the U.S., you know about the U.S. left and different tendencies. So what do you make of the kind of criticisms that have come out about AMLO? Do you think it’s a sense of purism? What do you think many U.S. progressives are missing about the Morena experiment?

José Granados Ceja: I think people have been led astray around this discourse about authoritarianism. I think a lot of people don’t quite understand what our long history of democracy struggle. To say that Lopez Obrador represents a democratic backslide, it’s to not understand the history of Mexico, which we went over. I think people mostly have good intentions of wanting to see something that isn’t repressive, but that is not the case of Mexico. This discourse of a backslide, of a return to Mexico’s authoritarian past under the pre is something that has political motives. Like I said at the beginning, a part of this is try to widen the gulf of understanding between our communities, because they’re afraid of what that example could actually represent.

But also when we talk about democratization, we’re talking about democratization, again, not just in the bourgeois sense of free and fair elections, but the democratization of the trade union movement. Like I mentioned, there was this hugely important reform in 2019 that is hopefully going to open the door to more actually worker representing organizations.

I think some of the disdain is also the fact that there is a bit of a challenge to bridge that cultural political divide that does exist. And in fact, the Mexico Solidarity Project exists precisely to try to adjust that. This tour is about trying to address that, to try to present a different narrative about what’s happening. I’m sure most people hadn’t heard about the massive poverty reduction, about the bet on universal social programs, these kinds of things. But also, most of the left for a long time had a relationship with the extra parliamentary left in Mexico. The Zapatistas did a really good job of talking to the world about what was going on around the world.

When we think about resource extraction and its impact on communities and its impact on the environment, I share those concerns. But I do think that we need to think about the historical debt. It’s not right that most of the global North has access to clean water, has access to healthcare, although here in the United States it’s very expensive. These are things that were not available to most of the population in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. I work for Venezuela Analysis. It’s a lot of what Chavez did when he came to power. He said, “Yes, we are an oil rich nation. We’re going to use that wealth. We’re going to sow it back into the country, but also put it into the hands of the people.” In a lot of ways, that’s what Mexico is about. But it is, it’s a bet still on extraction. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But I think if they were to see what we’re actually doing with that wealth.

We talk about the defense of national sovereignty, which is one of the pillars of Moreno’s political project. It’s actually the title of the presentation that I’ve been doing on this tour of Mexico and the Defense of National Sovereignty. It’s actually defending national sovereign in a very specific way. There was a demonstration on March 18th, which is actually when Mexico celebrates the expropriation of the oil industry. And that demonstration was called by the president actually part of a to and fro that was happening with the opposition, which was also trying to mobilize on the streets. The opposition had a successful rally. They filled the Zócalo. So if you’ve been to Mexico City, it’s that big giant square at the heart of the city. If you fill it up, you somewhere between 150,000, 200,000 people. So it’s a lot. The opposition managed to fill it. I think some people try to pretend like that didn’t happen. It did. That’s part of democracy.

But here’s my reply to that. When the president called on his supporters to come out, half a million people took to the streets. The Zócalo wasn’t big enough to hold all of those people. And they came out explicitly on that call by the president to defend national sovereignty, to celebrate, yes, the expiration of the oil industry in 1938. But also to celebrate the nationalization of the electricity industry in 1960. In fact, under Lopez Obrador, we talk about a second nationalization. All of those plants that were built with private capital under the previous neoliberal regime under Peña Nieto were actually bought by the government and put back into public hands. And then also in 2022 Lopez Obrador nationalized lithium reserves in the country. So anybody who’s interested in exploring lithium in the country now has to do it together with the state oil company. So there isn’t going to be foreign firms and foreign capital coming in here and making themselves rich over this new white gold. It’s going to go to the people.

So talking about that, the defense of national sovereignty, but also calling on the Mexican population to understand this concept to say, so there’s this video that I love to show where he says, where he calls to the crowd, “Are we going to submit to the United States?” And everybody in a chorus greets, yells back, “No. Yes, to democracy. Yes to freedom, yes to equality. No to classism. No to racism.” Every time I show that video, I get goosebumps because I was in the crowd then, to feel that energy, to understand that it’s not just the top down project. A lot of people think it’s just Lopez Obrador. In fact, he has to step down. He’s constitutionally limited. He can’t run for reelection. This is also a project that is mobilizing the Mexican people to defend this project.

