December has seen the inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (commonly referred to as AMLO) who won a landslide electoral win in Mexico. The leader of the National Regeneration Movement has long been regarded as a left wing populist and can be seen as a latecomer to the “pink tide” of left wing electoral victories that swept Latin America in the 2000’s. Promising a range of commitments from inequality to crime to corruption, he now also faces a different issue as numerous migrant caravans from Central America have entered the country.
Many of the migrants are from Honduras, escaping the consequences of a US backed coup in 2009 and fleeing from persecution from death squads. The United States long running “war on drugs” has not stemmed the rise of gangs and drug squads who still extol influence in many Latin American states. The result has been a high profile shift of migrants seeking asylum in both Mexico and the US.
Meanwhile AMLO’s rhetoric has been progressive on the issue sharply contrasting with US president Trump who has become infamous from his anti immigration rhetoric. Trump has recently stirred up his nativist voting base once again, against the migrant caravans even implying that troops will shoot resisting migrants. His rhetoric has so far been matched by US immigration policy. Last week saw the tragic and entirely preventable death of Jakelin Caal, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died of dehydration and shock in the custody of U.S. border enforcement officials. The case is a clear example of the result of the draconian US immigration system, indicative of the world wide treatment of migrants and shows the inhumanity of the US administration.
As a result of this, Mexico and the US have agreed on a $35.6-billion development plan to curb migration. The plan which seeks to fund the central American states and thus improve the livelihoods of many low income citizens, has however been met with scepticism as most of the United States’ contribution is not new funding. Also with most of the money coming from private sector loans, it is unlikely to address the long terms problems that neo-liberalism and the “Washington Consensus” have created for the region.
AMLO’s election can however, be clearly seen as yet another reaction to the austerity policies set out by the IMF, the US and the WTO on Latin America. Despite this, the president has presented a rather sober budget, pursuing a goal of social democratic income reform whilst calming the markets. This has resulted in a rather limp reformist budget which sets a target for a primary surplus of 1% of gdp after an expected 0.8% this year. There were plans to spend 125 billion pesos on scholarships for the young but the programme will now get a little more than a third of that. The budget also allocates 60 billion pesos of new money for a universal pension for old people, 20 billion pesos less than originally proposed.
AMLO will no doubt seek to fulfil his promise of transforming Mexican society but held in the restrictions of social democracy and with heavy US economic pressure coming from above, the president will no doubt have to change his game as migrancy continues to rise and the “Washington Consensus” remains so far unbroken in the country.