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Andrés Manuel López Obrador
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (b. 13 November 1953) is a Mexican politician. He was the Head of Government (Jefe de Gobierno) of the Federal District (commonly called the "mayor of Mexico City" in the English-language press) from 2000 to 2005, when his political rights were suspended, after he was impeached by the Chamber of Deputies for disobeying a court order, and he is expected to be removed from as soon as the Attorney General (called Procuraduría General de la República) issues an arrest warrant. López Obrador was previously the president of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in his home state of Tabasco and the president of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) at the state and national levels. He is considered likely to run for president of Mexico in the 2006 elections if he manages to overcome his legal problems (see the desafuero section of this article).
In the media, López Obrador is frequently referred to by his initials AMLO and as el Peje an abbreviation of pejelagarto, a species of fish from the Lepisosteidae family, found in Tabasco.
Born in the small town of Tepetitán , Macuspana municipality, in Tabasco, López Obrador became interested in politics at an early age. He studied political science and public administration at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) before joining the PRI and collaborating actively in Carlos Pellicer 's campaign for the governorship of Tabasco.
In 1977, he was selected to head the Instituto Indigenista (Indigenous People's Institute) of his state, where he promoted the publication of Native American literature. In 1984 he relocated to Mexico City to work at the Instituto Nacional del Consumidor (National Consumers' Institute), a government agency.
Although he worked for a time for Tabasco governor Enrique González Pedrero , López Obrador resigned over political differences to join the new dissenting wing of the PRI led by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, which would later be transformed into an independent party, the PRD. He ran for office in Tabasco in 1988 under this new banner.
After losing that election, López Obrador served as PRD president in Tabasco until 1994, when, after losing a bid for the Tabasco governorship (to the PRI, in a highly disputed election) he launched a run for the head office of his party. He led the PRD from the 2 August 1996 until 10 April 1999.
Jefe de Gobierno of Mexico City
On 29 March 2000, he entered the Federal District's Head of Government (Jefe de Gobierno) race. Jefe de Gobierno, a position with a status between that of city mayor and state governor, is arguably the second most important elected office in Mexico. His candidacy was contested by political opponents who claimed he was not really a resident of the capital city, but the allegations were dismissed on a legal technicality, and López Obrador proved popular amongst the working classes of the city, many of whom are themselves migrants from other parts of Mexico. This, combined with support from social democrats in the middle classes, vitalized by what they saw as the first real left-of-center candidate in Mexican politics for a long time, assured his solid victory in the elections of 2 July 2000, with 38.3% of the popular vote. Running as the "common candidate" of the Alliance for Mexico City , he defeated Santiago Creel of the PAN (33.4%), Jesús Silva Herzog of the PRI (22.8%), and a couple of other minor-party candidates. 
During his time as Head of Government, López Obrador has become one of the most recognizable and popular politicians in Mexico, both lauded and criticized for his populism. His past as a distinguished member of the PRI for many years, and his more recent acts against the government after he joined the PRD, for instance in closing oil ducts to pressure Pemex, the national oil monopoly, to pay farmers who claimed their land was contaminated, have made him unpopular or controversial in many political circles. Like most left-populist politicians in Latin America, López Obrador appeals to the large lower and lower middle classes, which make up the overwhelming majority of the population, but have considerably less influence in traditional politics and the media.
His public image is also one of frugality and moderation. He owns an old car, driven by Nicolás Mollinedo Bastar (whose high salary of USD $5,600 a month he justified by explaining he was not only his chauffeur as everyone thought but also his Coordinator of Logistics), has a discreet female-only group of bodyguards in civilian clothes, and insists on maintaining a running dialogue with the media, holding daily morning press conferences about the agenda of the district's government, and current events in the city. Opponents have claimed the press conferences are simply an excuse to get more publicity and media attention, doing politics from a television screen like Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez does in his weekly joint network transmissions, obligatorily carried on all television stations; one crucial difference, however, is that the Mexican broadcast media can choose whether or not to cover López Obrador's press conferences.
