Considering that we stole a state that has a GDP roughly equivalent to that of Canada’s from Mexico, let alone the fact that we share a 1,900-mile border with them, you’d think Americans would know more about our southern neighbors other than just a cultural appreciation for guacamole. But, as usual, John Oliver is here to remind us that we don’t know much about anything, and this week on Last Week Tonight, he delivered a crash course on the upcoming Mexican elections.
As Oliver explains, this election is one of the biggest in Mexican history. On July 1, Mexico will elect not only a new president, but also a large proportion of its congress and a new mayor of Mexico City, the largest metropolitan area in the Western hemisphere. It’s an opportunity for a major shift to occur in Mexican politics, and the country’s populace could not be more eager, given its relationship with current president Enrique Peña Nieto, who’s currently sitting at a comfortable 12 percent approval rating.
Peña Nieto was elected in 2012, despite scandals that emerged before the election that he had fathered two children outside of his marriage to his first wife before she died of epilepsy, officially making John Edwards look like husband material. Corruption has spiked to new peaks during his term—there are currently 14 former or current Mexican governors under investigation for corruption or collusion with organized crime cartels, out of Mexico’s 31 states—and the country is on pace for a record 32,000 reported murders this year, which is more than double the murder rate in 2014. Only two percent of these crimes have been solved. When Peña Nieto is seen or referenced, Mexico’s population has taken to chanting “Fuck your bitch mother” at him.
Most damningly, 43 students disappeared in 2014 after boarding a bus to Iguala for a fundraising trip under Peña Nieto’s watch. The city’s mayor was concerned that the students would disrupt an event for his wife and had the city’s police stop their bus. After the officers opened fire, the students were turned over to a drug gang who killed them and burned their bodies. Despite evidence that the federal police and military were involved in the attacks, Peña Nieto has not pursued justice for the students, causing widespread and justified outrage.
Thankfully, Mexican presidents are limited to one term, and Oliver uses the rest of the segment to discuss Peña Nieto’s potential replacements. One is Jaime Rodríguez Calderón of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. He’s an unlikely winner, given that he’s legitimately running on a platform of both literally cutting off thieves’ hands and repeatedly telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t exist (though, St. Nick, played by Bobby Moynihan, makes an appearance and he certainly begs to differ).
Another candidate is Ricardo Anaya, who has tried to compensate for the unquestionable uncoolness of his decision to campaign via lengthy policy presentations by releasing videos of himself playing the recorder, an instrument that has as much sex appeal as the slide whistle used in “Groove Is in the Heart.”
The obvious frontrunner is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, as he is frequently called. AMLO was previously the mayor of Mexico City, where he depicted himself as a man of the people. He ran for president in 2006 and 2012, and after he lost the 2006 election, López Obrador disputed the results, even holding an alternative inauguration ceremony for himself where he was sworn in with a fake sash and declared himself the legitimate president of Mexico.
This time around, AMLO has run on a populist angle, promising to crack down on Mexico’s corrupt elite and organized crime syndicates while supporting the poor. “AMLO is kind of like Bernie Sanders, but with a better haircut, and significantly better Spanish,” Oliver jokes.
Given the widespread problems in Mexican politics, it’s not surprising that AMLO has gained popularity, but the problem is, his policies tend to change overnight. He delivers promises that leave his team scrambling to develop concrete policy, eventually leading Oliver to compare him to a Mexican Trump. The candidate’s stances are vague enough that his campaign ads are backed by both conservative Evangelical groups that condemn homosexuality and liberal groups who equivocate that AMLO’s name in itself is an aphrodisiac.
As Oliver points out, AMLO is a gamble, given that it’s questionable how much substance there really is to his campaign. However, his success is indicative of the state of Mexican politics and the chances the country’s population is willing to take.
Watch the segment for yourself below, and check back for more coverage of Last Week Tonight.