What does it mean? It means having these resources redistributing to the people. And I’ll finish with this. It also means practicing internationalism. Just a few days ago there was talk about sanctioning. The United States loves sanctioning, loves to do it to Venezuela, to Cuba, to Nicaragua, et cetera, et cetera. Well, they were talking about sanctioning the state oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos Pemex for selling oil to Cuba. And you know what the president’s response was? He’s like, “We don’t have to ask permission from anybody. We are going to sell oil to Cuba because they’re a dignified people who are suffering on an unjust blockade.” And that’s what national sovereignty also means. It means being able to say that. So if they want to sanction us, bring it on. We’ll sell oil to somebody else. You don’t want it, go ahead. And I think also understanding Lopez Obrador is able to take that position. Because he knows that if push comes to shove, the people have his back.

Bill Fletcher Jr.: So as you can see, we have a lot to cover, and I was notified that Red Emma’s will be serving breakfast for us. So I actually want to jump to the issue of narco trafficking, because it relates to the question of the Mexican state. Now, for us here, we have a certain image that’s presented about crime in Mexico, and particularly narcotics. If you watch ‘Queen of the South’ or ‘Ozark’ or whatever, you have this idea of these cartels, and it’s analogous to the five families in New York. My understanding is that it’s a little bit more complicated, and I appreciate if you could break it down to us how we see it compared to what the deal is and the relationship of all of that to the Mexican state.

José Granados Ceja: Unfortunately, it seems like if anybody knows anything about Mexico, it’s that. It’s the crime, it’s the cartels, it’s the drugs. And Hollywood doesn’t do us any favors by putting this out there, but the truth is far more complicated. The first place I would start is that Mexico has an organized crime problem, because of the demand that comes out of this country and other countries, but mostly this country. Mexico just has the misfortune of sharing a border with the United States, and it’s not a white country the way that Canada is. And so it’s where the drugs come.

Right now, we know that there’s a very real opioid crisis in this country. It’s a public health crisis, and I don’t want to underplay that. I think it’s very serious. In fact, as much as I was aware of this, I was kind of stunned. Just in public parks, there’s signs where you can scan a QR code and it explains what the signs of an overdose are. I mean, it’s to that level, we’re talking about a hundred thousand people dying a year. It’s very real. But why is Mexico being blamed for the opioid crisis? Because in 2019, U.S. and China made a deal that China was going to control the export of fentanyl and precursors. And so it stopped coming.

Fentanyl and its precursors mostly came on shipping containers and in the mail, and it was actually quite easy to get into the country. So when they were able to lock that down, well, as long as the demand exists, people are going to figure out how to supply it. And so they started supplying it through Mexico, smuggling in through there. And if it wasn’t for that, then this wouldn’t be the source. Mexico wouldn’t be the source of fentanyl. But then we see the way that this issue is instrumentalized, the way it’s weaponized. Most people, if you do a poll of the American public, they think that irregular migrants are the ones bringing in, when it’s actually, and believe it or not, it was the Cato Institute, a right-wing think tank that set out, “Mo, it’s U.S. citizens that are bringing it in.

In fact, there was a case where a sheriff’s office was in on a smuggling ring bringing in fentanyl. But it’s used, it’s weaponized in order to attack the government in order to craft this narrative that Mexico is this lawless place. It’s a dangerous place. It’s where the cartels run the show. There are definitely parts of the country where they have a lot of influence. I’m not going to say that they don’t. Of course, they’re very powerful, well armed. Where are those guns coming from? Again, they’re coming from here in the United States. But also they have a lot of troops, there’s a lot of young people who are seduced by this imagery and want to be the next bigwig, et cetera, et cetera. But that also kind of speaks to Lopez Obrador’s approach to the drug problem.