He is generally well liked by the citizens of Mexico City, and was voted the second-best mayor in the world by Mexicans at the ATA online poll on www.citymayors.com. Therefore, he is widely seen as the PRD's obvious candidate for the 2006 presidential election , and until 2005 he denied having made up his mind regarding a presidential bid. As it became clear there was the possibility of a legal impediment to run for office (see Desafuero section) he publicly declared he would only support a different candidate for his party if he had a real chance of winning the election and not only a 15% of the votes (this percentage roughly that obtained by runner-up PRD precandidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas in his previous runs for presidency). Should he run, he is considered one of the favourites, partly because both the two other main Mexican parties having had problems coming up with a viable and popular presidential candidate so far. However, his triumph isn't assured – his personal popularity is great in some parts of the country but his party, the PRD, is notably weak outside a handful of states.
Some of López Obrador's supporters for the presidency consider him to be Mexico's equivalent to the other new left-populist presidents in Latin America, such as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Brazil), Néstor Kirchner (Argentina), Tabaré Vázquez (Uruguay), and Hugo Chávez (Venezuela); his detractors, however, prefer to compare him with the latter one. The comparison with Chávez is based on the perceived disregard of both for law and institutions coupled with an insistence on the authority of the "People" over established institutions (usually when referring to the desafuero process).
Acts supporting this perception are:
- the documented incident in Tabasco, shortly after leaving the PRI, where he led a group of farmers to close oil ducts by force, sabotage by mexican law, but the government chose not to press charges despite having a videotape of him leading the farmers.
- "El Encino", cause of the lifting of his executive process (see Desafuero section), where his disregard of a federal judicial order could prevent him from running for president in 2006.
- Disobeying the resolutions of three diferent courts who have held, so far, the legality and validity of the publicity contracts of Eumex, a Spanish company installing publicity stands on some of Mexico's City sidewalks. Eumex employees and executives have been arrested when attempting to install said stands despite presenting a judicial order protecting them from government interference.
- His occasional complaints about media coverage of news important to him, as when he complained on April 2, 2005 that Mexican TV gave more coverage to the dying Pope than to his political fate, which had suffered an specially important blow the previous day.
This background and his trademark insistence on presenting the corruption scandals in his term (e.g. his secretary of finance was caught in corruption acts) as the result of a conspiracy against him by his political enemies (amongst which he names former president Salinas and current president Fox) make his critics believe he might, if he becomes President, take actions like taking to himself the legislative powers of Congress or shutting down TV stations, all in name of the "People", like Chávez, even though he (unlike Chávez) has never been a member of the military or attempted a coup d'état.
His leadership of the city government has been one focused on social issues. Under the slogan First, the poor, he has instituted various social programs to help those living in abject poverty, including various subsidies for senior citizens. He is, in general, against raising taxes and the cost of city services, obtaining funds from debt and austerity plans in spending.
He has also reformed the city's police force, leading to a reduction in corruption. He has succeeded in lowering some crime rates (like car theft) but also saw his law enforcement record stained by the lynching of federal law enforcement officers doing an undercover investigation on 2004. They were observed taking photographs and were seized for several hours after identifying themselves as federal agents; two of them were finally beaten to death and burnt, the other one barely survived and was rescued. Both federal and local authorities refused to send any kind of reinforcements despite the several hours the incident lasted and the officers' pleas for help in live television; AMLO's posture was that he would never send the police against the crowd for any motive, even if they were holding law enforcement agents, as that would inevitably provoke a massacre. For this incident President Fox fired the city's head of police Marcelo Ebrard (a constitutional power) when AMLO made it clear he would support him. AMLO appointed Ebrard as Secretary of Social Development, a post only he can revoke.
One highly visible project has been the restoration and modernization of Mexico City's old city center, the Centro Histórico, which has 16th-17th century buildings and a large number of tourist attractions, yet has been badly maintained, overcrowded, and crime-ridden in the last few decades. The Mexico City government entered into a joint venture with Carlos Slim, Latin America's richest man, and a native of the Centro Histórico, to restore and rebuild large parts of the area, creating attractive new shopping and residential areas for the middle to upper classes.
In an effort to improve the city's traffic conditions, a widely cited problem exacerbated by the common blocking of streets and avenues by political activists left undisturbed by police, his government embarked in 2003 on a number of large construction projects, aiming to increase the capacity and speed of the city's main throughfares, by constructing rapid-transit upper levels and extensions. Despite being controversial while in construction, the projects have led to a noticeable improvement in travel times in some parts of the city, and more projects along the same lines are underway, or in planning. An express bus service, the Metrobús, based on the successful Colombian model is being built down Avenida Insurgentes, cutting through the city some 20 km from north to south; improvements to the aging metro system are not expected, however.
