Who is Andrés Manuel López Obrador? The 64-year-old president-elect of Mexico, who will begin his six-year term on December 1, is a polarizing personality. He is adored by his admirers, who are especially numerous among the indigenous and working poor, and feared by many in the upper reaches of Mexican society. After a successful stint as the mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005, López Obrador ran two losing campaigns for the presidency, in 2006 and 2012, before his victory this July. Ortiz Pinchetti, a longtime close collaborator of López Obrador’s, offers a compelling personal portrait of the president-elect and a point-by-point retort to his detractors. In Ortiz Pinchetti’s telling, López Obrador is admirably hard working and austere. He is pragmatic yet consistent in his strong ethical principles and his moderate social democratic philosophy. His heroes include U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Chilean President Salvador Allende; he is not an admirer of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro or the Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. Nor does he harbor the visceral anti-Americanism common among Latin American leftists. Ortiz Pinchetti provides an empathetic but indispensable source for understanding López Obrador’s political trajectory, his style of politics, and his aspirations.
A contrasting view of López Obrador emerges from Curiel González and Argote D’ Santiago’s book, which portrays the new president as an ambitious, clever media manipulator who holds only a superficial grasp of policy issues and has no clear agenda. According to this view, López Obrador is a populist caudillo who revels in contrasting the interests of “the people” with those of “the mafia of corrupt power,” casts himself as the innocent victim of dark conspiracies, and claims that he can restore morality to public life by the mere force of his person-ality. In his attacks on neoliberalism and corporate monopolies, he seems to be a throwback to an earlier era of protectionist, statist economics, even though he has come to embrace the North American Free Trade Agreement.
It’s not yet clear which of these portraits is more accurate. But once López Obrador assumes power, Mexico and the world will find out.