By Yanis Iqbal
Mexico is currently experiencing an acute Coronavirus crisis with almost 60,000 confirmed cases and more than 6,000 deaths. According to Claudia Sheinbaum, the mayor of Mexico City, the federal government is undercounting the total number of cases and the actual cases may be three times more than the official statistics.
Amid this absolute Covid-19 chaos, the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (Amlo), is truculently promoting a “Back-to-work” policy which aims to hard-heartedly tether the Mexican citizenry to the chains of death. Among the whole Mexican population, the workers of Maquiladoras are going to be disproportionately affected by Amlo’s neoliberal orthodoxy.
These maquila workers belong to the poorest echelon of the working class and are employed in modern-day sweatshops located at the US-Mexico border. They work unremittingly for 8-10 hours but earn merely $8 for this work and don’t have a social safety net. In the contemporary situation of Covid-19 pandemic, the workers of Maquiladoras are dying due to Amlo’s tone-deaf approach towards these impoverished people. In Northern Baja California, 432 of the 519 people who have died from Covid-19 are maquiladora workers. In the Rio Bravo plant owned by the American Lear Corporation, 18 workers have died due to the decision to continue production regardless of human costs.
Despite the mounting deaths due to the back-to-work policy, Amlo is likely to pursue this neoliberal measure because of US’s imperialist pressurization. Donald Trump and the Washington economic elites have been continuously compelling Amlo to re-open the maquiladoras which are important for the functioning of American domestic industries.
Mexico is America’s number one trading partner and 85% of Mexico’s total exports are to the US. Maquiladoras contribute to 53% of the total exports and 40% of all automotive part imports into the US come from these Mexican Maquiladoras. Due to the crucial role played by Maquiladoras in the American commodity chain, these manufacturing assemblies are being restarted by Amlo and the American capitalists. This forceful US-backed opening of maquiladoras is highlighting a widening fissure in Mexico’s ruling dispensation where Amlo’s leftist rhetoric is coming in direct conflict with his actual policies. These policies advocate the colonial presence of USA and assist the national bourgeoisie in its quest to devastate the Mexican working class. To better understand the growing contradictions of the current government, we need to briefly take a look at Amlo’s political background.
On 1 July 2018, Lopez Obrador was elected as the president of Mexico with 53% of the total votes. This represented an electoral backlash against the neoliberal policies of the previous government. The previous government of Enrique Pena Nieto had privatized the nationalized oil company of Mexico named Pemex which had represented 40% of state’s total income and 70% of national budget. The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) which provided subsidized electricity to millions of Mexicans was also weakened. IMF entered this economic pillage of Mexico by renewing a $73 billion credit line for Mexico and then steamrollering the country into Structural Adjustment reforms.
As a part of this Structural Adjustment program, the Mexican government was asked to neoliberalize the education sector. This neoliberalization occurred through the amendment of two articles of the constitution which privatized and standardized education and thus, allowed US corporations to play a greater role in attuning Mexican education to the needs of production. For example, the multinational conglomerate General Electric has a center for research in Queretaro which it uses to produce engineers who can be hired cheaply for less than $1,000 a month. In the military sector, Pena Nieto unleashed an uncorseted shopping spree in which Mexico increased its military spending by 40% in respect to the 2009-13 period.
Due to Pena Nieto’s neoliberal liberalization of Mexico, the people living in poverty increased by 2 million and the number of billionaires in Mexico rose to 16 with a combined wealth of $141 billion. In these circumstances of economic inequality, Amlo emerged as a supposedly socialist leader who could morally revivify Mexico through his “National Regeneration Movement”.
From the very beginning, Amlo tried to balance the demands of the working class and the ruling class through his populist-socialist rhetoric. In his election campaign, he represented a “coalition for the common good, but especially for the good of the poor”. With this semantically slippery notion of the “poor”, he was able to forge an alliance with what he identified as “progressive capitalists” such as Carlos Slim, Alfonso Romo and Ricardo Salinas.
This means that Amlo continued to collude with capitalists and did not make a revolutionary rupture with the decadent political system of Mexico. He merely repackaged and embellished the capitalist project of Mexico with a socialist veneer and objectively advanced the interests of the ruling economic giants of Mexico and US. For example, Amlo slashed the taxes for corporations working along the US-Mexico border and this caused a budget shortfall of $4.23 billion. He has also reduced the budget of the epidemiology department by 10% and has cut federal healthcare personnel by 30%.
The highly colonial relation with US too has been perpetuated under the Amlo regime and Trump has been press-ganging Amlo into acting as an “immigration enforcer” by threatening to increase tariffs. This has led to the mistreatment of Central American immigrants by Amlo’s newly created military unit called “National Guard” whose 15,000 members have been deployed to stop immigrants from reaching USA.
The failed “moral revolution” of Amlo represents the utter futility of an ephemeral socialist electoral campaign which actively supports the national bourgeoisie and the imperialist magnates. Amlo has unsuccessfully tried to maintain a catastrophic equilibrium between the Mexican workers and the capitalist aggressors. But this exercise has failed due to the simple fact that as long as capitalism exists, the working class is bound to be economically exploited by profiteering parasites.
The cold indifference of Amlo towards the Mexican maquila workers confirms that a synthetic socialist reformism cannot transform the living conditions of the working class. To change the existential conditions of the Mexican working class, a mass movement comprising of diverse socio-cultural forces has to be waged which is against the burgeoning national bourgeoisie and the imperialist re-colonization of Mexico by USA.