(Bloomberg) -- Dolls, coffee mugs, pins and flags were plastered with his face. Homemade signs bore photos of his smile and there was endless admiring talk of his folksy, optimistic working-class style.
As more than 100,000 Mexicans packed into the capital’s Zocalo square Sunday night to celebrate the historic landslide victory of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, I couldn’t escape one observation: The project is the man and the man is the project.
When I lived in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, there was a similar feeling that he didn’t just lead the revolution; he was the revolution. Without him there would be no inspiration or direction among his followers. Talking Chavez dolls appeared with phrases like “Onward to Victory Always.” There was an inflatable one that bounced back when you tried to knock it over. It was called the “intumbable,” or “the untoppleable.”
Many wonder whether this is the inevitable turn of Mexico to a socialist model that will steamroll institutions, the opposition and media while extending term limits and installing a Chavista or Cuban-like model in Latin America’s second-largest economy. Will AMLO, as he is known, be like Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who surprised the Brazilian business community in 2002 with his cooperation? Or like Chavez, who fell out with the elite and exacted his revenge, a trend that continues under his successor Nicolas Maduro?
If the project is built around bombast sustained by a cult of personality, AMLO will either drastically underdeliver and disappoint or undermine institutions while blaming the eventual economic ills on the media, U.S. empire and business elite.
It wasn’t clear from his midnight address to the fervent followers what was in his heart. He repeated “I’ll do everything I said I would,” “You won’t be disappointed in me,” “I want to be the best Mexican president ever.”
One reason for optimism was the mood and tenor of the night. There was hope and excitement but notably little anger.
Ranging from the elderly to parents with babies, the crowd gave voice to sentiments such as, “I never thought it would actually happen” and chants like “Today we celebrate, tomorrow we get to work.”
There were no insults to the opposition, the business elites or Donald Trump and the U.S. It was simply enjoying the moment with drones flying overhead and a mariachi band keeping the crowd entertained until the man himself arrived. No one was screaming the equivalent of “Lock her up!” heard so often at Trump rallies to this day in reference to Hillary Clinton.
Lopez Obrador himself seems aware of the concern over his plans. On Monday, addressing authoritarian worries, he said simply: “There’s nothing to fear. I’m no dictator.”
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