It was embarrassing to watch Mexico’s second presidential debate: PAN candidate Ricardo Anaya, with his unctuous smile, selling the lie that because he’s young he can offer something different from the disaster his party caused during its twelve years in the presidency; José Antonio Meade, with his PRI style that, despite having been more rehearsed this time, fails to convince anyone and has kept him stuck at the bottom of the polls. Lopez Obrador, slow and often off-point, wasting the few minutes he had with long pauses and attacks on his opponents that do nothing to make the debate an effective forum for proposals or contribute to an informed vote. And a pair of immoderate moderators, Yuriria Sierra and Leon Krauze, journalists who at times assumed more active roles than the candidates, or fell short by failing to follow up.
Absent, once again, were the citizens. Citizens who really want to know what their candidates think about the issues that affect them, in this case migration, foreign policy and international trade. The Elections Institute announced a new format to include questions from the audience. A handful of men and women attended, selected by who knows who or how. They read, badly, questions written out on pieces of paper, without even seeming to know what they were supposed to read.
What follows is a series of observations on the high points—or low points—of the second debate. This summary does not include the intervention of Jaime Rodríguez “El Bronco”, because his presence in the race is illegitimate, a result of the Electoral Tribunal’s twisting of the law in its decision to ignore the fact that the vast majority of his signatures to get on the ballot were not valid.
* The Empty Sack. This debate the candidates didn’t bring the show-and-tell cards that characterized the first debate, but other props made the scene. The strangest was Anaya’s empty sack, which he flourished as part of an anecdote regarding a deportee who arrived from the United States with a US-issued sack to put things in. The image of the candidate with the white sack circulated widely in the social media. It’s just that most of Anaya’s story of “Ana Laura” was made up.
I interviewed Ana Laura López on my television show, Hecho en América, last year. Yes, she was deported but not recently (September 30, 2016). She did not meet Anaya in a shelter for deportees (they don’t exist). She did not arrive handcuffed, as he added for dramatic effect, and the sack was not hers (since she was leaving the US when she was arrested, she had suitcases).
* The Trump Card. I have to agree that Anaya made an excellent point when he stated, “it was a historical mistake to have accepted Donald Trump in Los Pinos when the man had been campaigning for a year, insulting, denigrating, and attacking Mexicans.” It was an easy shot. If there’s one thig Mexico’s population unites on, it’s outrage at the current occupant of the White House. But Anaya didn’t mention his own party’s abject submission to Washington’s plans, through the Merida Initiative and the disastrous war against the drugs launched by former president Felipe Calderon. Meade, meanwhile, didn’t dare to say the obvious – that it was a huge mistake to roll out the red carpet to the most anti-Mexican candidate in contemporary history – for fear of offending his mentor Enrique Peña Nieto and the sell-out, Luis Videgaray. Lopez Obrador stressed that “Trump has offended the people of Mexico and has offended the government of Mexico,” but failed to offer “a measurable parameter” of respect in response to a direct question from the moderator.
* The Big Lie Against Nestora Salgado. With his attack on an indigenous woman considered a victim of government persecution, Meade got himself into a big mess and then promptly made it worse. He could even end up being taken to court for slander. The PRI candidate accused AMLO of proposing a “kidnapper” for the Senate. “Nestora Salgado will be a Senator from MORENA`s list of candidates who enter as part of their proportional vote — a kidnapper who is only free because of a police error.” His statement is totally false and defamatory. The police error is called “lack of evidence” and Salgado—a commander of the Community Police of Olinalá, Guerrero– was acquitted by three judges in 2016. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that Salgado’s arrest by the army was arbitrary and demanded her release. She spent two years eight months in prison, without committing any crime. Human rights organizations and lawyers around the world mounted an international campaign for their release.
I was part of the tour “Put a Face and Name to Political Prisoners” with Nestora Salgado in 2016, shortly after she was released from jail. Instead of going home, she went out to defend the people who were still behind bars unjustly. She has become an example of commitment to her people and her case shows that solidarity can defeat the government’s plans to silence grassroots leaders. Although thousands of people and scores of articles pointed out the PRI candidate’s slander, Meade, far from offering an apology, reiterated the false accusation, tweeting on May 24 that “as President, I will assure Mexicans real Rule of Law, where criminals are in jail, not on the streets, let alone in the Senate. ” His words endanger Nestora Salgado and have sparked a hate campaign in social networks with the hashtag #NestoraSecuestradora (Nestora Kidnapper). They have also sparked thousands of expressions of support for her and repudiation of the PRI candidate.
