Monday, October 8, 2018

Talk titled “Venezuela under Siege: Challenges From Within And Without.”

Talk I gave at the James Connolly Forum in Troy New York on Friday, Oct. 5 titled “Venezuela under Siege: Challenges From Within And Without.” 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


There is a growing body of pro-establishment statements opposing the possibility of U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. The latest expression of this position is a New York Times editorial titled “Stay Out of Venezuela, Mr. Trump” published on September 11. At first glance the editorial is a welcomed statement that counters the careless war-mongering declarations coming from the ilk of Marco Rubio and a number of high-ranking Trump administration officials as well as Trump himself. Certainly, one must applaud the NY Times’ decision to come out in opposition to military intervention, and its recognition that similar intervention and support for regime change in Latin America historically (the editorial even makes reference to the Brazilian coup of 1964) as well as elsewhere in the world has had disastrous consequences.

The line of reasoning of the New York Times’s editorial overlaps that of other articles that have come out recently in the establishment media such as one titled “U.S. Military Intervention in Venezuela would be a Major Mistake” by Robert Moore published the following day in “The Hill” as well as the position of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The anti-war stand crosses party lines as Moore has served Republican senators including Tea Party Republican Jim DeMint.

One hint regarding the limitations of this new position is the subtitle of the NY Times’ editorial: “President Maduro has to Go, but an American Backed Coup is not the Answer.” The way the article frames the issue is what makes it worrisome. The New York Times does not question the right of the U.S. as a nation (as opposed to the UN) to promote regime change. All it says is that a more intelligent approach to getting rid of Maduro is what is called for. As an alternative to military intervention, Trump’s pro-establishment critics call for increased sanctions. WOLA, for instance, criticizes the Trump administration for increasing the number of Chavistas who are being sanctioned, rather than concentrating on a smaller number of leading Chavistas and increasing the penalties against them. In fact, the issue of sanctions against individuals serves as a cover for the financial embargo which has inflicted considerable harm on Venezuela, as even Reuters recognizes.  

A valid question is why the New York Times has waited until now to adamantly oppose military intervention. After all, the then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised the possibility of a military solution as far back as February of this year when he kicked off his six-day Latin American tour in Austin where he stated “In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people.” The statement was a trial balloon. Trump pushed the idea in subsequent months but the response from right-wing and conservative governments was negative. Countries which form part of the Lima Group rejected the military option and distanced themselves from Washington by supporting Mexico in its differences with the U.S. on tariffs and NAFTA. The New York Times saw the handwriting on the wall and realized that military intervention would not count on the support of Latin American governments, in spite of their hostility to the Maduro government. The intervention that Trump proposed would be truly unilateral (unlike current military intervention in the Middle East) as Latin American governments would be unwilling to pay the inevitably high political price for supporting a U.S. invasion in the region.

Given these circumstances, coupled with Trump’s lack of political capital, a military invasion is unlikely. Talk of it may be designed to encourage dissension and unrest within the Venezuelan military. The strategy is that by threatening military action, members of the Venezuelan armed forces may put up resistance to Maduro out of the prospect of having to risk their lives in a confrontation against the world’s greatest military superpower. In any case, if the central argument of the New York Times and other members of the “liberal” establishment is that Trump should focus on economic sanctions rather than a military solution, then they are undoubtedly doing more harm than good.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

My latest article: “Class Strategies in Chavista Venezuela: Pragmatic and Populist Policies in a Broader Context”

Latin American Perspectives just posted my article titled “Class Strategies in Chavista Venezuela: Pragmatic and Populist Policies in a Broader Context.” The article will be published in Latin American Perspective’s January issue that I am coordinating on Pink Tide governments in Latin America.

Rowman and Littlefield will be publishing the January issue in book form (slated for publication in December 2019) with several new chapters (one by Bill Robinson on the economy, another by Hilary Goodfriend another by Mabel Thwaites Rey on Argentina and my own conclusion). The book will contain chapters on all eight Pink Tide governments.