So for the longest time, Mexico was engaged on the, so-called War on the Cartels. And to go back into a bit of history, the whole reason Felipe Calderon started the so-called War on the Cartels was because of the fraud, he was seen as an illegitimate president. And nothing shores up your legitimacy like starting a war. And so he went and started this war. But it turns out, and in fact in Mexico, we don’t call it a war against the cartels. We call it a war amongst the cartels, because Felipe Calderon’s security guy, his right-hand man, his security secretary is Genaro García Luna, who’s jailed now as a result of his proven ties to narco trafficking. So the very man at the top was getting rich off the same activities that he was supposedly fighting. Well, when Lopez Obrador came in, sometimes they talk about his hugs, not bullets strategy, and that doesn’t quite capture it. It’s the narrative that he used on the campaign trail. But it does speak to the agenda. What they say in Mexico now is that, “We’re not here to win a war. We’re here to conquer peace.” The idea to attend to the root causes, try to make it so that youth have an option. There’s a program called, [foreign language 00:41:08], where they’re given internships to get that first job so that instead of going into the hands of organized crime, they go into the formal sector. It’s just one of the many things.

In Mexico City where I live, the mayor or governor, because it’s such a big city, it’s more accurate to think of it as a governor. She built 300 youth centered development centers, community centers where they can come and get activities and get trainings. There’s a massive expansion of public universities, a massive expansion of scholarships. In Mexico, in the public universities, you don’t pay a dime to school. And in fact, you get paid a scholarship to study. I’m in a master’s program and I get paid 14,000 pesos. That doesn’t sound like a lot, around like $700 us, but it’s more than enough to survive on. It means I can focus full time on doing my studies, just don’t tell them that I use some of that money to come to the United States and talk to you.

But it shows that the idea is trying to give it, previously the scholarships were only for the top 10%, the best students, the brightest students, to send them abroad to the fancy universities, to send them to Harvard, to send them to Oxford. And then they wouldn’t even come back and share what they had learned. And so it’s a very kind of different approach to that. And the idea is to tend to the root causes. It’s a much harder story to tell than, “Oh yeah, Mexico is a violent lawless place.” There is still a lot of crime. It’s still a dangerous place. It’s one of the government’s weak points. But I will say the following, for the longest time, the trend was upward, more deaths every year, more crime every year. And at a federal level, that’s leveled off. It’s dipped very slightly, slightly but dipped, but at least it’s not getting worse.

And in Mexico City, things have gotten much, much better. The city is much, much safer than it was five years ago. And even measurably major crimes like homicides, robbery, kidnapping, those are down 40%. So it shows that it’s starting to pay off. There’s still a long way to go, especially in those communities where the organized crime has so much influence. But I’ll finish with this. I think if we’re going to have this conversation, we have to talk not just about the root causes in Mexico, but the root causes abroad. The demand for drugs, the fact that there isn’t a sensible drug policy in this country. As long as there’s still demand that we will continue to have those problems ,as long as the guns keep flowing south, there will continue to be violence in Mexico.

Bill Fletcher Jr.: We have until what time, 8:30? Okay. Just what I’m going to do is, I have a couple more questions. And rather than go into a different area, just open it up for questions and comments from you guys, so we have plenty of time that. On on this subject. Two things. One is, you mentioned the connection between Felipe Calderon’s aid, and the cartels. My understanding is that there’s a lot of intermingling between the cartels and various parts of the Mexican state. The disappearance of those students in Guerrero, and the way that the government responded. So that, as you said, I mean, it’s interesting you said it was a war among cartels. Is the reality then that we’re looking at a contradiction within the Mexican state?

José Granados Ceja: I think it’s absolutely right to assume that this problem goes all the way to the top. The case of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa is a great example of it. When that happened, very quickly, you heard on the streets of Mexico, [foreign language 00:44:44], it was the state. And it absolutely was. The independent investigations that proved that the military, which had been spying on the students long before anything went down for years, really. The police forces, the state police forces, they were all aware of what was going on, and they let it happen. And it’s quite likely that they were involved in their disappearance. There are still no clear knowledge about what happened.

