The AMLO Doctrine, or How to Love Your Way Out of a War

AMLO's conference highlights Tamaulipas security gains but is overshadowed by Ayotzinapa protests. He condemns them as politically motivated while vowing to keep the case open. AMLO also criticizes past corruption and emphasizes his 'hugs, not bullets' security approach.

The AMLO Doctrine, or How to Love Your Way Out of a War
President López Obrador addresses the Morning Conference, discussing progress in security and tackling controversial protests. Credit: Andrés Manuel López Obrador

The sun is a brutal, unforgiving disk in the early morning sky above Tamaulipas. It beats down on the heads of the assembled dignitaries on the parade ground – the governor, the military commanders, and somewhere, in the well-guarded shadows, the watchful eyes of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

This is a Morning Conference, AMLO-style, but the venue has changed. It's a show of support, of solidarity – or perhaps a not-so-subtle reminder of who really holds the reins of power in a state long held hostage by forces darker than the desert night.

As the conference unfolds, the spotlight shifts to Américo Villarreal Anaya, the governor of Tamaulipas, who takes center stage to address the gathering. With a measured cadence, he expresses gratitude for the presence of the Federal Government in his state, a reference to the collaborative spirit that underpins Mexican governance.

Villarreal Anaya's address is not merely ceremonial; it is a testimonial to the tangible strides being made in Tamaulipas. With a sense of pride, he announces that February heralded the lowest number of homicides in the past decade—a sign of the relentless efforts of law enforcement agencies and the efficacy of collaborative initiatives. In a country where the specter of violence looms large, this announcement serves as a glimmer of hope, a reminder that even in the darkest of times, progress is possible.

But amidst the triumphs, challenges linger on the horizon, casting a shadow over the proceedings. Villarreal Anaya's commitment to advancing the IMSS Bienestar health system underscores the persistent disparities in access to healthcare—a pressing issue that demands attention and action. In a nation where healthcare is often a privilege rather than a right, his words serve as a poignant reminder of the work that remains to be done.

The Governor, the Generals, and the Ghosts of Tamaulipas

Luis Cresencio Sandoval, Mexico's Secretary of National Defense, ticks off the numbers with the clinical efficiency of a career soldier. Crime rates down, they say; kidnapping, murder, robbery, all in steady decline. Yet, the statistics do little to erase the chilling reality of life in Tamaulipas. The ghosts of the disappeared haunt the borderlands from Reynosa to Nuevo Laredo, their specters mingling with the rumors of cartel warfare that echo through empty streets.

The governor, it's noted, has been a diligent attendee of the 'peacebuilding sessions'. Two hundred and sixty-four of two hundred and seventy-four – a near-perfect record. One wonders if these meetings resemble a classroom more than a council chamber – the governor, a slightly reluctant student, seated before the stern headmasters of the Mexican military, receiving progress reports and perhaps the occasional scolding for perceived failures.

The numbers keep coming – seizures of narcotics by the tens of thousands of kilos. Vehicles, too, and a sprinkling of fentanyl pills, the chemical boogeyman of the north. Victories to tout, definitely, but in a war like this, they can feel as fleeting as the desert wind. For every kilo seized, how many make it through? In a state, the size of Tamaulipas, with its labyrinth of roads and clandestine airstrips, the military is a flyswatter against a swarm.

At the heart of it all lies a paradox. Over 11,000 security personnel – a veritable army of soldiers, National Guard, and state police – all laboring, Sandoval insists, to turn the tide, to bring order to the lawless. Yet, the citizens of Tamaulipas still live in fear, stepping lightly, always casting a nervous eye over their shoulders. Even the Morning Conference, this grand display of government might, must huddle behind the protective walls of a military compound.

Perhaps the truth is buried beneath the dry desert soil alongside the countless victims of Mexico's never-ending drug war. This isn't a battle fought with soldiers and press conferences; it's a struggle for souls and survival. The governor attends his sessions and the generals tally their seizures. But somewhere out there, under the pitiless sun and the wide, watchful sky of Tamaulipas, an invisible war rages on. It's a war measured not in statistics, but in the silence of empty streets and the unspoken prayers of a terrified populace.