Article ABSTRACT: The governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro responded to the opposition’s attempts at regime change by implementing pragmatic policies favoring businesspeople who refused to participate in destabilization actions, as well as populist social measures benefiting the nonprivileged. Both sets of policies have to be placed in political context. The characterization of allegedly pro-government businesspeople as a new ruling elite referred to as the boliburguesía fails to take into account the sharp tensions between them and the Chavista leadership. The primary importance of social programs in the Chavista political triumphs over an extended period of time and of the periodic initiatives that sparked life into individual programs implicitly rules out claims regarding the government’s failure to alleviate poverty or achieve other social objectives. The Chavista governments failed to take full advantage of favorable periods and junctures when the opposition was demoralized following defeats in order to correct the negative side effects of pragmatic and populist class policies, such as bureaucratization and crony capitalism.

Monday, September 3, 2018


The claim that Venezuela represents a threat to U.S. national security is as ludicrous as the Trump administration’s claim that imported cars from China, Canada and Mexico do the same. But the bogyman claim regarding Venezuela is not just an invention of Marco Rubio and others close to Trump. It goes back to the Obama executive order that stated that Venezuela represents an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to U.S. national security. It’s now become the new mantra that guides U.S. foreign policy. And it has extremely dangerous implications for Venezuela as it does for world trade and ipso facto the world economy. It’s one more example of how some of the policy decisions of the Obama administration set the stage. President Trump has just taken those policies to a new, absurd level.

Monday, July 30, 2018


There are leaders of the New Left of the 1960s who have bashed the Weather Underground (such as Todd Gitlin who was one of SDS’s first presidents) and, to a lesser extent, Marc Rudd (who regrets 

having participated in the Weather Underground). I don’t believe in demonizing the Weather Underground people, particularly because they were well intentioned and were reacting to a highly immoral war which was illogical from all viewpoints. Furthermore, to the extent that they were successful in pulling off highly daring acts (without producing human casualties) in order to demonstrate that the ruling class is not invincible, they deserve some credit. But there is one consideration on the negative side which I think is much more important This has to do with their underestimation of the importance of the mass mobilizations against the war. A number of members of the U.S. left traveled to North Vietnam during those years, including Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden (SDS’s founder), and Bettina Aptheker (the daughter of a fairly prominent historian of the U.S. Communist Party). The North Vietnamese (I think Ho Chi Minh himself) told these U.S. leftists that the best thing they could do was to mobilize massive numbers of people against the war in peaceful demonstrations.

Something has always struck me about the anti-war movement. The famous annual Marches on Washington (and on the west coast, smaller marches on San Francisco) grew bigger and bigger throughout the 60s and then peaked but ended in 1971. Nevertheless, the war continued for four more years and was increasingly unpopular. In the 60s if you opposed the war, many people considered you un-American.  But by the 70s, that was no longer the case, and yet the marches ceased in 1971.  Prior to 1971 the potential for incorporating people outside of the university community became greater and greater. On October 15, 1969 there were the “Moratorium” demonstrations organized by liberals that some of the radicals looked down upon (the leftists organized the March on Washington the following month on November 15), but was extremely successful in cities throughout the nation. The 1971 March on Washington  contained a large trade union contingent.

SDS had been a major force in organizing the first protests in the mid-60s. But as the organization became increasingly radicalized, it abdicated its role and this abdication had much to do with the loss of momentum after 1971. At SDS’s Chicago convention in 1969, none of the three factions (the Maoist PL, and the two RYM factions) defended the importance of organizing mass demonstration. 

Why did this happen? I remember the frustration of many New Leftists in the 1969 march on Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House. There may have been a million of us, or close to it. The next day the press asked Nixon for his reaction and at first he pretended he didn’t know what they were talking about and that he didn’t see us. Then he said, ‘Oh, I don’t pay them any attention. I had better things to do. I was watching the Redskins game.’ We know from the Watergate scandal and insider accounts, that both Nixon and Johnson were obsessed by the demonstrations (you can see evidence of that at the LBJ Library in Dallas). Johnson’s surprising decision not to run for re-election in 1968 had everything to do with the protests. In any case, Nixon’s statement convinced some of the 1969 protesters in Washington that they had to escalate their tactics and organize confrontation type actions. The confrontation tactics morphed into terrorist-type actions. 

