In his first 100 days in office, Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, seems intent on steering the country toward an idealistic, but ultimately ruinous, future.
Known as AMLO, the new president is fast concentrating power and influence in his own hands. He has rewarded party loyalists and mighty state bosses, enriched loyal backers like the teachers unions, stacked the courts with cronies and dried out funds for democratic institutions, weakening checks and balances.
All these steps are out of old Mexico’s playbook. Although he long ago split from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, that’s where young AMLO initially learned his craft. The oxymoronically named party ruled Mexico for 71 years, as long as the Communists ruled Russia.
Revolutions aside, the PRI institutionalized state corruption so deeply that subsequent presidents failed to uproot it after 2000, when the party first lost an election since 1919. After two stints out of the presidency, a reformed PRI returned to power — with dismal results.
Finally last year, after two previous attempts at the top office, in came AMLO, now heading his own party and promising to undo all that was bad in Mexico. His July election victory was supposed to mark the dawn of a new era, even though his left-leaning positions hark back to bygone days of idealistic socialism, and even though his PRI-like politics are just as retro.
If ever there was a laboratory to test Margaret Thatcher’s classic observation that sooner or later socialists run out of other people’s money, AMLO’s Mexico is it.