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Can the 2018 Elections Truly Reshape Mexico?

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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On Sunday July 1st Mexican voters headed to the polling stations oh what has been the largest election in Mexican contemporary history: Over 3400 seats were out for grabs at local, state, and federal levels, including the president of the country and the whole Congress.

This election should also be remembered for other aspects equally pressing: Personal backbiting from all political parties, and the second one leaving 113 candidates from all political parties murdered prior to the Sunday elections. An unprecedented event yet unaddressed throughout the political campaigns by every candidate. Mexico is also has the lowest levels of faith in democracy.

An approximate of 62% of electorate turned out to vote in this past elections. While still a decent figure, it still shows that winners in recent elections have been unable to attract a significant number of the electorate in Mexico. The total of the nominal list for this 2018 election was 85, 953,712 million people; 63.45% of those turned out to cast their votes. (54, 537, 000 million people approximately) The virtual winner, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) obtained 52.96% of the votes, which mean 28, 359,567 million people elected the future president of the country, not even a third of the total nominal list. This is a result that has been present in the last 4 presidential elections and that should not be dismissed at all.

What is evident though is that this result brought to the forefront of the political agenda that Mexican voters are so fed up with the ruling class that they have decided to take a chance the only option that was left trying. This, again, should not be taken lightly, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) and its candidate AMLO did not win supporters and votes because of his proposals for national policies. A large portion of the people that casted their vote for him did it as a punishment vote out of sweeping, profound frustration to the last 3 administrations.

AMLO’s victory ushers a four-year old party into the presidential seat with practically little governing experience and whose outsized leader has promised to radically and peacefully transform the country. Among his campaign promises are prevalence of the rule of law and democracy; rule with honesty and end privileges and immunities; decentralisation of ministries; fix the prices of agricultural products; deal with the energy crisis; eliminate corruption; fight insecurity and poverty; economic development controlled by the state; guaranteed jobs and access to free education to youngsters with a monthly stipend; paid apprenticeships to those currently not studying nor working; increase the pension of the elderly; guarantee 100% admission rates to university studies; and live humbly.

While on paper, these policies look certainly promising, AMLO has made seemingly contradictory statements throughout his political career and during his campaign. He has also steered clear of declaring a firm stance on many matters and avoided going into concrete ideas as to how he plans to achieve his campaign promises. While he has claimed to be in favour of transforming Mexico radically, his post-election speeches hint that he will hardly pursue a rapid and revolutionary upheaval to shock the system to the core. One of those contradictions is that whilst he has promised repeatedly that he will uproot corruption and live humbly, he has send signals he refers to everyone else but himself and his inner circle: He is backed by the multimillionaire Alfonso Romo; he postulated former mining union leader Napoléon Gómez Urrutia accused of stealing millions of pesos from workers to the Senate, and various family members of former Teacher’s Union Elba Esther Gordillo are among MORENA’s supporters.

While this is indeed a seismic change, it is still to early to brand it as the final step in the consolidation of Mexican democracy and the end of party rule as we know it, or at least the end of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The same was argued after the elections of 2000 and 2006, and the party was able to canalise the errors of the back then incumbent administration. Secondly, MORENA as a political organisation, despite claiming it is not a political party, it resembles in every way one, and in many aspects emulates the practices of the former hegemonic PRI party: one man at the top – AMLO, and dubious, non- transparent practices to select their candidates to governmental positions. Thirdly, there is no real ideological party affiliation in Mexico – Majority of the Mexican electorate do not vote for concrete political parties ideologies, as the election of AMLO shows, they voted for him because there was nobody else they considered better to vote for. Lastly, the long-criticised clientelism, nepotism and opacity that characterised PRI for 71 years are present not only in the rest of the political organisations but in society as a whole. Many of MORENA members were previously affiliated to other political parties and decided to get on MORENA’s bandwagon in search of a governmental post they considered unattainable with their former political parties. The old authoritarian system has been preserved out of convenience and this is the main hurdle to overcome.

How will a Mexico ruled under AMLO look like? That is one of the most pressing questions in the immediate aftermath of the elections. There are still many open-ended questions as  to which AMLO will govern: The pragmatist or the firebrand one. It is still up in the air whether some of the inconsistencies, incongruencies,  flip flops, ironies, choice of candidates, and lack of clarity regarding his policies were an electoral tactic or a worrisome trait. It will not be until he takes office that we will be able to grasp a more granular understanding  of his ruling style.