The SDS leaders at the ‘69 congress failed to appreciate what was really happening on the ground, a shortcoming that was particularly damaging because by then SDS had branched out into many working class colleges. The extent to which SDS’s demise had to do with the failure to sustain the anti-war movement, the SDS leaders of the Weather Underground faction (as well as the PL faction) did a big disservice to the progressive cause and world peace in general.  

Monday, July 16, 2018

My book review of Jeffery R. Webber’s “The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same"

The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left, by Jeffery R. Webber. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017.  Paper. Pp. 327. 
Published in Science and Society, July 2018 issue

Over the recent past, Jeffery Webber has been one of the most prolific leftist critics of so-called Pink Tide governments in twenty-first century Latin America. This book, which consists mostly of adopted versions of previously published journal articles, is strong on both theory and empirical content. In his analysis of contemporary Latin American politics, Webber draws on various theoretical concepts and writings while pointing to their main shortcoming, namely their failure to use an effective class-based framework.
One theoretical formulation used by Webber is the concept of “passive revolution,” originally developed by Gramsci to refer to revolutionary transformations from above that lacked input from the popular sectors. Italian-Mexican social scientist Massimo Modonesi has applied the concept to the Pink Tide phenomenon to demonstrate how progressive government leaders bypassed the social movements that brought them to power and ended up forming alliances with elite sectors. Along these lines, Webber argues that the initial social thrust of the Pink Tide movements was “contained” (166) as the government made efforts to demobilize social movements, particularly after 2012 when the economic collapse of 2008 reached Latin America in a big way. Pink Tide governments “fully or partially co-opted” social movement activists and employed “clientelistic arrangements,” while charismatic leaderships reinforced the “pacifying and delegative characteristics of these passive revolutions” (167).  
A second school of thinking that informs Webber’s analysis is the thesis of neo-extractivism. According to this line of thinking, twenty-first century Latin American nations including those governed by progressives have reverted to the type of dependent relationships with developed nations characteristic of the first half of the twentieth century. Their economies center on the export of soy beans, hydrocarbons, minerals and other primary commodities “within the evolving international division of labor” (102). The negative consequences of this “re-primarization of Latin American economies” (288) include massive ecological devastation and economic and political instability generated by sharp international market fluctuations. Another result is the decline in industrial production, though some who write along these lines (and who refer to the trend as “commodities consensus”) “exaggerate[s] the extent of the decline” (288). 
Webber attempts to fill what he perceives to be a major gap in the writings of Modonesi as well the neo-extractivism school by providing a class analysis to explain the movement of Pink Tide governments toward the political center. Webber informs the reader, however, that his aim is not to correct the class shortcomings of Modonesi’s interpretation of passive revolution by “returning to any crude economic reductionism or determinism” (168). In response to Modonesi and others, Webber analyzes the class underpinnings of the government of Bolivia – the nation he is most familiar with. Webber points out that once Evo Morales consolidated support by gaining ratification of the new constitution and re-election as president in 2009, he reached an agreement with the economic elite of Santa Cruz, the country’s most prosperous region. Webber claims that “at the epicenter of the governance formula underpinning” the Morales presidency is an alliance between agro-industrial interests of the extended Santa Cruz region and transnational capital in hydrocarbons and mining, on the one hand, and “an incipient indigenous bourgeoisie  in cooperative mining, commercial trading, contraband and narcotics,” on the other (177). 
