Mexico’s AMLO Publishes Plan to End Corruption: But What It Needs is its Own Operation Car Wash

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is coming into office with some big promises. And perhaps the most significant is his claim that he will end corruption in Mexico. No doubt a historic problem. In an epoch of globalized production and financial markets that narco economies have come to integrate themselves into, the idea that somebody – anybody – can do something – anything – about corruption in Mexico is at once refreshing and trite.

Since Salinas, fighting back against corruption has been a primary slogan of every presidential campaign, but, historically, whether it was the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) or the National Action Party (PAN), no political actor seemed to have the wherewithal or the strength to make a dent.

But AMLO isn’t your ordinary politician. In fact, he’s a free-radical firebrand who’s ready to ditch whatever vessel contains him – whether it’s the PRI (his original party) or the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) that he helped found in the 1980s – to accomplish his ends. Of course, it’s often hard to separate his personal objectives with those he deems good for the country. Regardless, the logic goes that perhaps this time, with someone new in the executive position (and his coalition in the saddle of the legislature) something totally different is possible.

Now there can’t be too much expected too quickly because I think AMLO has to keep the markets tame, but we also can’t expect too much at the long term (at least at this point) because AMLO is limited to a single six-year term, and given the sanctity of the revolution fought to accomplish at least that goal, it’s hard to imagine him being capable of upturning that limit ala Chávez.

That said, AMLO released his new plan to begin to put an end to corruption in Mexico, and without a doubt, its distinct. Here are three of the most interesting points of his 20 point plan, published just Wednesday:

  1. Article 108 of the Constitution will reformed so that the president can be put on trial for electoral and related corruption.
  2. The specifical privileges of public functionaries will be suspended – especially political immunity currently enjoyed by elected officials.
  3. Influence peddling, corruption, association between functionaries to commit fraud and/or embezzlement, oil theft, and electoral fraud will all be considered felonies.  

These points come alongside additional plans that include increasing the autonomy of the attorney general, and cutting the monthly salary of congress in half, reducing senators monthly pay to $3,120, eliminating health benefits for elected officials, etc.

So, it seems that the Mexican government has grown some teeth and – with AMLO and his coalition in power it might be that there is a willingness to actually use them.

An interesting constellation of forces is thus developing in Mexico that has, quite unlike Lula in Brazil, a great deal of potential. That is, when Lula and the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) came into power in Brazil, he decided to work within the familiar terrain of corruption and got swept in the process. Operation Car Wash came in, flooded the government in order to purge the political class, taking the PT with it and causing a political crisis. However, Mexico very well may be able to escape this path.

Learning from this lesson, AMLO and perhaps his party Morena, have a unique opportunity. That is, given the position in both the legislature and the executive branches, progressive forces may be capable of securing their place beyond AMLO’s presidency if they were to institute the above measures – which would mark an incredible victory in the establishment of a democratic civil society.

For the old guard of Mexico’s political class, there is much to be afraid about within the current conjuncture. However, a dense fog envelops the terrain of struggle and other forces exist beyond the strictly political class. And among these are narcos and a globally integrated economy that stand in the way of further democratization and many of them have adapted too well to a corrupt political class for them to just accept all the planned changes