Sunday, April 17, 2005

No. (Or should that be, "Yes?") I don't know a lick of Spanish, and Babelfish gave me "counterpoint del puente" for "point-counterpoint." So in guessing for my post title, I've probably stumbled upon some horrific Spanish vulgarism, the meaning of which would make a sailor blush. If so, I'll get lots of hits -- but from mostly non-English-speaking readers!

In the opinion section of today's Houston Chronicle come a pair of point-counterpoint editorials on the Lopez Obrador affair, something I have recently discussed here twice. I'll point to each and discuss a few highlights.

First, I'll get the leftist pro-Lopez Obrador piece out of the way. There is a paragraph about what the "ruling classes" fear in Lopez Obrador, apparently phrased so as not to put off a presumably sympathetic American audience.

The ruling classes fear him and what they believe he will do if he wins: nationalize, overspend, jeopardize Mexico's hard-won economic gains. They're determined to stop him. But in doing so, they are tearing apart a country where political stability cannot be taken for granted. They are undermining the democracy it took so long to achieve. They are wreaking havoc in Mexico in their attempt to save it from the left [emphasis mine].
Probably the best point made in the whole article is that Fox's insistence on "rule of law" in pursuing legal action against the mayor of Mexico City makes him look hypocritical because he is not applying this same rigor to some members of his own party (or of the PRI, whose votes he needed to strip Lopez Obrador of immunity from prosecution) who are guilty of malfeasance.
Given how it has weighed in on this issue, the Fox government appears increasingly hypocritical and inconsistent. The president claims that Lopez Obrador must obey the law, but refuses to charge prominent members of his own National Action Party, or PAN, who have broken it. He speaks about the need to enforce legality where the mayor is concerned, but turns a blind eye to lawbreakers in the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Every time the president and his collaborators piously claim to enforce "the rule of law," most Mexicans remember that it doesn't really exist. As a result, 78 percent of the population opposes the current proceeding and questions its true motives.
If this is true, Fox should be consistent or he will deal rule of law a blow -- to be followed, possibly, by the blow to individual rights in Mexico that would be an eventual Lopez Obrador presidency.

The next excerpt is interesting in that the author is correct that Lopez Obrador could become a politcal martyr, but being sympathetic to his cause, she fails to ask some obvious questions.
The concerted attack on Lopez Obrador has had paradoxical effects. Before the impeachment process began, Lopez Obrador was a pragmatic leftist; now he's a radical martyr. His enemies always have believed that he would be a Mexican version of Venezuela's divisive President Hugo Chavez, but now, with blows below the belt, they are creating one. Lopez Obrador is more confrontational than ever. His rhetoric is more incendiary, his position is more recalcitrant. Under siege, he insists on behaving as a revolutionary who divides instead of as a reformer who unites.
Aside from the use of the terms "ruling classes" to distance non-leftists from "the people" and "trumped-up" to describe the legal case against Lopez Obrador, it is this paragraph that most clearly shows where its author's sympathies lie. This 'graph is clearly meant to make the legal cause against Lopez Obrador look like it is only going to strengthen his hand -- so that Fox and Co. will back off on account of this fear. (See my previous two posts, which reference articles making this same kind of argument. For that matter, recall how, before we invaded Iraq, we were warned that such an action would "radicalize" the Arab world? This is the same basic argument against taking an appropriate action.)

But look at what the author fails to ask. If Lopez Obrador was such a "pragmatist" (in the colloquial, rather than philosophically technical sense), why did he break the law in the first place? And if the author is claiming that the "ruling classes" are wreaking havoc on Mexico, did not Lopez Obrador do the same by ignoring an injunction? And does he not have enough self-control to make his "rhetoric" less incendiary?

Lopez Obrador could indeed become a martyr no matter how he acts if he lands in jail. But I'd be more impressed with his professed concern for Mexico were he to face his legal charges calmly. Indeed, he could do so, saying that rule of law is more important to Mexico than his immediate ascent to power. But apparently, it's better to call his opponents hypocrites for not accepting his own lawlessness.