Chapter eight on Venezuela consists of a critical review of George Ciccariello-Maher’s book We Created Chávez, which can be classified as a people’s history of the Chávez phenomenon. Webber calls Ciccariello-Maher “a scholar-activist formed in the anarchist tradition, broadly conceived” (239) and credits We Created Chávez as being “the single most important book available in English advancing an explicitly anticapitalist framework for understanding… the rise of Hugo Chávez” (241). The underlying thesis of Ciccariello-Maher’s book is that “the people, as a collective protagonist in Venezuela, has been forged through shared experiences of conflict in recent decades” (244). For Webber, however, the concept of “the people” is nothing other than “a way around the identification of any singular revolutionary subject” (245). Webber is equally critical of Ciccariello-Maher’s privileging of the “quasi-lumpen barrio dweller” – largely those belong to the informal economy – who is uniquely capable of grasping “the totality of Venezuela’s lumpen-capitalism” (as quoted on page 268). Webber gives much greater weight to workers in strategic sectors (such as tin miners in the case of Bolivia) “with their ability to shut down the country’s principal source of foreign exchange” (265). 
Webber also takes issue with Ciccariello-Maher’s concept of “dual power” in which alternative power partly consists of “the condensation of popular power from below into a radical pole” that serves as a “fulcrum to radically transform and deconstruct” the old state (as quoted on page 246). This view of dual power in Venezuela, undoubtedly borrowed from the writings of Nicos Poulantzas, underestimates according to Webber the urgency of a definitive rupture or revolution. Webber adds that Ciccariello-Maher conceptualizes “the capitalist state as more malleable than it is” (251). 
Webber is not only a harsh critic of Pink Tide governments, but also of those analysts on the left who underscore their positive features. Webber labels some of these writers “social democrats” and claims they never really supported revolutionary change and thus consider the Pink Tide “move toward the center of the political spectrum… as merely an adaptation to reality” (274). Other analysts uphold a “statist vision of socialist transition” and view the “growing tension between social movements and left governments” as nothing more than “creative and revolutionary impulses” (274) which actually contribute to the process of change. Webber places Bolivian vice-president Alvaro García Linera as well as Marta Harnecker, Atilio Borón and Emir Sader in this second, not particularly favorable, category.
Webber overstates his case for denying the progressive character of the Pink Tide phenomenon. Scattered throughout the book are acknowledgements of certain positive features of these governments: reduction of inequality, modest redistribution of wealth, social policy based on the principle of universalism, incorporation of social movement activists and other progressives in important government positions, avoidance of the “extreme violence of paramilitary dispossession associated with intensified extractivism in right-ruled countries” (95), higher royalty and taxes on extractive activities, reversal of the privatization trend of the previous neoliberal period, “legalization of indigenous territories” (234) in the case of Bolivia, and “important but strictly limited structural transformations” (295). In addition, Webber fails to cover the foreign policy of Pink Tide governments which challenged U.S. hegemony to a degree unmatched in the history of the continent. These developments, as well as the undeniable war declared on progressive governments by powerful national and international actors would appear to contradict Webber’s tendency at times to put progressive governments in the same sack as the political right. Thus Webber writes that Lula’s Workers Party and the Brazilian right “have more in common than is commonly recognized” (63). Notwithstanding these shortcomings, overstatements and omissions, the merits of Webber’s book are undeniable. In it, he presents cogent arguments in a cohesive way, and backs them up with a wealth of empirical evidence.
                                                                                                            STEVE ELLNER

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

López Obrador’s Moment

Article posted by NACLA: Report on the Americas on July 3, 2018

Lede: It took Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) 12 years to become president-elect of Mexico, making history for Mexico’s Left as his party’s coalition also achieves a legislative majority. But the struggle has just begun.

by Steve Ellner

Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s sweeping victory in Mexico’s July 1 general elections came as no surprise, but the absolute majority won by his MORENA party and its allies in the congressional contests was hardly a foregone conclusion. López Obrador (or AMLO as he is known) pulled in 53 percent of the popular vote.[1] The candidates for the two parties that have governed Mexico over the recent past, the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) and the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), received 23 and 16 percent respectively. AMLO’s win on Sunday contrasts with his presidential bids in 2006 and 2012 when his competitors barely eked out dubious wins over him. 

