Thursday, March 16, 2006

Krauze expresses concerns about AMLO

The highpoint of the March 11 seminar at Stanford was the keynote address by historian Enrique Krauze (author of many articles and books, perhaps most notably La Presidencia Imperial). I knew going in that whatever he would say, he would say it well, no matter how mundane or miniscule the content. What I was not prepared for was the profundity: he cut to the heart of this election, and laid it out bare.

In a little over a half an hour, Krauze covered his Aristotelian roots and Mexican political history to bring us the proper philosophical and historical context for appreciating the importance of this election. Mexico has been evolving over at least two decades toward democracy. For example, the power of the president over the central bank has been greatly reduced.

Krauze did not feign neutrality nor did he exhibit the verneere of a dispassionate scholar. Krauze identified himself as a leftist and passionate advocate of democracy, a democracy which is more than holding elections, but a democracy that maintains transparency and sustains accountability. Krauze acknowledged his enthusiastic support for the recent triumph of Latin American leftists such as Bachelet in Chile and Lula in Brazil (I don’t think he mentioned Morales in Bolivia). On the side of disapproval, Krauze mentioned Chavez in Venezuela (and by way of historical example, Peron in Argentina). Although these men were leftists in some sense, and may have had the approval of the masses, they cannot be considered democrats, because they sought to consolidate power and weaken those institutions that provide transparency and accountability.

Krauze had very little to say about the PAN or PRI. He dismissed the PAN as having a “genetic” problem. They evolved during the long period of PRI dictatorship. The PAN emphasized being internally transparent and squeaky clean. They have moral authority, but they just don’t know how to run a government (analogy: Walensa in Poland). The PRI only seems to know how to win an election when it controls the government (and since it doesn’t, it can’t). Krauze raised the issue on stage that I have heard mumbled in private over the past year: the PRI goofed in its internal selection process by handing the nomination to the most widely known, least respected, most unelectable candidate, Roberto Madrazo.

From his philosophical and historical foundation, Krauze expressed his judgment (doubts, concerns) regarding Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Is he another Bachelet or another Chavez? The short answer is neither; AMLO is not a female like Bachelet nor a general like Chavez. But, Krauze seemed genuinely concerned about AMLO’s charisma, and in reviewing the record as chief administrator of the Federal District, Krauze was not impressed with AMLO’s commitments to due process or transparency. “Tengo grandes dudas que el puede representar mi izquierda” (“I have grave doubts that AMLO will can represent my kind of leftism.”) Lopez Obrador could blend his personal charisma with a messianic tendency and revitalize the party-based hegemony of Mexico’s past institutions as simply as by pulling in the left wing of the PRI. Krauze’s conclusion was “un caudillo carismatico … altamente peligroso” (“a charismatic authoritarian … highly dangerous”). One of the audience questions (more of a rebuttal) came from PRD representative Saul Escobar who tried to downplay the messianic themes, but Krauze responded “I see the temptation of absolute power.”

Beyond the carefully chosen and clearly enunciated words, the gestures, expressions, and tone of Krauze revealed much. This is not someone criticizing a politician out of envy nor the kind of haughty scorn that academics sometimes have for real world practitioners. Krauze’s mood was one of disappointment and fear. He desperately wants Mexico to keep on the progressive path, but fears what kind of detour AMLO might take the country on.

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