AMLO will also have to rule a country mourning over 150,000 people murdered over the last 18 years and face a tightening grip over oil pipelines by criminal organisations as well as the uncontrolled spiral of violence in the country.  His administration will coincide with the increasingly fragile and deteriorated relations with the United States, and many of AMLO’s proposals to deal with security may be further tied up by Trump, especially if he is unable to curb down insecurity in the short term. The Mexican government still relies on the US intelligence data to catch criminals.  Mexico’s next president needs to fully understand the motivations behind Trump’s view of Mexico. For him it is a personal issue imbued by a political electoral dynamics crucial to mobilising his base. Arguing that the strategy should be to make Trump respect Mexico is not only a Panglossian attitude but it is doomed to failure. Both leaders stand today at crossroads and they can either be partners in success or accomplices in failure.

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is an IR lecturer and PhD candidate at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She gained her Bachelor's in International Relations at Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City and her MA in International Relations and World Order at the University of Leicester, England. She has spoken at numerous international conferences and has written on topics such as democracy, migration, European politics, Contemporary Mexican Politics and the Middle East.

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Delusions of U.S. Hegemony In A Multi-Polar World: Trump Visits Europe

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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To say that US foreign policy is delusional is not an exaggeration.  It seeks political hegemony and a relationship with China and Russia akin to what it has had with Japan and Germany, that is, go ahead and develop in the economic sphere but don’t try to flex political or military muscle.

There are at least two problems with this scenario:  China is now the world’s largest economy on a purchasing power parity basis, and the Russians have the nuclear capacity to make a wasteland out of the US.  Russian weapons systems can also be superior.

Take the S-400 in comparison with the US Patriot missile defense system — the purpose of these surface-to-air systems is to shoot down incoming missiles or aircraft.  The S-400 has a more powerful radar, double the range, is faster (Mach 6 vs Mach 5), takes five minutes to set up against one hour for the Patriot, and is cheaper.  China has just bought 32 launchers and is expected to buy more, thereby challenging Japan, Taiwan (which it claims) and other neighbors for control of the skies, as it is doing over the seas bordering itself.  NATO member Turkey has recently signed a purchase deal, and Iran wants to, as does Qatar after its recent spat with Saudi Arabia.  If Russia supplies Iran, any attack planned by the US or Israel would prove to be very costly and politically infeasible.

In our world of instant and continuous news feeds, one can imagine a bemused Vladimir Putin listening to Trump exhorting NATO members to increase contributions to NATO — an organization designed to counter the Russian threat — specifically castigating Germany’s Angela Merkel for being beholden to Russia with her country’s reliance on Russian natural gas.

Early next week he meets Mr. Putin in Helsinki, fresh from his soft power World Cup triumph as the world beat a path to Russia.  What does Mr. Trump tell the leader of the world’s largest country covering eleven time zones?  US political hegemony is a non-starter.

Europeans clearly want access to China, its labor, its markets, even finance, and with it comes Russia and their numerous initiatives together including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIE) their answer to the US-sponsored World Bank.  That Britain joined AIIB contrary to US wishes is a clear sign of China rising as the US declines comparatively;  Britain, having faced up to the US, was followed by a rush of European countries.

Russia wants sanctions lifted.  What does the US want?  Crimea is a non-starter.  Help with Iran?  For the Russians, it has become an important ally both with regard to Syria and as a Mideast power in its own right.  Mr. Trump’s instincts are right.  But what he achieves is another matter.  Childish petulance accompanied by a different story for different leaders would leave an observer with little optimism.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump manufactures and markets his own reality; this time on his popularity (‘I think they like me a lot in the UK’) despite avoiding roads and traveling by helicopter when possible during his pared down UK visit.  Hordes of demonstrators undeterred have a giant parade balloon several stories high of a bloated child with the trademark blonde hair.  It is one the largest demonstrations ever outside the US against a sitting president.

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This 70-year-old program prepares young women for leadership

MD Staff

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A record number of women are running for public office this year. In the near future, we can expect more female public servants representing the American people — from local chambers to Capitol Hill. In light of this exciting trend, it is important to highlight programs that help develop young women to become the next generation of female leaders. One such program? American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Girls Nation.

ALA Girls Nation is a weeklong mock experiential learning program, one that positions high-potential teens for a lifetime of public service to our country. This summer, 100 female high school seniors — two from each of our 50 states — will convene in Washington, D.C., for the 72nd Annual ALA Girls Nation. Each teenage girl represents her state as a “senator” — mirroring the structure of government at the federal level. During this transformative weeklong program, these senators form a fictitious nation, become “Nationalists” and “Federalists,” enthusiastically campaign to hold office, and — perhaps most important — accept and celebrate the outcome of these elections and come together to serve for the good of the nation.