Shortly after midnight on July 2, AMLO delivered a victory speech that made clear his number one priority would be combating poverty: “For the benefit of everyone, the poor come first,” he declared.[2] At the same time, he suggested that his government would avoid clashes with economic and possibly political elites. Along these lines, he recognized the “professionalism” exhibited by the communications media during the 2018 electoral campaign, which he contrasted with what he called the media’s “transmissions for a dirty war” during the two previous elections. Similarly, he contrasted Peña Nieto’s democratic behavior in the 2018 elections with that of the national executive in past electoral contests. 

AMLO’s cordial words for his adversaries on July 2 have two readings. On the one hand, they reflect his more moderate tone, particularly displayed in the latter months of the campaign. On the other, his complimentary remarks about the media and Peña Nieto may reflect the fact that elite groups put up less resistance to his candidacy this time around precisely because they perceived that he represents less of a threat to their interests. 
Sunday’s results also reflect the crescendo of discontent during the current presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto and toward Mexico’s political status quo represented by both PRI and PAN. Various scandals have exposed Peña Nieto’s unethical behavior and deficient leadership, as the nation has experienced a surge in violence and a sluggish economy. Between January 2015 and March 2018 homicide rates nearly doubled. The sharp increase in the imports of such an emblematic product as corn over the last two decades is a graphic indication of the nation’s economic ills, as well as the downside of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for Mexico.      
The results of the congressional elections are particularly important in predicting AMLO’s governance strategies going forward. Many elites have feared that an AMLO presidency would impose top-down revolutionary change. During the campaign, AMLO attempted to assuage these concerns by pledging to obtain majority legislative approval for all major decisions at the same time that he ruled out governing by decree.  After two thwarted bids for the presidency and given the young age of his party, it seemed unlikely that MORENA could take control of both chambers of congress. They were wrong. 
By the latter months of the campaign, the groundswell of support for AMLO’s candidacy began to indicate that MORENA had a real shot at winning a majority in congress. The reaction of capital was panicked and predictable. In May, Mexico's benchmark stock index plummeted 7.6 percent, representing the biggest monthly decline in nearly a decade. As Jorge Mariscal of Switzerland-based UBS Wealth Management explained to NBC, “there was an expectation that he would win, but that he would have a check from other parties in congress.”
With such concerns undoubtedly in mind, on June 5, AMLO met behind closed doors with top businesspeople in an attempt to—in his words—“smooth over differences.” [1] Attendees included billionaire Germán Larrea, the CEO of Mexico’s largest mining company “Grupo Mexico,” who had called on employees to vote against the “populist” candidate, claiming that if he won, their jobs would be in danger. A union spokesman of the famed Cananea mines in northern Mexico lashed out at Larrea for his “threatening stance” and called on the electoral commission to investigate the intimidation which violates the nation’s constitution. The extended list of Mexico’s leading capitalists who question AMLO’s democratic credentials includes Carlos Slim, the world’s seventh richest person, according to Forbes. AMLO described the meeting as “constructive.”
During the campaign, AMLO appointed some figures from outside MORENA’s main cadre as leading advisors in specific areas of policy making, as part of an effort to win over or neutralize members of the business community, at least for the time being. It seems to have succeeded. In an attempt to define vague aspects of AMLO’s program particularly in the area of economic policy, these spokespeople formulated positions that were more moderate than what AMLO had previously embraced. 
