June 30, 2018 12:38 PM NPT
Photo Courtesy: Agencies
It’s a searing afternoon in Ecatepec, one of Mexico’s most violent and deprived cities, and thousands of followers have gathered under a vast white tarpaulin to hear their pathfinder rage against the machine.
For the next hour Andrés Manuel López Obrador – or Amlo to his fans – will deliver a unyielding assault on the scoundrels, mafiosos and influence peddlers he claims have plundered Latin America’s second largest economy and plunged it into a cauldron of thievery, bloodshed and want.
“This official banditry is going to end!” the 64-year-old leftist will rail. “Zero corruption and zero impunity!”
First, though, he must brush his hair.
After pushing through a crush of adorers, López Obrador pauses at the foot of a scaffolding stage, plucks a chesnut-coloured comb from his pocket and calmly runs it through his silver mane.
Then the Amlo show begins.
“Viva México! Viva México! Viva México!” he shouts from the rostrum, thrusting both arms into the air.
“It feels like a dream – but we are just a few days away from achieving the transformation of Mexico!”
That transformation is almost certain to begin on Sunday when 88 million Mexicans head to the polls to pick their new president.
Amlo, who is making his third run for the presidency, has towered above his rivals in the polls for months. “We’re 30 points ahead!” he boasted to the sea of supporters before him in Ecatepec, who responded with cries of: “Presidente! Presidente!”
Experts say three interlinked crises – security, corruption and poverty – explain why López Obrador now stands on the cusp of the Mexican presidency, and nowhere are they more visible than in Ecatepec, a gritty, neglected conurbation that is just 30km (18 miles) from Mexico City’s chic central districts but feels like another world.
Ecatepec is Mexico’s most populous municipality and one of its most impoverised, with nearly 790,000 of its 1.8 million inhabitants living in poverty. It is also one of the most dangerous regions in an increasingly dangerous country where at least 200,000 people have been killed since a catastrophic “war on drugs” was launched just over a decade ago.
“Environmental degradation, femicide, insecurity, car theft, extortion, kidnapping, the disappearance of women … Ecatepec is a microcosm that illustrates all of the country’s most serious problems,” said Azucena Cisneros, a local politician from Amlo’s party, Morena. “It’s an urban tragedy.”
Amlo has built his campaign around pledges to eradicate corruption and rule for the poor. Among the devotees at his Ecatepec rally, many described him as the only man capable of saving them from a crime wave they blamed on venal politicians.
A cry for help had been painted on to one banner next to the stage: “We are the most violent municipality! We have been robbed and ignored by these corrupt politicians! We deserve to live better lives! We are good people! That’s why Ecatepec is with you, Andrés Manuel!”
“It’s so terribly insecure,” complained Gaby Mejía, a 46-year-old primary school teacher. “My students are always coming up to me and saying: ‘Miss, did you hear about the shootout near my house? That they killed you-know-who?’”
Mejía’s mother, Josefina, 74, nodded in agreement, recalling how she had recently been held up by group of armed car thieves. “We’re already in the abyss,” she said, describing Amlo as Mexico’s salvation: “He’s one of those men who is only born every 100 years.”
Many describe Amlo’s rise as the result of a furious popular revolt against the two parties that have ruled Mexico since the end of one-party rule in 2000 – the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) and the National Action party (Pan) – and which are widely blamed for the current crises. “It’s a social-civic insurrection. It’s a collective awakening,” said Germán Rufino Contreras, a former federal deputy and Amlo supporter in Ecatepec.
But Viridiana Ríos, an Ecatepec-born member of Democracia Deliberada, a collective of young leftist Mexican thinkers, said she believed despair better explained why voters were embracing Amlo and change. “I think it is just that a lot of people haven’t noticed we have created a country where a lot of people have nothing to lose.”
Fifty-three million Mexicans live in poverty, Ríos pointed out: “It’s a humanitarian crisis.” “[Voting Amlo is] a gamble, and when you have nothing to lose you can gamble more riskily.”
Two days after Amlo’s triumphant rally, Cisneros and a group of Morena activists embarked on a pre-election march through some of Ecatepec’s most marginalized corners, places where many have shockingly little to lose.
InVivienda del Taxista, a rickety shanty built on a rubbish-strewn wasteland, she visited the home of Marisol Gutiérrez, a Morena campaigner and seamstress who supports her daughter and two grandchildren on an income of about 600 pesos (£22) a week.
“It’s not enough. But … the truth is, there’s no work,” Gutiérrez said, showing off her family’s battered stone-and-asbestos abode which had a bullet hole in its roof and had been built directly under a transmission line.