What was the rationale for the president of Mexico to travel to southern Mexico last week to give the starting signal for the construction of a train when the country faces the greatest contagion phase of the coronavirus pandemic? I don’t know. Since 2018, when he decided to cancel what would have been Mexico City’s New International Airport, we learned that for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) technical rationality was not his thing. For him, everything is linked to a logic of power politics. AMLO wanted to show in 2018 who was boss. He just was not going to build an airport that he believed only benefited Mexico’s top 30 percent. Even more, he knew that by canceling the airport he would anger the Mexican elite class that first ignored him, then tried to prevent his arrival to power and now was trying to lick his boots. AMLO was willing to pay the necessary economic and financial cost just to make such a statement.
But deciding to go on tour to southern Mexico when the country was at coronavirus peak is something more difficult to understand. Was it about AMLO trying to show that the president is above the measures dictated by his own government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus? Was it some sort of theatrical effort to showcase to his electoral base that he is willing to do whatever is needed to defend his political project? Was this about a desperate politician -whose approval rating is going down- who needs to start campaigning towards Mexico’s 2021 midterm elections? Was it just that AMLO is addicted to working trips and that his ego needed the thrill of celebrating a public event where he could enter with open arms, even if there were no people? Or is this just that AMLO does not like to delve on the minutiae of managing a cabinet where everyone goes his own way?
It seems as if AMLO’s trip was the starting signal for many Mexicans to put an end to the lockdown and return to the streets. If AMLO’s trip ultimately leads to a spike in infections, deaths, and a decision to send Mexicans back into lockdown (with the accompanying economic damage) it will be AMLO’s sole responsibility.
There was no need for AMLO to leave on a tour of southern Mexico to give the starting signal to the construction of one of his pet projects. But AMLO himself chose to make the trip. His resistance to wear a face mask is also very revealing. Wearing a face mask is mainly done to show that one cares about the others. AMLO is not taking care of Mexicans.
Nowadays, we are already seeing which governments around the world took adequate decisions which did not. On the one hand, those governments that opted to use science and cold decision-making like Germany’s, were able ‘to tame’ the pandemic (using AMLO’s own language). On the other hand, governments among which skepticism about the coronavirus prevailed and where leaders govern at their whim have fared much worse. Among the countries with the highest number of coronavirus deaths are the US, Brazil, and Mexico.
But there is another world in Mexico: the world of unrecorded coronavirus deaths, the world where patients die at home in order not to spend the nightmare of looking for a hospital bed. Those beds seem to exist only in AMLO’s government charts.
Does AMLO not realize the enormous damage of the crisis across Mexico in terms of deaths, broken families, unemployment and in the growing number of poor?
AMLO has opted to continue to give moral advice. “We need to be at peace with our conscience. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t betray”, AMLO said last week. “These things help a lot in order to prevent contracting coronavirus”.
I do not understand how can AMLO have a clean conscience. In current circumstances, one would expect to see the Head of State working hard to ensure Mexicans the best possible quality healthcare and the largest feasible support for those Mexicans who lost their income due to the lockdown measures.
But AMLO is enjoying power. He is centered on those things that he believes are politically convenient. However, I don’t understand how he can think he profits politically from a deepening crisis. I would hope one of AMLO’s fans would explain it to me. The only logical (and perverse) explanation is that AMLO believes that he will win voters in a sea of poor.
AMLO feels somewhat morally superior and immune to the coronavirus. For ordinary Mexicans however -especially the poor he allegedly cares about- AMLO’s advice of not lying, not stealing, and not betraying is not enough. Ordinary Mexicans are getting ill. They are dying. They are running out of income. The image of AMLO traveling to southern Mexico to give the starting signal to a train project -that would likely never be completed and that would be out of reach for millions of those who believed in him- sums up the indifference of an irresponsible government.
* Carlos Elizondo Mayer-Serra is professor at the School of Government and Public Transformation at Tec de Monterrey, in Mexico City. A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @carloselizondom