One key advisor and coordinator of AMLO’s governing program was the agro-industrialist Alfonso Romo, who is now slated to be the president-elect’s cabinet chief. Romo formerly had ties with Opus Dei and supported PRI and PAN governments. Romo assured that AMLO was receptive to the critical positions of the non-MORENA advisors, adding, “we are all changing, and are all learning.” Romo referred specifically to two polemical issues: AMLO’s previous pledges to reverse the privatization of the oil industry and to halt construction of Mexico City’s $13 billion airport, which he considered a waste of resources. But advisors like Romo left open the possibility that as president AMLO would build on both Peña Nieto initiatives, rather than rescind them. In both cases, the administration would thoroughly examine existing contracts to root out corruption. But, as Romo said, “if there is no stain of corruption, the bidding process will continue.” In response, the famed leftist writer and fervent MORENA militant Paco Ignacio Taibo II pointed out that Romo’s position conflicted with the party’s stance on privatization, and asked: “In whose name is Romo speaking?” 
Similarly, AMLO chose Alfonso Durazo, who had previously served in both PRI and PAN governments, to head the area of citizen security. During his campaign, AMLO proposed to grant amnesty to those outside of the law if they promised to avoid future criminal activity. Durazo ruled out blanket amnesty for violent crimes, and assured that key decisions would only be made on the basis of congressional approval and a national debate. He also pointed out that an AMLO government would honor Mexico’s obligations regarding crimes such as kidnapping, acquired as a result of international treaties. Finally, Durazo promised that all measures along these lines would involve consultation from the relatives of victims of drug violence. Durazo’s qualifications might come into conflict with alternative efforts to reduce crime and violence—AMLO recently expressed his approval for a Catholic bishop’s initiative to negotiate with drug kingpins in Guerrero in order to reduce violence.
AMLO’s amnesty proposal was a logical response to failed militarized efforts to combat violence associated with drug activity in Mexico. The administration of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched the country’s drug war, helped along with U.S. funding as part of a program known as the Mérida Initiative beginning in 2007. The Initiative increased funding and equipment for Mexican armed forces and police, and involved bringing Mexican military forces into everyday policing operations. This led to increases in human rights abuses and violence by the armed forces as well as by the drug cartels, as its membership splintered, vied for power, and diversified their income streams. AMLO has advocated a reorientation of government efforts toward focusing more on domestic crime and less on international drug trafficking. His central argument is that the virtual state of civil war in various regions of the country warrants a drastic change in strategy.  
Foreign policy is the area where a break with the recent past seems most certain. AMLO’s future Secretary of Foreign Relations, Héctor Vasconcelos (son of José Vasconcelos, an iconic figure of the Mexican Revolution) has promised to uphold “the historic principles of Mexico’s foreign policy,” meaning it will maintain normal relations with nations that Washington attempts to isolate. Over the last two decades, the Mexican government has abandoned that policy, first with regard to Cuba and more recently Venezuela. Vasconcelos also suggests that Mexico reconsider the participation of Mexican soldiers in UN-sponsored peacekeeping missions, an activity which Peña Nieto expanded in order to—according to political scientist Rafael de la Garza Talavera—“reinforce his image as a winner among fellow countrymen and international public opinion.” 
When it comes to Venezuela, even while Valsconcelos pledges not to criticize that nation’s “internal matters,” AMLO has called for the liberation of opposition leader Leopoldo López. Even so, AMLO’s foreign policy has the Washington establishment and its allies worried. Miami Herald columnist Andrés Openheimer has expressed concern that AMLO’s foreign policy will signify a setback for Venezuelan democracy as the Lima Group, which serves as a forum to condemn the Venezuelan government, will possibly lose “one of its biggest and most active members.” 
During the 2018 presidential campaign, AMLO softened his criticism of NAFTA.[3] In June, AMLO joined the two other main presidential candidates along with Peña Nieto in rejecting Trump’s threat to negotiate separate treaties with Canada and Mexico as well as the tariffs Washington placed on steel and aluminum imports. Nevertheless, his position on NAFTA remains critical. AMLO has stated that he prefers to leave NAFTA rather than accept a worse deal,[4] but in any case he stands by the idea that the government should stimulate national production to reduce its dependence on U.S. products[5]. He has also suggested that his government would include the issues of immigration and the construction of a border wall in the negotiations over NAFTA. 
