President López Obrador has found in the health and economic crisis an unbeatable opportunity to promote regime change
I write these lines on May 8, 2020. The date is important for a reason. According to the Mexican authorities, this day marks the critical moment for covid-19 infections in this Latin American nation. Such reference matters, moreover, because perhaps it is the only thing that Mexicans agree on today: that we have entered the worst phase of the impact of the new coronavirus. Outside of that, outside of agreeing that the nightmare that has plagued the world is already here in full force, Mexican society faces the disunited threat, in the midst of extreme polarization and in an environment where the Government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is willing to capitalize on the crisis by taking care of the poorest and his political movement first and foremost, and at the cost of sacrificing the Mexican economy as a whole.
It cannot be said that there is a country in which the crisis caused by the covid-19 has fallen to the Government as a “ring to the finger to strengthen the purpose of the transformation”. Well, yes, you can from one, from the Mexican, where President López Obrador pronounced that phrase on April 2 to signal his welcome to such a dramatic contingency.
In other words, almost every nation on the planet saw a challenge in the pandemic that seriously complicated their march or, at least, made them deviate from other important issues. Except for Mexico, where President López Obrador has found that the health crisis, and even the economic one, constitutes an unbeatable opportunity to finish imposing a regime change that does not include seeking harmony or integrating into the new system of pre-existing plurality in society.
To save the moment of his young presidency (he began his six-year term in December 2018), AMLO – as everyone calls the president – has decided, let’s say, to agree only with himself and, decisively, marginalize the two opposition forces that They ruled the Mexican nation for 90 years and still hold power today in two thirds of state governments, and other living forces such as business, many artists and not a few academics. What kind of reasoning led the Mexican president to do that?
For geographical reasons, the first wave of the new coronavirus has reached the last in Mexico. Mexicans have followed the news of the pandemic in Asia and Europe first, and horror later. By the time the cases began to occur in the United States, we knew that our turn was imminent. On February 28, the first official case of contagion of covid-19 was registered in the territory governed by López Obrador.
Since then, a singular phenomenon has developed in Mexico. The news of the deaths of thousands in northern Italy or the ordeal in cities like Madrid, and the general decomposition of the world economy in the same period, gave Mexicans between eight and twelve weeks of advantage to know that the future would hit in a battered long time ago, that of an always weak economy in this country and that in 2019 had zero growth, but that would also come with prognosis impacts impossible to determine: the Mexican health system, the line of defense against the coronavirus, It has become even more precarious after the corruption of the six-year term of President Peña Nieto (2012-2018), when the looting in that sector was vicious: the press has registered serious irregularities in the construction of more than 300 regional hospitals in that period. The combination made us fear the worst: the storm that shook economies and healthier devices more robust than ours made foreseeable, for the Mexican nation, catastrophic damage.
In such a delicate predicament, a conventional head of state would have summoned all the possible help – political, financial, scientific – to prepare the attack of the disease and the economic paralysis. Instead, AMLO ignored calls for the unity of politicians and businessmen, rejected several suggestions for detailed rescue plans for small and medium-sized companies, and in a solo outing in the National Palace, announced weeks in advance, on April 5. He announced that nothing in the course of his project would change one iota. That through its social aid programs it would try to protect the poorest, that it would not suspend expensive infrastructure works of viability or relevance in question, and whose eventual benefits will not be seen in one or two years, which against the opinion of all Class of experts will put the salvation of Petróleos Mexicanos on other priorities, even if it is not a business to extract oil in times when the world stopped and does not consume it; and, finally, that there will be neither tax cuts, nor substantial extensions for the tax burdens of companies, nor emerging programs to alleviate the hardships of the small and medium-sized entrepreneurs on whom they depend, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, 78% of the jobs.
López Obrador’s stance unleashed a storm inside an already flooded boat. Two of the three most important business organizations in the country, the Business Coordinating Council and the Mexican Business Council, which for a year and a half gave López Obrador the benefit of the doubt, have suffered from presidential disdain: their rescue proposals are not reviewed further. beyond mere courtesy. In fact, when responding to a last plan drawn up by the employers, with 68 specific proposals to stimulate the economy, this week López Obrador has said that he does not care if companies fail, that this is only a matter for the partners or shareholders of the same. In fact, the bridge of dialogue between private initiative and political power is broken, since there is no common ground for negotiating something substantive.
