Yuval Noah Harari -author of Sapiens, one of the best books I have ever read- says that the coronavirus pandemic is the greatest crisis of our generation and that our future depends on the decisions we make in the coming weeks, both at the government and individual level.
The coronavirus crisis reminds us that nothing matters more than life and health. It reminds us that viruses can affect us all equally. It also confronts us with our political leadership. For those who take elections lightly without assessing the training, capacity or integrity of those who will take a country’s helm, it is clear that in times of crisis like now, the quality of leadership matters.
In a crisis, a good leader learns, reflects on the policies he has adopted. A good leader corrects course, thinks outside the box; he adapts to extraordinary circumstances and unites the country in the pursuit of a common purpose, regardless of ideology. A bad leader cherry-picks those elements in the crisis that confirm his prejudices and highlight his dogmas. A bad leader evades blame and sticks to a rigid course of action, even when the environment has changed. He also uses the crisis to foster division, in order to strengthen himself.
In a globalized world, stopping contagion is difficult. The first instinct of demagogues in power is to appeal to nationalism. But a pandemic of this magnitude will only be contained by achieving a coordinated response with other countries, and learning from the success or failure of previously adopted measures. At the local level, the ability to contain the havoc is directly proportional to the respect the community has for its experts. It also depends on trusting the veracity of media, and on being confident that leadership is truthful, even when truth is inconvenient.
Today it is crystal clear that the role of president of Mexico is just too big for Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Like a small child trying his father’s boots. Today, he is the laughing stock of the world. AMLO has lost all credibility after months of systematically lying from the presidential bully pulpit. AMLO can’t ask us to listen to experts and scientists when he has always snubbed them. Every single day, AMLO denigrates media. He is a great expert in division and polarization who does not even attempt to articulate a message to bring us together.
Given the atrocious evidence before us, AMLO’s whim of holding the country’s rudder fixed can no longer be described as foolish or incompetent. It borders on insanity.
Insisting on maintaining the current course would entail AMLO to ignore the Mexican peso’s devaluation (which has lost a third of its value), ignore the collapse of oil prices (below Mexico’s production costs), and ignore the dire growth forecasts that place Mexico in the last place in Latin America (except for Venezuela). And if AMLO’s dogmatic austerity program continues, his government will not be able to cover the most basic needs of the Mexican population. This will not be possible, even if AMLO and his government tap what was left of the Oil Revenues Stabilization Fund (FEIP), which his government looted frivolously last year.
AMLO’s assertion that the Mexican government will not provide resources to support thousands of businesses that are at risk of closing permanently, or to provide relief to companies that will fail without it, shows he does not realize the brutal unemployment that his neoliberal policies would cause: “Laissez-faire, laissez-passer”. They would guarantee an impoverishment that we have not seen in Mexico by killing sources of formal employment, and the country’s ability to produce goods and provide services. AMLO’s attitude would cancel any chance for Mexico to bounce back once the situation returns to normal. This would be the “Venezuelanization” of Mexico, a term I do not use lightly. Within the G-20, only Mexico, India, and Turkey have not discussed taking meaningful mitigation measures.
The multi-billion sum the Mexican taxpayer spent to pay for AMLO’s unilateral cancellation of the now-scrapped Mexico City’s new international airport amounts to three times the entire budget of Mexico’s Ministry of Health, resources we need more than ever. The absurd, arbitrary and illegal plebiscite to force the cancellation of a US 1.5 billion Constellation Brands brewery in Mexicali last Sunday, effectively kills any hope for attracting foreign investment to Mexico. Mexico’s message is clear: given the shortage of toilet paper, Mexico is replacing it with the rule of law. We have reached a level of criminal incompetence. That is the correct assessment.
* Jorge Suárez-Vélez is an economic and political analyst He is the author of The Coming Downturn of the World Economy (Random House 2011). A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @jorgesuarezv