Controversy and criticism
In 2004, AMLO's city government was rocked by two major corruption scandals and a few minor ones.
In the first, Gustavo Ponce, Lopez Obrador's finance chief, was filmed gambling at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. He had made 37 similar trips in the last year, his hotel bills revealing huge tips and mini-bar room charges. After Ponce was exposed in the media, a probe by the Federal District's attorney general revealed that more than USD $3 million in city funds may have gone missing. López Obrador reacted slowly and unconvingly: having received a phone call warning him of an impending scandal, he watched Ponce's gambling on the nightly news. He immediately called Ponce by telephone, and Ponce reassured AMLO it was only a confusion and he would explain it to the press the following morning. López Obrador arrived next day for his morning conference and waited for Ponce to go together to meet the press; when it was obvious Ponce had fled he signed Ponce's leave in his absence. Ponce disappeared, amid heavy criticism to his government for not placing him in custody immediately. At first AMLO did not judge Ponce, only saying Ponce owed an explanation for his behavior. When a probe revealed missing funds, he said the scandal was part of a conspiracy by his political enemies, as it is incredibly hard to make an unauthorized filming inside a casino and obtain a guest's bills, and the videotapes seemed to be from the security closed circuit. After some time he expressed his concern Ponce was dead, killed so the truth about the scandal would never come to light. When Ponce was caught hiding in Mexico several months later, he expressed his relief at knowing he was still alive. Some time after his capture, and remembering his conspiracy theory, AMLO presented to the press confidential documents of the United States Treasury Department detailing an ongoing investigation of Ponce for possible financial crimes. These documents, obtained from the Mexican government by Federal District Attorney General Bátiz, under the pretext they were needed for the probe, showed, in AMLO's eyes, a conspiracy from the federal government against him, since they knew before the scandal something was wrong with Ponce. Both the Mexican and United States government reacted harshly to this violation of the cooperation agreement among the policies of both countries.
The second scandal came when René Bejarano, previously López Obrador's personal secretary, later elected to the Mexico City legislature, was videotaped accepting USD $320,000 in cash. Bejarano claimed that the money, which was given to him by Carlos Ahumada, a newspaper owner and city contractor, was a cash contribution for the political campaign of Leticia Robles (not to be confused with Rosario Robles), a city borough mayor. Robles denied involvement in any illegal campaign financing. In this case, too, López Obrador failed to quickly distance himself from the scandal, placing the blame on a conspiracy by Carlos Ahumada and his political opponents (like ex-president Carlos Salinas), remaining silent about Bejarano. As more videotapes were released, AMLO found it difficult to not say anything about Bejarano's involvement and after a few months he declared he had done something inappropiate. Carlos Ahumada, who fled to Cuba to avoid prosecution, was captured by the Cuban government and held in custody, incommunicated, for some weeks before being deported to Mexico. Ahumada says he videotaped the encounters for his own safety as he felt threatened by Bejarano's cash requests, and released them as a desperate measure when his contracts with the city government were canceled. He also gave money to PRD's Carlos Ímaz , another borough mayor, who was introduced to Ahumada by Rosario Robles, AMLO's predecessor.
Despite the involvement of his collaborators, reacting slowly to the scandals and his stubborn insistence on placing the blame on his political enemies only, there's no evidence AMLO participated himself in anything illegal, so he emerged from the scandals with his public image relatively unscathed.
A less damaging scandal ocurred when it was found his chaffeur, Nicolás Mollinedo Bastar , earned USD $5,600 a month. AMLO explained he worked at his Coordinator of Logistics, and as such it was part of his duties to drive his car.
In July 2004, after several months of kidnappings throughout Mexico, some of them including celebrities, (although few of them actually in the city), many non-governmental organizations called for a march in the city to protest the irrefutable high levels of crime in the country (parallel march in some state capitals were also organized). López Obrador criticized the march as nothing but a political attack, part of the conspiracy against him, referring to the somewhat reduced crime statistics in the city during his rule. Estimates place attendance at the march at between 200,000 and one million people; his government announced there wouldn't be an official count to avoid controversy.