ALA is a nonpartisan organization committed to advocating for veterans’ issues, promoting patriotism, mentoring America’s youth and proudly presenting ALA Girls Nation for over 70 years. The ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation are privately-funded and presented by members of the organization. The world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, ALA was chartered in 1919 to support the mission of The American Legion.

More than 6,500 young women have attended ALA Girls Nation since its inception in 1947. Each participant leaves the program informed about the fundamentals of U.S. government — and the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizens. It lasts for one short week. Yet the seven-day experience — one that champions the legislative process and serious collaboration — has laid the foundation for thousands of bright futures.

Many alumnae have chosen careers in public service, putting their ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation experience into action to serve the people. The lessons learned about teamwork, resilience and the democratic principles that guide the republic in which we live are applied in real life by many alums who have gone on to serve at the local, state and national level — including high-ranking members of the judiciary.

Justice Lorie S. Gildea began her tenure as chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2010. She participated in the state-level version of ALA Girls Nation, known as ALA Girls State in 1979 — and the program, Gildea said, “empowered her to embark upon a lifetime of service and leadership.”

“At ALA Girls State, we learn that every voice has value and that every woman needs to use her voice,” said Gildea. “We also learn that we need to be courageous and confident enough to take life up on the opportunities that present themselves to us.”

“An informed citizenry is essential to the success of our democracy. ALA Girls State [and ALA Girls Nation] plays a vital role in informing and educating our future leaders,” Gildea said. “It is a wonderful opportunity to learn about and see firsthand how the three branches of our government work. I am so grateful to the American Legion Auxiliary for presenting ALA Girls State and teaching me and thousands of Minnesota’s young women about the value of participation and the possibility of leadership.”

Other alumnae have gone on to hold leadership roles in industries spanning government, military, media, education and law. Notable alumnae include Jane Pauley, national media personality; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, president of Augustana University and former South Dakota U.S. representative; Susan Bysiewicz, former Connecticut Secretary of State; Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former Air Force aide to the president; Ann Richards, former governor of Texas; and Susan Porter-Rose, former chief of staff to First Lady Barbara Bush — among countless others.

For some girls, it is their first opportunity to connect with peers with common interests. For others, it is the first time they encounter students whose perspectives differ from their own. For all, it is a moment in time when a select few teenage girls from all over the country come together to discover and celebrate the honor and importance of participating in our democracy. To learn more, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.

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Colombia-Venezuela: A Conflict with US Participation

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The victory of right-wing candidate Ivan Duque in the Colombian presidential elections is not the best news for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The newly elected president has already refused to recognize Maduro’s victory in the recent elections in Venezuela and announced that he would not send an ambassador to Caracas.

It is believed that Ivan Duque is the successor of the political line of the Colombian ex-president Alvaro Uribe (in power from 2000 to 2008) who was notorious first of all for fighting the left radical insurgent FARC group and accusing Hugo Chavez who was the Venezuelan President at that time, of harboring the FARC rebels in Venezuelan territory.

Troubled Sister Countries

There is no need to recall that Maduro owes his entire political career to the late Chavez.  Maduro was not only a long-time associate of Chavez but was perceived in society as the heir to Venezuela’s legendary leftist leader. Maduro also inherited from Chavez a course toward friendship with Russia (Russia made large investments in Venezuela), as well as a diplomatic confrontation with the USA and its main ally in northern Latin America – Colombia. At one time Chavez made a point calling Colombia, intertwined with Venezuela by a 1,300 km-long common border, “Latin American Israel, hinting at the military and economic support provided by Washington to the Colombian leadership. In 2010 Chavez broke off any of his country’s relations with Colombia.

Despite the fact that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who succeeded Uribe, signed a peace agreement with the FARC in 2016, the relationship between Caracas and Bogota during Santos’ rule has not improved. In his recent speech President Maduro accused Santos of interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs, to which Santos responded with speeches lamenting the lack of freedom in the “leftist” Venezuela.