Morning Conference and the Politics of Provocation

As the nation tuned in, the President addressed the recent protests that had ignited like embers in the National Palace. Alleged normalistas and representatives of the disappeared from Ayotzinapa had dared to raise their voices, demanding justice. But to AMLO, their cries were not a chorus of grievances but rather, “a vulgar act of provocation” orchestrated by a desperate opposition.

In his characteristic cadence, AMLO dismissed the media's portrayal of events as mere magnification, a distortion that corrodes public perception. Yet, beneath the veneer of disdain, there's a subtle acknowledgment of the power of narrative—a recognition that what is seen shapes what is believed.

“They don't realize,” he mused, “that in spreading such acts widely, they reveal the shadowy hands orchestrating these provocations.”

The Ayotzinapa case, a poignant scar on Mexico's conscience, is undeniably just. But AMLO contends that the movement has been hijacked by forces antithetical to his vision of transformation. “Conservative right-wing groups, political parties,” he enumerates, painting a canvas of adversaries aligned against his administration.

“We won't succumb to provocation,” he vows, a refrain echoing the resolve of a seasoned politician. “We've fought for just causes before, and we'll continue to do so.”

Yet, beneath the bravado lies a recognition of the complexity that shrouds the truth. AMLO acknowledges the demand for dialogue, for answers. But he laments the entanglement of interests—both domestic and international—that obstruct the path to resolution.

The conversation pivots, shedding light on a different facet of Mexico's labyrinthine politics. AMLO invokes the specter of corruption, weaving a narrative of opulence and excess that characterized previous administrations.

“Million-dollar contracts, concessions,” he intones, a litany of fiscal mismanagement that reverberates through the hallowed halls of power.

As an exemplar, he unveils the exorbitant costs incurred in renting facilities—a hospital, a penitentiary—contracts that bled the nation's coffers dry. The figures are staggering, a stark indictment of a system mired in profligacy.

AMLO speaks of renegotiation, of reclaiming what was lost to the maelstrom of corruption. The Federal Government, he asserts, will no longer be held captive by the whims of rent-seeking elites. Instead, it will reclaim sovereignty over its assets, a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity.

Defiant Stance Against Anti-Government Protests

The chamber reverberates with AMLO's proclamation: the protests at the National Palace are branded as “anti-revolutionary.” With a flicker of defiance, he challenges the identity of the dissenters, probing the depths of their allegiance. “Who is leading that movement?” he queries, casting a shadow over the origins of dissent.

In a defiant stance against the currents of history, AMLO denounces the specter of counter-revolutionary fervor, admonishing potential allies turned adversaries. His words, laden with the weight of conviction, reverberate through the chamber, challenging the very essence of the revolutionary spirit.

But amidst the rhetoric of defiance, AMLO unveils a paradoxical revelation: the hand of the State in shaping the narrative of truth. He pierces the veil of secrecy surrounding the Ayotzinapa case, laying bare the manipulative tactics employed by the opposition. In a defiant declaration of transparency, he affirms, “there will be no folder,” vowing to unveil the truth shrouded in shadows.

With measured resolve, AMLO confronts the specter of institutional erosion, safeguarding the integrity of the Army against the tide of oppositional fervor. Yet, amidst the tumult of political strife, he extends an olive branch to the grieving parents of the missing normal students, a beacon of hope amidst the storm.

In a gesture of unwavering commitment, AMLO pledges to dismantle the barriers of mistrust, shunning intermediaries in favor of direct dialogue. “There will be no shelving,” he declares, a testament to his unwavering resolve to unearth the truth buried beneath layers of deception.

The Church, The Peso, and Juarez the Anticleric

This morning, in the heart of the restless northern state of Tamaulipas, inflation provided a similar respite for the populist leader. After several months of stubborn price increases, the newest figures offer a glimmer of hope. Perhaps, just perhaps, the economic headwinds are starting to ease.

As AMLO celebrated the peso and the tamer inflation figures, he seamlessly segued into a topic that lies at the heart of both his life and his vision of Mexico: the complex, often fraught relationship between church and state.

The prompt was his latest book, the succinctly titled “Thank You!” This new work is part memoir, part manifesto, and AMLO has been reading excerpts aloud to the journalists who follow his every move.

Today's installment was firmly focused on Benito Juárez, the 19th-century Zapotec lawyer who ascended to the presidency and is held up as one of the nation's founding fathers. Juárez's legacy is, needless to say, contested terrain. Some see him as the architect of modern Mexico, while detractors accuse him of authoritarianism and of persecuting the Catholic Church.