Both before and after the march, the city government has distributed a series of comics, called Tales of the City to combat perceived media attacks on the government and López Obrador. The issue released after the July march hinted to the march being organized and attended mostly by uncaring upper-class citizens, and drew criticism from the march's organizers. The comic has been criticised because it openly promoted López Obrador image, and cost more than MXN $6 million (around USD $550,000) from government funds. Several political analysts and economists considered that this comic is promoting conflict among classes, as it portrays the middle and upper classes taking advantage of the poor and as allies of the "conspirators", that is, Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Vicente Fox, and even ultra-Catholics, who are usually portrayed wearing dreary masks while confabulating against AMLO.
A minor controversy which has the potential to become a bigger problem is his legal fight with Spanish company Eumex. Eumex contracted street publicity with former regent (before AMLO's post existed) Óscar Espinosa Villarreal . The contract has been found to be legal, so far, but AMLO says it is extremely advantageous to Eumex and violates Spanish (not Mexican) laws. A few incidents where Eumex workers and executives were detained when installing publicity stands on the sidewalks caught the media attention. Eumex lawyers claim they have a judicial order preventing AMLO's government to interfere with them, and have insinuated this could become another "El Encino" for López Obrador (see Desafuero process).
Mexico City is amongst the least transparent governments in the nation. Altough most states and the federal government have enacted independent organisms to disclose government documents, López Obrador has been headfast in his refusal to open his archives, and most of the data pertaining to expenditures and government work continues to be off limits to the public.
Desafuero process of 2004-2005
The 111th article of the Mexican Constitution states that most high-level elected officials cannot be prosecuted for criminal offenses while in office withouth a simple majority vote of the Chamber of Deputies stating there are grounds for prosecution. This privilege is usually confused with the freedom of speech protection granted to congressmen by the 61st article, known as fuero (from Latin forum), the process to strip it is known as desafuero. Since immunity from criminal prosecution is almost universally confused with the fuero, both terms will be used interchangeably.
If the Chamber of Deputies votes in the negative, the prosecution can take place when the official leaves his post, as deputies don't vote on the accusation itself but only on whether there is reasonably belief a crime was committed.
An individual facing criminal prosecution has his political rights suspended (38th article) so he can't run for office or hold one, at least temporarily. All candidates for the presidential election in 2006 must register no later than January 15, 2006, although the law does allow a change of candidate until May of the same year.
López Obrador runs exactly this risk. On November 9, 2000, Rosario Robles, his predecessor, expropriated a patch of land from a larger property called "El Encino", in Santa Fe, Cuajimalpa, to build an access road for a private hospital. The owner sued the government on March 11, 2001, and was granted a federal judicial order barring further construction until the matter was definitively settled, as it prevented the owner access his own property. According to prosecutors, López Obrador knowingly disregarded several times this order, a minor criminal offense. By August, the judge found the works continued, so he requested the federal attorney general to make an inquiry and take the necessary steps to bring him into compliance. The federal attorney general had no option but to proceed. Several months passed, partly because until recent times the courts usually sided with the government in expropriation cases and therefore the case covers unknown ground, and partly because it was such an extraordinary step. By May 17, 2004, the federal general attorney could not keep procastinating (otherwise he would be prosecuted) and announced he would request the removal of AMLO's immunity, which he did two days later. Many months of mutual accusations later, it became clear 2005 would be a pivotal year for the case.
By early 2005 there was an upsurge of popular support for AMLO and opposition to the desafuero; by March 2005, posters declaring "No al desafuero" or similar slogans, promoted by AMLO, were commonly seen in Mexico City, and several grassroots movements were considering their options for demonstrating their support for López Obrador. The federal government, for its part, reiterated officials can't be exempted from following the law.
A civil society organization, No nos vamos a dejar ("We won't let that happen"), was founded, headed by Alejandro Encinas , his Secretary, and joined by several PRD and government members, making an aggressive funding and media campaign, spending MXN $5 million (USD $440,000) in March 2005 only, with other $5 million more available, as Encinas declared in April 2005. The association funding methods have been questioned, with rising accusations of reprisal against government employees who didn't participate by either accepting a deduction of their paychecks or providing a "voluntary" donation, and a documented incident of deviation of government funds by local representatives who had to give the money back. The association has announced they will detail the origin of the funds in the near future.
