Evidence shows the project is about power, not well-being or development. In this context, the crisis certainly fits like a glove, as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) recently stated. It means that as Rahm Emanuel, former President Barack Obama’s political adviser, said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” In the Marxist terms, used by many members of López Obrador’s political party (MORENA), the objective is to deepen the contradictions in order to change the reality.
In effect, the President was elected to change Mexico’s reality: his electoral platform proposed to confront poverty, corruption, inequality, and the lack of accelerated growth. If anything has distinguished the President during the past year and a half is his being consistent in his promises and in advancing his agenda on each of those fronts. The key question with respect to AMLO does not lie in his objectives, which are public and transparent, but rather in the strategies he espouses to achieve them. In plain terms, no one can be against those objectives, but what seems evident is that he is not advancing toward their resolution; instead, he is concentrating his power on all fronts, as if that would suffice for procuring his objectives.
The notion that the concentration of power resolves Mexico’s problems derives from a partial and insufficient reading of what occurred in the era of ‘stabilizing development’, particularly the years between the 1960’s and the beginning of the 1970’s. The dates matter because the results were contrasting: between the 1940’s and the beginning of the 1970’s, Mexico enjoyed a situation of exceptional economic growth and political stability, a perfect combination that resulted from a political and economic model that maintained coherence between them but that, in the 1960’s, began to reach its limit. In the 1970’s there was an attempt to prolong a model that no longer possessed economic or political viability through growing indebtedness, which led to the debt crisis in 1982 and the terrible recession of that decade.
The main point is that there was a model that worked, a model whose characteristics included a strong presidency, the product of concrete economic and political strategies. The strong presidency was the consequence of a model, not the model itself. In addition, that model responded to an historical moment of Mexico and of the world that no longer exists. In this respect, attempting to recreate the presidency to resolve 21st-century problems is, as Marx would have said, a farce.
The latter has not impeded the construction of a strong presidency and a government focused on control from proceeding rapidly and without pause, as illustrated by the attempt to eliminate any constitutional control in decision making of the public spending or the government’s recent raid against private renewable energy companies. However, the fallacy behind that project is its not being susceptible to making headway toward the achievement of the objectives put forth by the President: corruption has clearly not diminished (as always in Mexico’s political system, the corrupt are those of the government in office but corruption remains); poverty has not diminished with the increase of government transfers (however, a clientelistic base is strengthened which has nothing to do with poverty); and, it is clear, inequality has not diminished. In terms of economic growth, there is no need to say anything further.
Evidence reveals that the true project is not development but control: not only is everything pinpointed in that direction, but there is not even any pretense of building the type of a steering-role capacity (“rectoría del Estado”) that characterized the ‘stabilizing development’ era. However, the objective of control is accompanied by the neutralization not only of the (supposed) counterweights to presidential power, but also by the elimination of all of the success factors that characterized the period that the President calls “neoliberal.” This implies that the objective is not exclusively to restore an era of Mexico’s past, but to destroy the mainstays that do allow some things to function (actually, many of them very well, such as the manufacturing export base, now at risk). This would follow Trotsky’s maxim: “the worse things go, the better.”
What is peculiar about the current moment is that the President forges ahead within the legislative realm nearly without restriction but despite of that results on that realm are pyrrhic. His control of Mexico’s Lower House through MORENA is indisputable and, for bills not requiring a qualified majority, he possesses similar control of the Senate. Nonetheless, although MORENA is a tool of the President, it does not constitute social representation with ample presence in the society. Its legislative strength is overwhelming, which allows the President to manipulate and deploy the party at will, but it does not have the capacity to mobilize or control the society.
The President has converted the crisis of the pandemic into an opportunity to press onward with his project of control but it is, nonetheless, not advancing: society has increasingly acquired greater presence and relevance. In a word: this is the time, and this is the opportunity for society to seize its role, to sever itself from the universe of fake news and prevailing corruption to build a platform of solid future development. Crises are opportunities for everyone.
* Luis Rubio is chairman of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations and of México Evalúa-CIDAC. A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @lrubiof