Although many populist movements today, especially in the West, are viewed as a recent phenomenon, it is worth noting that Latin America has had a long history with populism. Populists in South American history include Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Juan and Eva Perón, along with Nestor and Cristina Kirchner, in Argentina, Juan Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Alan Garcia in Peru, just to name a few. It should then come as no surprise that the leading presidential candidate in Mexico is also a populist. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who goes by AMLO , is no stranger to the presidential election process.

He has run for the Mexican presidency twice, in 2006 and 2012, losing both highly contested elections by a margin of 0.59% and 6.62%, respectively. Prior to running for Mexico’s highest office, he was the mayor of Mexico City, where he left office with an 84% approval rating. His supporters, especially those located in the southern region of Mexico, view him as their champion.

AMLO
AMLO By Andrés_Manuel_López_Obrador_en_2008.jpg: David Agren from Mexico City, Mexicoderivative work: Addicted04 [CC BY 2.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
In Part I of this report, we will examine the history of Mexico to understand AMLO’s appeal and relevance in Mexico today. The report will be divided into four sections: 1) Mexican Revolution; 2) Nationalization of PEMEX; 3) Post-Cardenas Period and the Mexican Miracle; and 4) The Lost Decade. This historical background will help readers understand the rise of AMLO, which will be discussed in Part II next week.

Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920

The start of the 20th century saw Mexico in political crisis. In 1910, Porfirio Diaz, after promising a fair and free election, jailed his political opponent Francisco Madero and declared himself the winner. Madero, who saw himself as the rightful president of Mexico, escaped prison and fled to the U.S. Upon his arrival, he published the Plan of San Luis de Potosi, in which he called for Mexicans to revolt and overthrow Diaz. Madero’s proclamation that “the lands that were taken from peasant communities should be returned to them” resonated with disenfranchised groups such as farmers, laborers and ranchers. These groups did indeed take up arms in support of Diaz’s removal.

Despite being united in their dislike of the Diaz regime, each group of the rebellion represented a different cause. From the north, Pascual Orozco represented disgruntled merchants and laborers; Poncho Villa, also from the north, represented landowners and ranchers. From the south, Emiliano Zapata represented the indigenous people and peasant farmers. After the overthrow of Diaz, there was intense infighting among these factions due to the lack of a transition plan and coherent ideology, a common problem with populism. Populism is more of a movement rather than an ideology and so infighting within populist movements is not unusual.

As a result, there were seven presidents between 1910 and 1920 as each group fought the others for control. Pascual’s group eventually emerged as the victor with the other groups agreeing to fall in with the laborers. Despite his rise, Pascual’s role

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Article about AMLO continues in the PDF
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