AMLO's party, the PRD, is expected to launch a similar campaign devoting a large part of party funds, mainly by comparing AMLO's prosecution with that of killings attributed to previous governments (1968, 1971) and financial scandals (1994-1995) where almost no convictions were made (but heavy fines applied in most of the later), and emphasizing his status as leader in the polls. In his defense before the Chamber of Deputies, AMLO compared himself with Francisco I. Madero, a political candidate in 1910 and an extremely famous revolutionary in Mexico, who was imprisioned Porfirio Díaz. He considered his impeachment to be anti-democratic, and overtly challenged former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari. While some of these comarisons seem far-fetched for some, others fear that he might be able to mobilize the lower class in more violent manifestations against his impeachment or the government. Even though he has called for a "peaceful movement", some citizens of Tabasco still remember his violent manifestations and takeover of the Governor's Office when he said he had been victim of fraud in the elections.
Despite this vigorous defense, the process couldn't be stopped and López Obrador lost the first battle in a restricted vote by a comission of four deputies on April 1, 2005, opening the door for the full Chamber of Deputies to vote six days later to remove his immunity after hearing both his and the prosecution's arguments. This restricted vote by the comission, originally scheduled two days earlier, decided there was a reasonable belief a crime was committed by three votes to one. Media coverage of the preliminary vote was small, because of the impending demise of Pope John Paul II (he died the next day). This prompted López Obrador to express (hours before the Pope died) his concerns about what he saw as minimal coverage of his desafuero process, but "hours and hours" of special coverage on the Pope's health condition. "(The media only said that) López Obrador lost three to one, as if it were a soccer match", he said, expressing his fears of a return to a time where the media, specially television, was subordinated to the government.
He will be formally prosecuted in a matter of days after losing his immunity. When that happens, he will have to be cleared of all charges preferably before January 15, 2006 if he wishes to run for presidency (although law allows candidate changes until May). López Obrador has declared several times he will forgo all legal means available to him to remain free until a verdict is given, going to prison when the prosecution starts and campaigning from there. He also stated he will be his own lawyer at his criminal trial (his studies are in political science and public administration) although he will receive legal advice from two different lawyers. His party is already considering changing its statutes to allow him to become candidate while jailed. Protests are expected, mostly in Mexico City and some of the more rural states, as he and his party are less popular in other parts of the country.
As part of his campaign before the Chamber of Deputies' vote, he's organizing mass concentrations in public places to pressure the vote in his favor and doing media interviews comparing his process with those held against mexican revolutionary Madero or civil rights activist Martin Luther King, insisting it is a conspiracy masterminded by ex-President Salinas and President Fox.
On April 7 2005 López Obrador went to the Chamber of Deputies to present his case. Attendance when the session began was reported to be 488 out of 500 deputies, but apparently one of the deputies arrived late to vote. After a long session where AMLO accused President Fox of being behind the process, the Chamber of Deputies voted by 360 to 127 (with two abstentions) to lift AMLO's constitutional immunity against prosecution. A secondary law states that in cases like this, he is immediately dismissed from his office. The local assembly of representatives (the Federal District has no Congress as its status is somewhere between a state and a county), with a majority of PRD members (AMLO's party) has refused to acknowledge the validity of this process. This will be relevant to the city's future, as they are the ones legally entitled to name AMLO's successor.
A fact that was lost despite having appeared earlier in official documents was that, apparently, López Obrador refused to follow the judicial order barring further construction of accesses to the ABC Hospital because he was sued by them and would have to pay USD 37 million if accesses weren't finished before the deadline. Apparently his government sold land to construct the hospital but for some reason, in agreement with the hospital, such land was exchanged for another. The new land had no accesses, making it useless; the hospital sued AMLO's government. It is unknown at this moment if AMLO's government committed a financial offense in regard to this.
Unless otherwise noted, in spanish and published in Mexico.
- Los Primeros Pasos (First Steps)
- Del Esplendor a la Sombra (From Splendor to Darkness)
- Tabasco, Víctima de un Fraude (Tabasco, Victim of Fraud)
- Entre la Historia y la Esperanza (Between History and Hope)
- Un proyecto alternativo de nación (An alternate nation project) ISBN 685956979
- Contra el desafuero: mi defensa jurídica (Against the lifting of executive immunity: my legal defense) ISBN 9685957908
- Mexico mayor runs into the buffers (BBC News)
- Greetings from Mexistan] ([[Washington Post] opinion column)
- Support site against the desafuero process
- Government site with online text of the 1917 Constitution (in Spanish)
- Authors Elena Poniatowska and Paco Ignacio Taibo describe Obrador's magnetism on Democracy Now! program
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