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12/09/2013

The man who would be Mexico's president suffers another setback

Andres-manuel-lopez-obrador

Former mayor of Mexico City – and twice a candidate for Mexico's presidency – Andrés Manuel López Obrador suffered a heart attack last week, a setback likely to slow his efforts to derail plans to "denationalize" the country's oil industry. (Photo credit: Reuters.)

More bad new for Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The former Mexico City mayor, now 60, suffered a heart attack last week and was hospitalized in what doctors described as stable condition.

With any luck, the leftist gadfly will make a complete recovery, but a press statement issued by his office says the politician’s recuperation will require at least several weeks of rest.

Enormously popular as mayor of the capital from 2000 to 2005, López Obrador has struggled in recent years, twice running for the country’s presidency and losing both times.

In 2006, he wound up in second place after an extraordinarily close race against Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party. Challenging the outcome as fraudulent, López Obrador summoned his followers into the Mexico City streets, tying up traffic for weeks – a decision that appeared to cost him considerable political capital among middle class Mexicans.

In 2012, he ran again, this time losing to Enrique Peña Nieto of the venerable Institutional Revolutionary Party. The race was not especially close, but López Obrador – better known to Mexicans by the acronym “AMLO” or by his nickname El Peje – insisted once again that he had been robbed of the country’s highest office. On this occasion, his protests did not amount to very much.

Lately, López Obrador has been using his remaining political heft to fight a plan by Peña Nieto to “denationalize” the Mexican petroleum industry after more than 70 years of state control.

The denationalization measures – necessary in the new president’s view – are a risky and freighted course of action in a country where state dominance over the oil sector has long been a central pillar of national identity, ever since former president Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated most of the assets of foreign-controlled petroleum companies operating in Mexico.

That was in 1938, and Cárdenas has been celebrated as a hero of the fatherland ever since.

It’s a measure of the fast changing political climate in Mexico that Peña Nieto, heir to the same party led by Cárdenas, is now bent on dismantling what many still regard as that party’s greatest economic accomplishment.

Meanwhile, it’s an open question whether López Obrador now has the clout – or the physical stamina – to impose his will in a country that, at least on paper, has already rejected him twice.

Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter for the Toronto Star.

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