Coyotepec, Mexico—When it came to defending Mexico against the latest outrages of the US president, few harbored doubts in the town square in Coyotepec, a small industrial city 80 miles north of Mexico City. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the indefatigable veteran of the Mexican left, taking the stage there recently as a brass band blasted a corrido across the plaza, would do a far better job than current head of state Enrique Peña Nieto.
“He’ll deal with TROMP,” said a churrero, who had already dispensed most of his sugared doughnuts, employing the sardonic Mexican intonation of the US president’s surname. AMLO, as López Obrador is known, “is a fighter; he never gives in,” said Marta Fuentes, who had taken time off to attend the meeting from a part-time job in a beauty parlor while her husband worked the day shift at a plastics plant on the outskirts of town for 840 pesos ($40) a week. “Peña Nieto lacks character; Trump has crushed him,” chimed in Martín Torres, another probable AMLO voter who was selling roasted corncobs powdered with chili.
López Obrador—leader of the left-wing MORENA party, which he formed in 2014 after being denied victory twice in presidential elections in which electoral fraud was more than a figment of his imagination—not only looks the part to take on Trump in the fight for national pride against a Mexican president more at home in Davos than Coyotepec. There are matters of survival at stake here, a town where one in two residents lives below the poverty line, and those not in precarious informal employment slave in foreign-owned factories for $6-8 a day.
Top on the list of complaints is an explosive inflation rate, triggered by the government’s decision to remove gasoline subsidies just when international oil prices are beginning to rise in the wake of Trump victory. “Everything is going up: mayonnaise, cheese, the cobs,” said the corn seller. “Cooking oil’s up,” chimed in the churrero. The collapse of the peso after Trump’s rise has also contributed to soaring prices of imported foodstuffs such as corn, wheat, and cheese. “I’m paying 60 percent more to feed my family than two months ago; prices rise, but what about wages?” said Marta Fuentes, holding her 4-year-old daughter aloft to see the candidate.
The gasolinazos have sparked protests and riots throughout Mexico, and MORENA—the only party in the Mexican parliament to oppose the removal of subsidies—seems well placed to channel the anger. Acclaimed by the now definitively shattered “Washington Consensus,” Peña Nieto’s energy reform centered on the breakup of state oil company Pemex’s monopoly, welcoming multinationals into exploration in the Gulf of Mexico as well as in distribution, where they would buy up Pemex’s gas stations. Chevron is already partnering with Pemex in the Gulf.