AMLO, as you might guess, lands firmly in the camp of Juárez admirers. But today he sought to nuance the portrait, describing Juarez not as an enemy of faith itself, but of the Church as a corrupt political power.

“Juarez battled the clergy, this powerful corporation that held a monopoly on resources in Mexico. Their lands, vast estates, were untouchable, and they used this power not only to enrich themselves but to subdue the will of the people,” AMLO opined, a trace of his well-known righteous fire crackling in his voice.

This juxtaposition—the peso's rally followed by a mini history lecture on anticlericalism—is classic AMLO. It speaks to his unique political style, in which current affairs aren't merely debated, but always placed into a historical framework of his design.

For his supporters, this is a source of strength. AMLO's movement harkens back to a Mexico ruled by strongmen and a political elite. He presents his struggle for social change as a natural continuation of the work begun by figures like Juarez.

Critics, on the other hand, see this obsession with history as a way of deflecting from present-day problems. Why dwell on the sins of the 19th-century clergy when the country is wracked by cartel violence and deep social inequality? AMLO's counter would likely be that one cannot understand Mexico's present without its past – a past he views as defined by conflict between a self-serving few and the downtrodden majority.

But for those of us huddled in the makeshift press room here in Ciudad Victoria, these lofty debates fade into the background as AMLO's train of thought rumbles on. Whether this traveling press conference is a valuable exercise in government transparency, a delightful anachronism, or some combination of both depends largely on where your sympathies lie. And that, perhaps, is AMLO's greatest skill: keeping his audience perpetually engaged, even when they vehemently disagree.

The Man Who Hugs His Enemies

AMLO's policy of affection in the face of relentless cartel violence has earned him both passionate support and scathing criticism. Some see it as a welcome alternative to the failed bloody wars waged by his predecessors. Others dismiss it as naive at best, a dangerous abdication of duty at worst. Today, the President is defending his doctrine yet again.

The optics are striking. AMLO, a folksy grandfatherly figure known for his unpretentious lifestyle, stands behind a formidable podium, but his message is anything but stern. “We must not fight violence with more violence,” he insists, a twinkle in his eye at odds with the gravity of the subject.

He goes on to endorse Américo Villarreal, the governor of the troubled border state of Tamaulipas, where rival cartels wage a relentless battle. AMLO dismisses allegations of Villarreal's ties with criminal organizations, a bold stance given the well-established links between politicians and the underworld in many regions of Mexico.

AMLO's philosophy extends beyond gang wars. He speaks of Catarino Garza, a revolutionary hero from Tamaulipas who stood up against the iron-fisted rule of Porfirio Díaz long before the famous Mexican Revolution of 1910. “We must learn from his bravery, channel the spirit of defiance against corruption and injustice,” AMLO declares.

A reporter challenges AMLO directly, citing rising insecurity and violence in Tamaulipas. The President's smile doesn't waver. “Our responsibility is to guarantee the people's peace, and we are making progress,” he counters — an optimistic claim that many on the ground would dispute.

An Idealist in a World of Cynicism

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the President pivots to his favored punching bag: the legacy of neoliberalism. “Those 36 years were a disaster,” he booms, condemning free-market reforms he believes benefited only a privileged elite while leaving millions of ordinary Mexicans behind.

Here, AMLO's pronouncements resonate more broadly. Decades of unfettered capitalism have indeed left deep scars on Mexican society. Yet, his solutions are as controversial as they are nebulous: greater state intervention, vaguely defined “moral renewal,” and of course, more hugs.

Is AMLO a starry-eyed idealist unfamiliar with the brutal reality of Mexico, or a cunning politician whose avuncular image masks shrewd strategizing? It's likely a bit of both. The “hugs, not bullets” approach has, undeniably, brought a dose of magical realism into Mexican politics. It is an unabashedly emotional stance in a system notorious for cold-hearted calculations of power.

The ultimate test, of course, is whether this audacious experiment in unconventional statecraft can truly stem the tide of bloodshed. As Mexico heads toward the 2024 elections, the nation will judge whether AMLO's embrace of love over force is a genuine revolution, or merely a baffling interlude in a long and violent history.