The president’s attitude baffles even in a country that is not the first time that he has experienced the threat of a major crisis. Because it seems that the president does not see what national and international observers, the press from many sides and not a few people on the street clearly warn: that the Government alone will not be able to cope with a dual attack, which in addition to trying to save thousands in hospitals of patients we must take care of the jobs, and that it is not time to divide but to add, to negotiate, to listen.
It is not that López Obrador does not see that. The caricature that reduces him to a stubborn or limited person is fallacious. No. He clearly warns of what is looming over Mexico. But he is not in the least interested in giving the answer that a good part of public opinion would expect from him, that of the “call to national unity”, that of negotiating with others an escape route. And there is a certain logic to his refusal to behave as others expect him to. If such “logic” is suicidal for Mexico, or it definitely weighs down the development of this country in the next five years, or if it supposes – miraculously – a more just rebirth of a nation that has suffered frightful inequalities, success or failure, then, AMLO’s decision will be something that time will establish.
At this critical moment for Mexico, it must be established that López Obrador is consistent with his, shall we say, ideology. Giving in means, in your Bible, giving in. Accepting help from opponents would be to grant the utility of the apparatus built in the last four decades: since the economic crises of the eighties forced Mexico to commit itself internationally to become an open economy and set limits to the rampant discretionary presidentialism, this Republic has Jerks and jerks had built a system of counterweights. López Obrador denies these institutions.
And today he does not feel like changing his point of view regarding this scaffolding that has emerged since the time of Salinas (1998-1994), when, on the one hand, the office of the ombudsperson for human rights was born and, on the other, his grandfather of the autonomous electoral authority that today governs the elections. Then, with Zedillo (1994-2000), the Supreme Court, and with it the entire federal judiciary, and the Banco de México, took a great leap in terms of professionalism and independence. With Fox (PAN, 2000-2006), laws on access to information were established that became international envy at the time; and with Calderón it was more than ever demonstrated that the president requires Congress to govern, and regulatory bodies of various fields of the economy were created or consolidated so that the Government and predominant actors did not capture so easily the decisions that had to be made in favor of all and not a few. Enrique Peña was a setback in many ways, but he did not break a tradition of political negotiations that initially gave Mexico hope with a pact for structural reforms, an agenda that was largely fulfilled thanks to all political forces, including the PRD, who at the time twice nominated López Obrador for the presidency (2006 and 2012).
All that was underpinned in 30 years. Upon reaching the presidency in late 2018, López Obrador had in his hands the possibility of erasing many of the deficiencies of those organizations. He was able to bring that structure to a level of excellence if he only freed them from the presidential hand, which on many occasions twisted the destinies of a system that was born to limit a head of the imperial state and his cronies in the political and business class. And the fact is that the checks and balances a la Mexicana never matured because for 18 years (2000-2018) PRI and PAN members consecrated officials who came into debt in key positions in this framework, for being “friends” or for obeying “quotas” negotiated behind the scenes between the powerful.
Rather than strengthening the budding accountability system, López Obrador initiated a de facto or de jure disassembly. It eliminated the construction of the Texcoco airport without legal justification, regardless of the fact that there are calculations that this cancellation could cost 20,000 million dollars over time; all a symbol of how determined he was in his plan to stop him from walking in the “old regime”. But it was just the first sign, a great symbol of his style and determination, established in October 2018, a month before he formally assumed the presidency of the Republic.
With that great overture, what came later has been equally strident: where it was cumbersome to disappear a regulatory body, it simply filled these with straw men and women; or the case of the holders of the National Hydrocarbons Commission and the Energy Regulator occurred, who were forced to resign; and the same happened with the minister of the Supreme Court of Justice, Eduardo Medina Mora, fully identified with Peña Nieto. And when something is stuck in the march of the president’s wishes, he issues a decree of dubious legality, or intends to use – without negotiation or minimal debate – his majority forces in the houses of Congress to change the law to his liking. Faced with this attack, there were a few opponents, various civil society organizations, and various pens in the press that protested the forms and the substance. Such voices were ignored, or even vilified on social networks or in the morning that López Obrador presides over, day by day.
This was 2019, López Obrador’s first year in the Mexican presidency. The voluntarist, if not frankly ruthless, style of this politician, and the protests of some of his officials, particularly those of the energy sector, did not go unnoticed by national and international investors, who received threats of lawsuits and punishments for works that had years of existence. have been initiated or agreed. Such combination was reflected in an economy that for the first time in eleven years registered a decrease of -0.1%.
So when news of a new coronavirus arrived from China, Mexico already had months with doubts about the economic future and in the midst of a sour political unease.
The European health systems allowed us to warn of the lethality of the virus and the unpredictable economic consequences of confinement to avoid contagion; For this reason, the López Obrador government received glances and questions from Mexicans to find out how we would overcome the hard test that was to come.
When the global economic collapse was a reality and the dead were counted daily by hundreds in New York, perhaps the city hardest hit by covid-19 and the one most similar to the megalopolis of the Mexican capital, national pandemic epicenter, AMLO said in National Palace that the coronavirus and the international financial collapse fell “like a ring on the finger” to its objectives.
López Obrador’s phrase did not constitute a Freudian slip. It was, if anything, too honest. What does it mean. That this politician has only two calculations in mind. First, the President knows that he does not have the money it takes to save everyone even if he wants to. And second, that with the money that will be available, it will do everything to secure its electoral base. Because Andrés Manuel’s route is marked by the idea not to save as much as possible of the house, but by the logic that his chances of retaining the majority in the Chamber of Deputies and winning the most do not burn in the fire Possible of the 15 governorships (half of how many there are in the country) that are in dispute next year. Mere electoral calculation in the midst of the pandemic.
AMLO’s schedule in the coming months is neither sanitary nor economic. It is electoral. His team will try to save lives in hospitals, yes, but he will dedicate himself primarily to ensuring that his political project does not fail in the contingency. The credits and supports that will be given have started with those poor families that have been registered by their government, and not “in rescuing those from above”, as they often say. And it is not a secret or subtle strategy: he has said that his administration will dedicate itself to protecting “70% of Mexican households, from the bottom up”, sliding the remaining percentage – “a minority”, as he said in a published video on April 25 – you must assume that you do not have the Government for which not a few of them voted in 2018. And companies, the less support they can expect from this administration.
In addition to taking care of that electoral base, which he does not explain how much it will be damaged if the economy that moves 30% collapses and will be given less support, the president sees at this juncture the opportunity to finally get rid of or minimize, by leaving them without a budget or relegating them to formal and informal agencies and counterweights that they distrust (the electoral, the transparency, the energy regulators, think tanks such as El Colegio de México, funds for the arts and research, etc.) .
The budget cuts due to the emergency, in addition to draconians, hit the bureaucracy as well as artists or academics. That helps the president to point out that austerity is even. But above all, they constitute yet another sign that in Mexico today power is only exercised in an office: in the midst of the crisis, López Obrador has sent an initiative to Congress asking deputies to endorse him the right to decide fate of the treasury without further processing. The majority amlista in the federal legislature despair one day yes and the other also because the official measures that restrict the meetings have prevented their deputies to go to Congress and climb the sacrificial stone to give their hearts to the Tlatoani, who could thus do without they when managing the budget while the economic emergency lasts. The opposition has attempted a decent defense against the government’s attempt, but it is too early to predict the outcome. Greater control of money by the president could also mean fewer resources for governors who are not related to him, with whom his administration has experienced episodes of shock in the midst of a pandemic, either due to the quality of the information on the true number of infections – data that this week were questioned by separate reports from three international media.
If there is a government in which the dreaded health crisis, and perhaps even more feared economic recession, are viewed with joy. It is that of President López Obrador. That he seems determined to let those apocalyptic horsemen wipe out as much as they want as long as he can say that Mexico’s Prianist past has been erased, and that he and Morena are ready to start a transformation from below. So be it from the economic ruin, with the greatest institutional weakness in half a century, a presidentialism revived in its maximum splendor, over thousands of corpses watered by the coronavirus and the violence that does not stop, and in a country where I save the certainty that it has started the worst stage of infections by covid-19, there is nothing that unites everyone. Nothing.