* The Migration Institute: Tijuana or beyond?: Lopez Obrador’s proposal to change the headquarters of the National Institute of Migration (INM) to Tijuana makes sense for the development of migratory work and is consistent with his vision of decentralizing the functions of the federal government. But it contradicts his own proposal to eliminate, not transfer, the INM. In his Plan for the Nation he proposes “to replace the INM with a National Office for Migration and Refugees”. Given the punitive approach, the rampant corruption and the systematic abuses of the rights of migrants committed by the INM, the latter is a much more integral and pro-migrant proposal. Which one will it be?
* Distancing from the Empire: The three candidates marked their distance (at least rhetorical) from the U.S. government. The most forceful phrase was Lopez Obrador’s: “I want a friendly relationship with the United States, but not subordination.” He has the clear advantage of not having been an actor in the enormous loss of national sovereignty that characterizes the relationship built by the PRI and the PAN with the U.S. since 2007.
* Defense of migrants or points in the polls?: It is undoubtedly an achievement that a topic as central as migration had a place in the second debate, since it’s usually ignored. However, the candidates set forth very few concrete proposals to face what will be a crisis of major dimensions in the next administration. AMLO said that his proposed ambassador to the United Nations, Alicia Bárcena, will present grievances against the deportations under the Trump government. A year ago, the MORENA candidate filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and delivered a letter to the UN commissioner against Trump’s immigration policies. On the other hand, his proposal to change Mexican consulates into attorney general offices (“procuradurías”) has provoked questions in the legal field.
Meade again justified the conservative government of Trump, noting that “most of the deportations took place during the Obama administration,” when it is obvious that Trump is just fine-tuning the country’s machinery for mass detention and deportation. He emphasized programs to give migrants driver’s licenses in the U.S., important, but not a new policy to respond to the crisis of fear and violations among Mexican migrant communities under Trump. His proposals to provide access to credit, social programs and legal services to returnees are not entirely credible after his party failed to do so over the last six years.
On migration from Central America, Lopez Obrador emphasized the causes of migration in the region and proposed an “Alliance for Progress” with the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, the proposal differs little in name and content (from the little that we know of it so far) from the neoliberal and militarist proposal of John Kelly and Donald Trump, the “Alliance for Prosperity”, supported by the PRI and the PAN. Mexico and the countries of Central America should unite to improve the conditions that force people to flee their countries, and the conditions of transit and refuge in our country, but the “Alliance” consolidated in the headquarters of Southern Command with the EPN government as co-host, has been counterproductive since its inception in the Obama administration. Mexico needs its own policy with new bases – human rights, demilitarization and the human security of people over privileges for foreign investors.
* Do you know where your children are?: Absurdly, Anaya criticized AMLO for his son studying in Spain, accusing him of violating his nationalist principles. The criticism applies to nearly the entire political elite of the country, and Anaya’s children are no doubt hoping that in ten years their dad will have forgotten his false nationalism.
* English only: For Anaya (and Meade, in its most recent spot) Mexican politicians are obsolete if they do not speak English, to the extent that the world cannot be understood without speaking the language of the northern neighbor. “Your ideas are very old,” Anaya said, referring to the fact that according to AMLO “the best foreign policy is domestic policy. But what happens outside, – since you don’t speak English, the problem is that you don’t understand the world.” Take note, all you poor millions of men and women in the world who speak any language other than English.
* The FTA, yes, no?: AMLO said yes to NAFTA, but renegotiated by his eventual government. It is worth remembering that on April 10 the MORENA candidate signed a political agreement with the peasant movement “Plan de Ayala of the 21st Century”, that includes a commitment to “replace NAFTA with a Trinational Agreement for Development Cooperation that, unlike this one, does not sacrifice our food sovereignty, and furthermore includes legalization of the undocumented and the right to cross-border mobility “.
Meade and Anaya addressed NAFTA by calling for diversification of trade, without going into details about the difficult renegotiation process that is still going on. Meade attacked Lopez Obrador for not supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (rejected by Trump after having been negotiated to fit US and transnational interests). The proposal to use “border security”, that is, Mexico’s cooperation with the Trump government to criminalize migrants, as a bargaining chip in the renegotiation of NAFTA sells human beings and human rights down the river and must be roundly rejected.
* It’s how old you feel: This debate, the line of attack against AMLO was to accuse him of being old and sick, which he shrugged off. The attack is hard to sustain since it is openly discriminatory and in light of the facts. On the same day as the debate, the daily newspaper Reforma ran an article comparing the pace of campaign activities: municipalities visited–AMLO, 120; Anaya, 20; Meade 48; number of campaign rallies–AMLO, 120; Anaya, 29; Meade, 58. The leader in the polls may not be strong in debating, but the public square seems to be his forte.
Mexico’s second presidential debate was, in a word, disappointing. Authorities anticipate a high level of participation in these elections. People are organizing to participate as observers, voters, representatives of their parties, media monitors and informed citizens. Hopefully the third debate in June will reflect the high level of preparation and seriousness that an ever-more active citizenry deserves.