This crisis makes the future of Mexico look grim indeed. Lopez Obrador, who is implicitly decrying a lack of "rule of law," is making a stand, not for the same, but for his ability to break the law without consequences! Fox, in the meantime, can be called a hypocrite for failing to enforce the law consistently or even for actually enforcing the law consistently as he should. Or Fox can ignore the law altogether. This last course may be the easiest politically, but it almost guarantees that Lopez Obrador, the man who has already broken the law, will ascend to power!

So what does the pro-Fox editorial have to offer? First of all, it not only confirms what the "ruling classes" fear about Obrador, it offers evidence to back that up from his tenure as mayor of Mexico City.

Lopez Obrador, 51, a former Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) leader, switched parties in the 1980s to what is now the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). Running on the leftist PRD ticket, he won the Mexico City mayoralty in 2000. Described by most analysts as an opportunist, since being elected Lopez Obrador has used populist public works projects and welfare programs to catapult himself to the lead for the 2006 elections.

Lopez Obrador is the newest member of a group of leftist Latin America leaders who disagree with free trade and open-market policies, and reject most democratic ideals.

Similar to Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela or Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, he envisions heavy spending in government programs, cash handouts and social engineering as a means to lessen the gap between the rich and poor.

While steadfastly following his spending policy, the mayor's detractors are worried.

It is evident Lopez Obrador has gotten the city into heavy debt while trying to buy his way to the presidency. And many now expect this fiscal irresponsibility to again steer the country in an uncertain direction that could erase the economic gains of the past decade.

This is hardly surprising coming from a man who has openly discussed forming an alliance with Hugo Chavez. The article explains in more detail what Lopez Obrador did, why his willful breaking of the law may have initially been a miscalculation, and how he is now capitalizing on the case. The final two paragraphs sum up the major political dilemma in this case and reach the same conclusion I did: That it is important for Mexico to (finally) establish rule of law.

With all of this, some Mexican observers are concerned for the nation's political atmosphere. They question the wisdom of pursuing a climate of law and order by investigating whether Lopez Obrador committed a minor crime, instead of promoting the Mexico's new multiparty democracy.

However, the building of a true, legitimate and principled democracy is far more important than expediency. As for the case of Lopez Obrador, Mexico will be far better served if he becomes an example to help Mexicans gain what they have dreamed of and wanted for years — the rule of law.

I agree with this, but I would reiterate one thing. Fox must behave consistently. Rule of law is one of those things that you can't have "sometimes." If Fox makes an example of Lopez Obrador, but then lets other politicians get away with worse, he will have made a farce of his stand, shown himself to be a hypocrite, and worst of all, basically handed Lopez Obrador something he clearly does not deserve: the moral high ground.

It is not in Lopez Obrador's hands, but Fox's whether Mexico will remain a free country. As one who has promised free market reforms and not delivered, his hands look shaky indeed. If he now promises rule of law and fails to deliver, Mexico may get Lopez Obrador in exchange for what vestiges of freedom they have left.

If there is anything of comfort from these two editorials, it is that Lopez Obrador may not be quite popular enough to arouse a revolt against the government.
With the fate of his campaign at stake, Lopez Obrador and his supporters quickly organized a rally in the city's main plaza. With expectations of a million supporters, a less-impressive crowd of 150,000 showed up to hear the mayor finally declare his candidacy for the presidency.
Let's just hope that Fox doesn't screw around and make those numbers higher. And let's hope our own leaders do some serious behind-the-scenes jawboning to make sure Fox does the right thing. It is bad enough that Mexico is indifferent to our national security. It would be worse, though, to have an outright enemy on our southern border.

-- CAV


4-18-05: (1) Fixed some typos. (2) Noted similarity between current arguments against pursuing legal case against Lopez Obrador and the old "angering the Arab street" arguments the U.S. invading Iraq. (3) Clarified why future for rule of law in Mexico looks bleak.

1 comment:

Curtis Gale Weeks said...

Why is it South and Central America have this recurring problem? Colonialism, most likely: Some stealing of Aztec gold, enslavement of indigenous peoples, and forced conversion to Christianity, have led to the by-now mythical "ruling classes vs. peasants, peasants vs. ruling classes" arguments. Obrador's quick rise reminds me of Evita, and I'm tempted to write a parody of that musical to fit him...