GZERO Media logo

Calling AMLO authoritarian is a gross exaggeration

On this edition of The Red Pen, where we pick apart the argument in a major opinion piece, Ian Bremmer is joined by Eurasia Group's Daniel Kerner, Carlos Petersen, and Ana Abad to take on an an op-ed from the FT about Andrés Manuel López Obrador, aka AMLO.

Today's selection comes from the Financial Times editorial board, an op-ed titled "Lopez Obrador Becomes Latin America's New Strongman."

It's about Mexico's president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO as he's widely known. AMLO was elected in a landslide victory nearly two years ago by voters who were fed up with corruption in their nation. Now, a growing number have buyer's remorse as the economy continues to spiral downward and crime and corruption still remain high.


The article correctly points out this has not been a good couple of years for Mexico or for AMLO, and we agree with that assertion. But it's time to get out the red pen, because we're not buying a central argument of this piece.

The FT writes that AMLO is an "authoritarian populist," and under his leadership, Mexico is headed for a "more repressive" system. The article cites a litany of aggressive behavior against his critics, such as intimidating the media or calling out environmentalists who don't like his infrastructure projects. "When a president demands 'blind loyalty,' from officials," the FT writes, "alarm bells should ring."

AMLO is incompetent, messy and aggressive. Authoritarian? No.

Sure, AMLO is incompetent, his policies are messy, and he uses aggressive rhetoric. But we need to separate his bark from his bite. Is he intolerant and hostile? Yes. Is he suppressing protests, shutting down media outlets, and disrupting the electoral process? No.


Next, the FT writes that while AMLO won a big victory in 2018, he did not win "a mandate to dismantle institutions" in Mexico.

Mexicans wanted institutions reformed. AMLO kept his hands off congress and judiciary.

Actually, Mexicans elected him president precisely they didn't trust those institutions and felt they were only there to benefit the rich. Many of those same institutions were already weak or in need of reform. AMLO has accepted limits in congress and the judiciary and has made no mention of broad institutional changes--as other truly authoritarian leaders have done.

Finally, the FT writes that under AMLO, "The golden opportunity offered by the newly-agreed US-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement to lure American companies returning from China to Mexico is being squandered." And that is just wrong.

We definitely need some red ink on this one. USMCA would not have advanced without AMLO's full support. It was approved just last year, and then the pandemic hit the economy. It's hard to say what longer-term impact it will have. But while AMLO could have played hardball with Trump and ruined one of the most positive developments in the Mexican economy, he did the opposite.

There's another point the op-ed misses which better explains why AMLO is president at all—Mexico endured a couple of decades of weak leadership, widespread corruption and the impact of violent drug wars, and disappointing economic growth.

AMLO may not end up being the right guy to turn all that around for a number of reasons, but calling him authoritarian is a gross exaggeration.

There you have it. That's your latest edition of The Red Pen.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

More Show less

Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

More Show less

Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

More Show less
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal