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The Far Right Is Lurking Within Mexican Conservatism

As AMLO’s transformative social programs gather stream in Mexico, the country’s conservative opposition parties are making overtures to the far right.

Senator Julen Rementería del Puerto (left) of Mexico’s National Action Party poses with Santiago Abascal (right), leader of Spain’s far-right Vox party, after members of both parties signed an anti-communist manifesto in early September. (Vox)

In early September, senators from Mexico’s National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) gave a very public welcome to a very particular guest: Santiago Abascal, president of the Spanish neofascist party Vox.

The occasion of the meeting, held in nothing less than the Senate building itself, was to sign the Madrid Letter: a sort of Cold War–throwback manifesto committing the parties to liberate Latin America from the “Communist-inspired totalitarian regimes” that, the letter claims, are disseminating their “criminal and ideological project” across the region in a nefarious attempt to subvert liberal democracies and the rule of law.

Blowback from the visit was immediate and fierce, so much so that senators who were happily taking their picture with Abascal one day spent the next frantically trying to distance themselves from their own event. After initially denying that any of its members had attended at all, the PRI changed its tune to insist that anyone who happened to have been there went of their own accord.

The PAN, for its part, rushed out a press release insisting that the joint letter was in no way a “political agreement” but rather a simple text in which like-minded individuals agreed to work together. Vox, meanwhile, was gleefully undermining the synchronized backpedal by posting about the encounter and the attendees on its website.

A Return to Origins

For the nation’s hapless opposition, its now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t gathering represented a new low, one all the more incredible for coming at the hands of a party that, alongside its racism, discrimination, and homophobia, takes special delight in glorifying the Spanish conquest of the Americas.

Then again, rushing into the arms of foreign powers has been a conservative tradition in Mexico dating back at least to its call for foreign intervention following the nineteenth-century reform wars, which resulted in the short-lived Hapsburg dynasty of Maximilian I. And the tradition is alive and well. Over the last year and a half alone, the president of the Employers Confederation of the Mexican Republic, Gustavo de Hoyos, has denounced AMLO’s “irrational” decision-making to the King of Spain; commentator Jorge Suárez-Vélez has lamented that the United States’ failure to intervene to stop the Mexican president has left them alone; and the opposition alliance has attempted to appeal the midterm elections to the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington.

For the PAN, in particular, its dalliance with Vox represents a sort of homecoming. Founded in 1939, the National Action Party made no secret of its fascist sympathies in the initial years of its existence. Indeed, one of the founders of the party, Aquiles Elorduy, was also the director of the pro-Nazi, antisemitic magazine La Reacción, which listed among its collaborators distinguished party forefathers such as Manuel Gómez Morín, Gustavo Molina Font, Manuel Herrera y Lasso, and Pedro Zuloaga.

Only once the fortunes of the Axis in the World War II turned sour did the party begin to change its tune. And despite the attempts of recent generations of house historians to reinvent the origins of the party and its founders into a noble assemblage of humanists, it is evident that the early PAN had more in common with the Falange than with the Christian Democrats they have since purported to be.

Threats and Desperation

If there were any doubt that the DNA of the extreme right remains alive and well in Mexican conservatism, the leader of the opposition alliance Va por México, Claudio X. González, neatly confirmed matters in October. In a menacing tweet, González, son of the president of Kimberly-Clark de México, warned that the “so-called” Fourth Transformation would end “badly, very badly.” He continued:

Note must be taken of all those who, by action or omission, encouraged the actions and deeds of the current administration and harmed Mexico. May no one forget who took the side of populist and destructive authoritarianism.

With memories of dictatorships and disappearances so fresh in Latin America — from Operation Condor of the 1970s to the US-funded counterinsurgency in Central America in the 1980s, to Mexico’s own bloody history from the plaza of Tlatelolco to the jungles of Chiapas — González’s call for a blacklist to root out enemies when the opposition retakes power was hardly subtle.

To be sure, part of what lies behind this slip of the mask is simple desperation. Things have not been going well for Claudio Jr’s political project of late: In addition to losing the midterm elections, Va por México has backed out of challenging AMLO in a 2022 recall election after earlier saying it would, is facing a potential coalition split over the president’s proposed energy reform, and is getting hit with a provision in this year’s budget that limits the tax deductibility of donations to the very foundations it uses to fund its activities.

As for the PAN, it is bleeding members in the Senate, while its own party president was caught on tape admitting it is on track to lose five of six gubernatorial races next year. But in light of regional history and the worldwide resurgence of far-right movements, the threat takes on a different tenor.

Just days after González’s outburst, a conservative coalition congressperson, Jorge Álvarez Maynez, called Deputy Prevention and Health Promotion Secretary Hugo López-Gatell an “assassin” from the podium of the Chamber of Deputies, capping it off with a Mafia-inspired “we’re coming for you.” Lest this be seen as an isolated outburst, congressperson Martha Estela Romo Cuéllar from PAN then presented López-Gatell’s boss, Dr Jorge Alcocer Varela, with a fake tombstone indicating his date of birth but with a question mark next to his date of death; Estela Romo then proceeded to ask Alcocer how he wanted to be remembered in his epitaph.

Perhaps more than latent fascism, the stunts simply displayed the crude, desperate nature of a Right unused to being on the margins of a system it considers to be its personal property. But it is of such desperation that fascisms are often born.

The Anvil Drops

No consideration of the Mexican far right would be complete without the missing piece of the puzzle: the ultra-Catholic secret sect known as El Yunque (the Anvil). Unlike other made-in-Mexico religious groups such as the Legionnaires of Christ, which has sought to extend its influence by cultivating influential figures, El Yunque, since its conception during the height of 1950s Cold War paranoia, has devoted itself to direct political objectives.

According to journalist Álvaro Delgado, who has written extensively on the topic for over two decades, El Yunque’s goal is nothing less than to take power and install a theocratic regime, evangelizing the institutions of the state and ensuring that its agenda is imposed on the nation. This it has attempted to accomplish by grooming prospects to infiltrate political parties, civic organizations, and the like, beginning with the hegemonic PRI but switching horses to the emerging PAN in the 1970s. When Vicente Fox won the presidency in the year 2000, dozens if not hundreds of yunquistas flooded the federal government, some, such as the secretary for internal affairs Carlos Abascal, occupying positions of power in the cabinet. The influence continued and was consolidated during the subsequent administration of Felipe Calderón.

Far from being a purely national phenomenon, the influence of El Yunque has radiated outward to the rest of the world. In August, a multinational journalistic investigation based on a series of fresh releases from Wikileaks revealed that, through a series of allied organizations with names such as Hazte Oír (HO) and CitizenGO (CG), the organization has penetrated societies and governments in some fifty nations.

HO and CG, in turn, have joined up with the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society (now the International Organization for the Family) to sponsor the World Congress of Families, an annual meeting of the international Christian right whose most recent edition featured speakers such as Matteo Salvini from Italy’s Northern League. But despite all of this international exposure, Mexico remains one of the network’s principal centers of operations and fundraising.

As for the PAN and Vox, both have attempted to deny that their parties have been infiltrated by El Yunque; Vox has even taken advantage of its rupture with Hazte Oír in order to place some unconvincing daylight between the party and the organization. Ironically, although Vox is seeking to extend its ideological reach in Latin America by playing top dog in what it clumsily calls the “Iberosphere,” the strongest influence may indeed be flowing in the opposite direction: The party’s vertiginous success has allowed a Mexican secret society to penetrate the upper echelons of Spanish politics in ways it would never before have dreamed of.

The Coming Hurricane?

A far-right takeover in Mexico appears unlikely anytime soon: AMLO is popular, the social programs he has launched are new, the atrociousness of recent administrations remains fresh in the mind, and the opposition is almost singularly incompetent. The Mexican public, moreover, veterans of centuries of heavy-handed ecclesiastical meddling in political affairs, hardly needs convincing on the need for a firm separation of church and state.

But things can change: Another president will take office, once novel programs will soon become the norm, the memory of previous administrations will fade, and the opposition will learn at least something. It is then that a new strain, an amalgam, perhaps, of the Catholic far right with more recent influences from the fast-advancing evangelical movement, could threaten to take hold — made all the more possible by wealth inequality and a galloping climate crisis.

All of this should represent a call to arms for the governing MORENA: While a pragmatic approach has provided enough early gains to boast about, in the absence of a movement willing to dismantle the structures of elite power in all their overlapping spheres, it could find itself blown off the map by the hurricane that may even now be brewing off the coast.