Lopez Obrador, I think his first day or his second day in office, established a Truth Commission. But the Truth Commission has run up against the wall. And that wall is the armed forces. The armed forces are incredibly powerful, and yes, they do represent a threat in a sense to this project. But Lopez Obrador’s strategy, correct or not, I think it’d be interesting to have that debate, has been to keep them happy. To make sure that they’re not seduced by this idea of committing a coup d’etat. When we think about historically in Latin America, in the case of Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution, after the oust of the dictator, Porfirio Diaz. Francisco Madero comes into office and he’s ousted by a right-wing reactionary coup led by Victoriano Huerta. And so in Mexico, we talk about this [foreign language 00:46:01]. Lopez Obrador is genuinely, and I agree, scared of a coup. It could happen.

I mentioned Hugo Chávez earlier. Hugo Chávez was in office for three years, and they tried a coup. And so he’s been trying to keep them happy, but he’s been trying to keep them happy. And yes, in some ways, not pressing them hard enough to release the information, to say, to give comfort to the parents of the missing students, what happened to them. He has publicly said it. He’s demanded they do it, but they have refused. He’s limited in his options to discipline them, to actually get them what to do. But I would hope that part of the problem is that we don’t have the millions of people on the sheet that we did in 2014 to pressure, so that Lopez Obrador has the confidence to go after the military. The military still actually quite has a very good reputation amongst the public, despite the history of human rights abuses.

But he’s also been trying to keep them happy by giving them business. So they run the airports and ports and customs and things like that. He’s like, “I’m going to make you rich, so don’t get any smart ideas.” And so far, it’s worked. So far, the military has obeyed. And he also has to keep them happy because of the security situation we were just talking about. They’re in charge of tackling the security situation. And if they don’t have that sense of confidence, then can he rely on them to carry out their duties? Because of course there is, of course, there’s collusion happening. It’s hard to say exactly who or where and where it actually reaches, but it’s impossible for these groups to have the power and influence that they do, and over certain territories in the country if it wasn’t for their collaboration with the state. It’s a fight that has to continue to be pursued.

When the first report of the Truth Commission came out speaking on the mainstream media, it was really disappointing to hear so many voices. Voices that should know better, that are familiar with Mexico’s history, saying how, trying to almost deliberately link Lopez Obrador to that past. When it’s been him, who’s been trying, unfortunately, unsuccessfully, to actually get to the truth of that. And so it’s a difficult matter in that sense. But I do think what would be helpful would be to not fall into that narrative that Lopez Obrador is militarizing the country, because he’s doing these things. Actually, it would be much better if we were in solidarity, not with the armed forces, and not even with Lopez Obrador. But with the masses of Mexicans who want to see justice for these historical crimes, justice for what happened for the Ayotzinapa. And to sideline the power of the armed forces as they stand.

But to do that, he can’t do it on his own because of the threat, because of the possibility of a military coup. He has to feel the confidence that the people are behind them. And in this case, I would argue that we’re not quite there yet, but I hope we do because an urgent task.

Bill Fletcher Jr.: So one final question, then we’ll open it up. Sometime within the last year or so, some of these Republicans in the United States started talking about attacking New Mexico. And at first I thought, “Ph, they’ve just got to be joking.” I mean, it’s, who’s going to attack… That’s like attacking The Bahamas. I mean, who’s going to actually do this? And then you hear them talking more about this. How serious is that in your opinion? And how do people in Mexico feel about this kind of threat, what appears to be a threat?

José Granados Ceja: I think it’s absolutely serious, and it should be treated as absolutely serious. Now, the possibility is low as it stands, because it is such a ridiculous idea. I mean, I think when they actually get into office, they’ll have to contend with the fact that they’re talking about this. If the Republicans win. But it’s not zero, as you well said. Do people remember when this idea first came out? It was actually Mark Esper who wrote in his memoirs that Trump was like, “Can’t we just bomb the drug labs? They don’t even have to know it was us. How would they know it was us?” As if this wouldn’t be totally obvious. “Oh, I guess somebody stole your weapons.” Anyway. So it was treated as ridiculous, and the mainstream media was like, “Look at this ridiculous idea.” And then suddenly it starts getting currency. It starts being repeated.