Hatred against “Chavism”

Optimists expected relations to improve if the left candidate – Bogotá Mayor Gustav Petro would have won the elections in Colombia. In fact now Juan Manuel Santos finishes his second term as a “lame duck” after Duque’s victory, and his dislike for Maduro can no longer have a negative impact on relations. But Petro lost, although he received 42 percent of the vote. And the very course of the presidential campaign showed that this is not about personal antipathies, but about strong ideological differences between the leaders of Venezuela and Colombia. During the election campaign, Duque’s supporters declared the slogan: “Vote for our candidate, so that Colombia does not become another Venezuela.” The former Colombian President Uribe does not conceal his hatred for “Castro-Chavism,” and the victory of his candidate (Uribe created the Democratic Party that supported Duque) does not promise Maduro or any other “chavist” relations improvement.

Russia’s Stance

Russia takes an emphatically distant position in relation to the political standoff of the two neighboring Latin American countries, and this approach seems reasonable in this situation. Russia does not make a secret of the fact that Venezuela is experiencing enormous economic difficulties. The Institute of Latin American Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences acknowledged that there is hyperinflation in the country and that its GDP reduced by 12 % in 2017.

Russian political analysts are aware of the US interest in the “early collapse of the Chavist regime”, but nevertheless, they do not veil the fact that Venezuela’s leadership is primarily to blame for the country’s economic problems. Experts of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP) also came to this conclusion, pointing out the inability of the Venezuelan leadership to convert petrodollars of 2000s into diversification of domestic economy. So the Russian approach to both Venezuelan and Colombian issues can be seen as lacking ideology: Russian companies responded to Venezuela’s business proposals, but this response was based on mutually beneficial cooperation, not on a desire to support a left or right ideology.

Violence as Tradition

As for the continuing ideological struggle between the “left” Venezuela and the “right” Colombia, its result is far from a foregone conclusion. The success or failure of  the ruling elites in Venezuela, and especially in Colombia, people estimate not only by economic indicators, but also by the safety of life.  And in Colombia, this is even worse than in Venezuela: the leftist insurgent movement FARC (the “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia”) has waged a civil war in Colombia since 1964. And FARC seized the baton of violence from the so-called liberals: the conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC grew out of the war between supporters of the Liberal and Conservative parties of Colombia that continued for a decade (!) in 1948-1958, (it is this violence, which claimed about 200,000 lives, was reflected in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”).

In 2016, the outgoing President Juan Manuel signed a peace agreement with the FARC, but the majority of the country’s population refused to approve the agreement in a referendum. Violence and fear did not stop although the FARC became a formally legal political party and changed the meaning of the abbreviation of its name (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionariadel Comun – The Common Alternative Revolutionary Force).

The fact is that the violence in Colombia in recent decades has come not so much from the left, but from the right side of the political spectrum. Even the traditionally anti-communist British BBC reports that in the political sector Colombia has a radical, sometimes violent, right-wing tradition.

The BBC admits that this tradition in Colombia is linked, among other things, to the murders of leftist politicians and cultural figures. The members of the so-called “The United Self-Defenders of Colombia” (Autodefensas Unidas de Columbia – AUC) especially often resorted to violence. For many years they proclaimed their task to wage armed struggle against the FARC rebels.  But in 1997-2006. under the pretext of  fighting the Colombian “chavistas,” the AUC forces killed thousands of people; in 2006 the AUC was officially declared a terrorist organization and dissolved. Before that, this ultra-right group was reported to be involved in drug trafficking as well as in hostage-taking for ransom – the two types of criminal activity traditionally associated with the FARC. As for the level of violence, the AUC and their successors leave far behind Venezuela’s government forces who have killed several dozen protesters in recent months.

Maduro Accuses

In his propaganda war with President Santos, which is likely to soon turn into a propaganda war with the new Colombian President – Duque, Maduro and his supporters emphasize the ties between the Colombian government and the USA and the US intelligence services. There is nothing unexpected in this accusation: Uribe as well as Santos closely collaborated with the “advisers” from Washington and even invited the American armed forces into the country.

But now, when the chair beneath him staggers, Maduro considers Colombia as a “strike force” of US intervention directed at him. Recently  Maduro directly accused Colombia of trying to provoke an armed conflict with Venezuela and overthrow the “chavist” authority.

This Maduro’s accusation against Bogota is worth listening to. In this situation Russia will have many allies among Latin American countries: after all, even cautious Brazil and Argentina turned against the Colombian President Santos, when in early 2010s Colombia started talking about deploying American bases on its territory. However, later the same countries which are part of the Organization of American States excluded Venezuela from their ranks for the deficit of democracy. Somewhat strange contradiction.  From this one can assume that the countries of the southern continent want democracy, but without American “supervision”.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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