Mexico: A Progressive Earthquake, but What of the Aftershocks?

By October 5, 2023 No Comments

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Although Mexico’s presidential elections are over eight months away, the nation’s political sphere has already seen a major shake-up with the announcement of both major parties’ candidates: both have chosen women to represent them, with Claudia Sheinbaum for the left-wing MORENA party, and Xóchitl Gálvez for the conservative National Action party (PAN). This makes it extremely likely that Mexico will see its first ever female president in 2024, a success that can be attributed to a substantial wave of feminism and gender equality movements within Latin America as a whole. Furthermore, an early September court ruling decriminalized abortion nationally, paving the way for greater reproductive rights and access to healthcare for women across the nation. 


One of the main causes of the nation’s progressive shift has been the presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). The Mexican political landscape had traditionally been dominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which returned to power in 2012 after a brief stint in opposition. AMLO and his party MORENA were elected in 2018 as a response and have used his term as president to make significant social progress withheld by PRI rule. 


As his term comes to an end, Mexico has seen state infrastructure development, strong anti-corruption measures, and national sovereignty being reinforced on the global stage. Despite criticism of his handling of the pandemic and interactions with the feminist movement itself, AMLO’s self-described “fourth transformation”, referring to the three major transformations seen in Mexican history, has been a major success. For the average Mexican, an increasing number of jobs has seen greater purchasing power and relative stability compared to the normal conditions for the working class. The economy has also seen significant growth thanks to Mexico’s “maquiladora” model, which uses special economic zones with less taxation and regulation to encourage industrial expansion.


Despite the progress that has been made, Mexico remains unstable and frequently in a state of crisis due to three main factors that the incoming candidates will need to address: cartel influence and crime, migration flow through Mexico to the U.S., and labor rights for Mexican workers. Firstly, criminal and economic activity outside of state regulation, commonly referred to as the ‘informal economy’, continues to be an issue. In spite of efforts to try and mitigate the informal economy’s size, AMLO’s presidency has resulted in little to no change regarding the percentage of people employed in informal work. This has particularly been seen in areas where the main economic growth has been centered, such as Coahuila. Furthermore, the informal economy is continuing to be dominated by cartels across the nation, with recent studies estimating that cartels employ about 175,000 Mexicans, making them the fifth largest employer in the nation when taken all together. As the GDP growth continues, the cartel’s influence on the economy increases. Internal issues could easily come to a head if Mexico decides to step up its persecution of the cartels, particularly if it ends up being pressured by the United States to do so. Demands from U.S. politicians for action have been increasing recently, and cannot simply be ignored, due to the integral role the U.S. consumer market plays in Mexico’s economic resurgence.


Further pressure is coming in the form of migration from Central American nations, which inevitably goes through Mexico to reach the U.S. border. Mexico has taken measures not to restrict the flow of migrants but to maintain order as they travel northward, with such a flow being seen as a benefit in as many ways as it is a hindrance. A part of the Maquiladora program’s appeal for investors is that many development zones are able to attract talented immigrants seeking safety and employment. Mexico has been able to take some of these migrants into their system before they try to cross into the United States. Despite that silver lining, the crisis’s scale has continued to increase its pressure on Mexican infrastructure as rail lines were shut down due to migrants riding on them to move towards the U.S. border. These security issues, if left to fester, could cause issues with Mexican import routes into the United States, the main market for Mexican manufactured goods.


The economic boom Mexico has seen due to increased U.S. consumer demand for cheaper products from the secondary sector has come at a cost to the people making that boom happen: Mexican workers. The breakneck growth strategies employed at maquiladoras and special development zones in the nation are detrimental to the employees, who lack substantive regulation and protection for wages, hours, and working conditions. Although there are an increasing number of jobs, and people are benefitting from the increased openings, Mexican workers are increasingly frustrated at their lack of labor protections. Recent attempts at forming unions have been stamped out by business elites due to the lack of regulation used to encourage maquiladoras to be opened. For a nation claiming to take a distinctively progressive and working class approach to development, Mexican politicians will find difficulty balancing the maquiladora model’s economic benefits, and the labor-backed rhetoric being used to spur AMLO’s presidency, which is continuing in both of his possible successor’s campaigns.


It remains to be seen how Mexico will respond to the mounting problems seen throughout the nation. But nonetheless, major progress has been made both socially and economically through Obrador’s “fourth transformation.” The newly galvanized progressive base of voters will now need to determine what form of progressivism they wish to endorse, and who they believe will fare better in dealing with the issues the Mexican state faces. Voters will head to the polls on June 2, 2024 to decide.

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