Populism and Power in Mexico’s Historic Election — With Alma Guillermoprieto

Populism and Power in Mexico’s Historic Election — With Alma Guillermoprieto
Claudia Sheinbaum and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hold hands in 2018, ahead of that year’s presidential election. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP via Getty Images)

Hosted by Danny Postel
Featuring Alma Guillermoprieto
Produced by Finbar Anderson

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Veteran Mexican correspondent Alma Guillermoprieto has a secret. “Politics does not interest me. I’ve never voted in my life,” she tells New Lines’ Danny Postel on The Lede.

“I’m endlessly curious about the lives of people, how they survive, what they do for pleasure and joy,” she says. “I’m also interested in monsters, and politics also provides monsters. … And then when I get interested in one of those, then I focus on them and try to see what makes them tick, and why they achieved the power they achieved in the first place. But really, it’s the theater of their performance that interests me.”

“Power interests me. How someone will wield power over large numbers of people. Yeah, that interests me. And how people get hurt by people in power — absolutely. Those are my concerns.”

Guillermoprieto’s native Mexico is predicted to witness history in the upcoming June presidential election, as it is almost certain the country will elect its first female president. Ironically, says Guillermoprieto, neither of the two women running are at the center of the political narrative in Mexico. “I don’t think the political discussion in Mexico, either at street level or among politicians, is about [front-runner] Claudia [Sheinbaum], so much as about [incumbent Andres Manuel] Lopez Obrador.”

The outgoing Lopez Obrador, she explains, is such a popular — and populist — figure that he casts a long shadow over the candidates vying to succeed him. While Lopez Obrador’s popularity meant the Mexican public often forgave policy failures, his successor will inherit a hugely challenging in tray. “How Claudia will be able to overcome the tremendous problem that Lopez Obrador is leaving here, which is the relationship he created with the military, the institutionalization of the military as the strongest economic and political force in Mexico — that is a mystery,” she says.

While she doesn’t consider ongoing violence against women as unique to Lopez Obrador’s presidency — “Women in Mexico have suffered horrendous violence for centuries” — Guillermoprieto singles out his failure to engage with the families of the disappeared as one of the principal failures of the incumbent’s presidency, making it all the more “baffling” to Guillermoprieto that he would back a woman to succeed him. “I wouldn’t even try to guess what went on in his mind when he opted for Claudia,” she says.

Guillermoprieto and Postel consider the political realities elsewhere in Latin America. After a 2018 uprising against President Daniel Ortega was violently put down by the onetime revolutionary, it “became clear that what had happened in Nicaragua had actually been a monstrous deformation of what was once a sincere social revolution,” says Guillermoprieto.

In Colombia, where she now lives, “Violence goes hand in hand with the absence of infrastructure and Colombia’s inability to really provide infrastructure, stability, education and health for the entire country.” Nevertheless, Guillermoprieto says, “There will not be a coup. That’s not part of the Colombian tradition.”

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