And now, there was recently a poll, majority of people in the United States actually back this idea, and a very strong majority of Republicans back this idea. But it has nothing to do with violence, and it has nothing to do with drugs. It’s all about resource extraction. It is a declining situation of U.S. hegemony, and they need to reassert it one way or another. So in fact, what they see south of the border is a very strong, consolidated political project on very firm ground. And so they can’t necessarily derail that project through elections, because the opposition is incredibly unpopular. And so what do they do? They try to put pressure through other means, through imperialism. And there is very much a cooperation happening between the opposition and U.S. imperialism.

There’s this idea that I like to talk about conservative strongholds, because they’re not popular, because they don’t really win elections. They’re finding different spaces to continue to influence public policies. So they latch onto political issues like the, so-called Defense of the Electoral Institute. That’s probably one of the news pieces people heard about here in the United States about, “Oh, the Democratic backslide, the authoritarianism, blah, blah, blah. He wants to eliminate so he can commit a fraud.” It’s total lies. It has nothing to do with reality. This idea was being promoted because it was an issue that the opposition found that was finally resonating with the public. They know that middle class was like, “Oh, yeah, we have to protect our democracy.” So they took to the streets and they had those protests that I was talking about.

But they also find their strongholds in other state institutions. Right now, the struggle that’s going down in Mexico, the next battle to come is about cleaning up the judicial branch of government, which is thoroughly corrupt. That’s what’s happening in this moment. In fact, that’s what Morena is aiming towards in the next election. But to finish your point around this invasion, we should take it seriously. Part of the reason why we’re doing this tour is to start talking to people about this possibility. When we talk about solidarity. Solidarity isn’t about, “Oh, I don’t want this to happen to me, so I’m going to resist it.” We’re watching what’s happening in Palestine right now. It is horrifying. And we absolutely need to be in solidarity on the basis of that, that these are crimes against humanity. This needs to be resisted. The people of Palestine deserve to have their national liberation.

But when I look at these images, I think about it like when they talk about drone strikes. Forget about a land invasion, which would be much, much worse. When they talk about drone strikes, they’re talking about, it’s not like this building has a sign, “Hey, we make fentanyl here.” They’re going to try to bomb heavily populated urban areas. That could be bombs falling on Tijuana, on Ciudad Juárez. Anyway, the point is that it would be incredibly dangerous ideas. And I’ll say this, I get mentioned part of what we talk about on this tour is the defense of national sovereignty. National sovereignty is not negotiable. Maybe during the neoliberal regime, during the previous governments, the right-wing governments in the country, they might might’ve succumbed to the pressure of U.S. saying, “If you don’t do it, we will.” And then so they would obey, U.S. dictates. Morena leadership won’t. If they do it to Lopez Obrador, certainly not. His successor, who’s Claudia Sheinbaum, she certainly won’t.

I see some of these think tanks, some of these people in Washington talking about how in Mexico the government is full of sovereignty hawks. What is a sovereignty hawk? What a ridiculous phrase. If sovereignty hawks exist, then we are all sovereignty hawks. We will not tolerate that. The government that’s coming in will not tolerate that. It will totally destroy the North American relationship. Thinking of a worst case scenario, I would say goodbye to the free trade agreement that would produce a recession in North America. It would produce a recession in the U.S. It would probably lead to a global recession.

You’re going to blow up the entire world economy for some political posturing to make it seem like you’re the tough guy who’s actually going to deal with the opioid crisis? With a solution that’s not going to do anything, that’s actually much more driven about trying to exert your hegemony over a state that is defending its sovereignty. That is saying, “Our resources are for us and for the people, and for the people of Cuba and forever. Whatever we want to decide to do, not for the rich class and capitalists in your country.” And so that’s the situation.

