-OpEd-

BOGOTA In spite of obvious differences in their messages and political journeys, Brazil's president-elect Jair Bolsonaro and Mexico's president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (nicknamed "AMLO") show a remarkable symmetry in their political discourses. Both are also fueling fears over the future of democracy and human rights in their respective countries.

Both have won power on the back of similar problems: the enormous corruption of recent years, insecurity and very high levels of crime and violence that have demoralized citizens. Both received the massive support of major social groups including lower and middle-income wage earners, evangelical Christians and people with a notably wide range of political orientations.

In Mexico, the longstanding corruption of the outgoing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) topped all records under the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto. It affected the presidency itself and infected state and municipal government and various corners of the political apparatus. For its part, the impotence of police and law courts to deal with unfettered violence, typically related to drug trafficking, convinced most Mexicans that it was time to try something different. AMLO represented an independent alternative, wooing voters with his own integrity and vague promises about fighting crime.

Both are prompting serious fears.

In Brazil, the Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigations revealed the scale of corruption in the Workers Party (PT) of former presidents Lula da Silva, now in jail, and his successor Dilma Rousseff. They motivated millions of angry voters, many of them from among the poor, to choose Bolsonaro. He fueled the fervor with irresponsible promises of inflicting death penalties and life prison terms on those responsible for crimes, which previous governments could not curb.

There are also important differences between them. AMLO is coming across as a Messianic leader of the Left, convinced of being heir to emblematic, historical leaders like Benito Juárez and Lázaro Cárdenas, and destined to restore the country to the dispossessed. Bolsonaro, a hybrid of Donald Trump and the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte, voices the Right's sharp language and is for now, attractive to those yearning for an authoritarian model in Brazil. While AMLO defends the environment and measures to fight climate change, Bolsonaro's stated plans include allowing exploitation of the Amazon.

AMLO in Mexico — Photo: Eneas De Troya

Both are prompting serious fears across society. Bolsonaro's diatribes target minorities, journalists and opponents, with a blatant disregard for human rights and the rule of law. AMLO has also dismissed journalists and opponents, but more cautiously. Many observers however have pointed out that as he enjoys an ample majority in both the country's legislative chambers and can influence the composition of law courts, he could impose his will on the entire state and upset the balance of powers among institutions. Bolsonaro lacks this legislative majority and faces an independent judiciary that will surely carry out its duty to block possible presidential excesses.

For the influence both states have traditionally enjoyed beyond their frontiers, what happens in Brazil and Mexico in coming years will certainly have profound repercussions across the region, and the world.


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