Some Mexican leftists have criticized AMLO, MORENA and its predecessor party for having watered down or abandoned previous leftist positions. According to the leftist critique, in the 1980s, when a group led by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas split from the PRI and eventually created the left-wing Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), it absorbed a spectrum of left organizations as well as former communists and socialists. In the process, it deprived the nation of an anti-system point of reference, in effect, signifying the death of the left in Mexico. AMLO led the PRD until he left the party to found MORENA after a series of corruption scandals tainted the organization. The far-left, such as the Trotskyist party Izquierda Revolucionaria (IR), has criticized MORENA for its alliances with less militant organizations and individuals “subordinating all of the party’s actions to electoral campaigns.”[2] Nevertheless, the IR calls on its members to work within MORENA and provide AMLO critical support. 
Most MORENA militants who consider themselves on the left support AMLO despite reservations, as I wrote in NACLA’s summer issue this year. Jorge Veraza, a foremost Mexican scholar of Marxism, told me, “members of MORENA’s leftist current generally feel that López Obrador’s time to govern has come; they hail his courage for having rejected the efforts of PRI and PAN to create a ‘national consensus’ as a cover for advancing a neoliberal agenda.”  
The conservative ascendancy throughout the world and the setbacks suffered by Pink Tide governments in the region have undoubtedly influenced AMLO to tone down his rhetoric and modify stands in order to become a viable candidate in Mexico. It is precisely for this reason that the significance of AMLO’s triumph cannot be underestimated as it contrasts so markedly with electoral trends elsewhere. Although AMLO is unlikely to undo the neoliberal reforms that found maximum expression in the Peña Nieto administration, his proposals point to potentially far-reaching changes. For instance, the annulment of contracts with multinational oil firms (or construction companies working on the Mexico City airport) that violate national legislation and interests or contain elements of fraud clashes with what neoliberal apologists consider to be the sacred rights of private capital. Furthermore, AMLO’s refusal to endorse the international condemnation of the governments of Venezuela and Cuba goes a long way toward discrediting the interventionism promoted by the Trump administration. AMLO’s amnesty proposal and support for scaling back or eliminating the Mérida Initiative also represent an assertion of national sovereignty which distances Mexico from the colossus to the north. 
While some leftists pejoratively characterize AMLO as a “social democrat” or “center-leftist,” those on the opposite side of the political spectrum consider his program to be obsolete. Former leftist Jorge Castañeda, a campaign coordinator for presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya, has critiqued AMLO because “López Obrador believes in outdated nationalism, outdated statism, archaic protectionism and archaic subsidies in all spheres.” Nevertheless, context is everything. Since the fall of the right-wing dictatorships in South America in the 1980s, no particular economic model has proved successful in the region. In a world dominated by neoliberals and right wingers, AMLO’s election provides hope and opportunities for progressives in Mexico and elsewhere.
At the same time, AMLO’s effort to convince powerful elite interests that he does not represent a systemic threat faces limits. As we’ve seen in Brazil and other Pink Tide governments, many of those who defend the established order will promote destabilization and regime change as soon as leftist governments confront serious economic difficulties and an erosion of political support. The only effective response is mobilization of the popular sectors, which a government that reneges on promises of popular and nationalistic reform and change will not be able to count on. 
The majority vote achieved by AMLO and the MORENA coalition on July 1 will facilitate actions in favor of much needed change for Mexico. The pro-establishment discourse, however, now points out that Mexico’s federal system requires a majority at the state level – which the MORENA coalition lacks —to be able to enact far-reaching legislation. Congressional control will certainly help, but will not guarantee that AMLO can fulfill the expectations he’s built for the Mexicans who put their faith in him on July 1. 
Steve Ellner has been a NACLA contributor since the late 1980s. His most recent article, “Implications of Marxist State Theory and How They Play Out in Venezuela” appeared in the journal Historical Materialism. He is the editor of the Latin American Perspectives issue “Latin America’s Progressive Governments: Separating Socio-Economic Breakthroughs and Shortcomings,” slated for January 2019.