And I want to finally end on this, because I think this is where I want to make a call to action to everybody who’s listening, everybody here in the room. Morena, the party of Lopez Obrador. Like I said, he can’t run. So they’ve selected their candidate, Claudia Sheinbaum. Claudia Sheinbaum is very much somebody on the left of the party. She represents the left flank of the party. Like I mentioned, the country’s on really firm ground. The party feels confident about winning the next election. I lived in Ecuador for a number of years, and in that country, when the reelection was coming up, Rafael Correa couldn’t run again. So who did they pick? His first vice president, Lenin Moreno, because they had to make a calculated move to the center, to try to win back some of the support that they had lost. We all saw how that turned out. He was a huge traitor. He destroyed the movement. They still haven’t been able to recover. They were just in election Sunday, and they didn’t win again. They’re still on the back foot.

Well, in Mexico, they’re really confident. Like I said, they control the Congress, they’re winning elections, they control 22 out of 32 states. So when you’re in that position, when you’re a party and you’re trying to choose who your candidate is, there’s no need to flirt with the center. You picked the candidate to represent your project. Claudia Sheinbaum, I think in a lot of ways will represent a deepening of the process, hopefully a radicalization of the process in Mexico. That’s really good news for us, for people who identify as leftists, as leftists, as communists, that’s for people here in the United States as well, to see that there is a viable left electoral project on this continent.

But because of that, there’s also the threat of efforts to undermine that. That’s what some of this invasion talk is about. But also Felipe Calderon, there’s that name again, he recently gave a talk where he’s like, “You know what the opposition should do? They should ask the United States to monitor the elections.” That’s actually a wink to say there’s going to be an effort to undermine the legitimacy of this vote. The last poll that came out has Claudia Sheinbaum, the one with the widest margin, has her at 63% support to 16. Colossal advantage. The other one is a little bit closer, 50 to 20. It’s still a huge advantage. That means that Morena probably will, if things stay the same, win a super majority and not have to negotiate to reform the constitution and roll back the rest of those neoliberal reforms that are still pending.

But that means that there’s going to be this type of, “Well, how did she win so much of a vote? It clearly wasn’t free and fair.” So we need people to pay attention, to accompany us. There’s actually, we’re going to invite people to sign up to our newsletter because we’re going to call out, invite people to come down to a delegation. We want to do a people to people election observation mission, so that when this election happens, you come back to your communities and you can talk to your lawmakers, your neighbors, your friends, and be like, “Actually what’s happening in Mexico is really exciting. I’ve seen what they’ve been able to do. And yes, the population is behind them.” Because that’s going to be the tactic, to try to undermine it, try to weaken the government like they did in Venezuela. Trying to claim that there isn’t a democratic mandate there.

And so that’s where I think it’s really important to practice that internationalism, a call on the U.S. working class to help us with this because it’s going to be really important. But it serves the global working class, because as we advance so does the interest of the working class here. And we’ve already seen it. We’ve already seen movements here, the new trade union movement in Mexico, making links with the trade union movement here. There were sympathy strikes and sympathy messages to the UAW, et cetera, et cetera. We also need support. I know there’s lots of trade unions that are interested in opening solidarity centers to make up for all that lost time with the new opportunity that this government presents. A labor friendly government, labor friendly policies, something that actually can represent the workers.

So anyway, to reiterate, please sign up for the listerv because we’re going to be asking for your solidarity. And I hope that we can really strengthen those bonds between our communities, because there’s a lot more in common. There’s been that distancing that’s been generated, that gulf has widened. But it’s up to us and I think it’s perfectly possible to close that gap.

Bill Fletcher Jr.: Thank you.

This article is syndicated in partnership with Real News Network Syndication.

Bill Fletcher Jr.

Bill Fletcher Jr. has been an activist since his teen years and previously served as a senior staff person in the national AFL-CIO; he is the former president of TransAfrica Forum, a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, and the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, including ‘They’re Bankrupting Us!’ And 20 Other Myths about Unions and The Man Who Fell from the Sky. Fletcher Jr. is also a member of The Real News Network Board of Directors.

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