Political scientist Francis Fukuyama has stated that countries that have failed in confronting the Covid-19 pandemic are those where “dysfunctional states, polarized societies, or poor leadership have done badly, leaving their citizens and economies exposed and vulnerable”. Fukuyama could be describing Mexico.
Mexico is more vulnerable than ever. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) knows this and is aware of how it could alter the balance of power when Mexicans vote in the 2021 midterm elections. Voters will punish him for the brutal economic crisis. They will also reject his lack of empathy at a time when tens of thousands of Mexicans have unnecessarily died as a result of his government’s foolish denial of the pandemic’s extent. Hence AMLO’s desperate effort of recent days to change the subject of conversation and not talk about deaths and unemployment.
Nothing helps a populist more than being attacked. That is why in the absence of a real foe AMLO contrived a plot to victimize himself. Like everything he and his government have done, AMLO’s sinister plan to build an imaginary enemy was poorly executed. None of AMLO’s alleged political opponents mentioned in the purported plot’s draft (written on an old-fashioned typewriter) would have dared to sign something of such meager quality.
Faced with the impossibility of campaigning on the basis of his achievements, AMLO will unequivocally use the force of the state to crucify those who oppose him. To do this, AMLO will resort to truthful and even fictitious allegations (as his predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto also did), hoping that defending from these charges is perceived as an admission of guilt. Jalisco state governor Enrique Alfaro is now experiencing the cost of opposing the president, and of demonstrating that the management of the pandemic in Mexico could have been much better, as he did in Jalisco. Last week, AMLO’s party (MORENA) sent to Jalisco the same professional rabble-rousers he had already used earlier this year in Baja California to manipulate an illegal referendum that ended up cancelling a Constellation Brands brewery. In the coming months, AMLO and his party will shamelessly destabilize opposition state governments and will generate local conflict by putting the spotlight on the local government’s reaction to violent protestors.
If AMLO cannot beat them, he will seek to contain them. As an opposition Senator told me, AMLO’s government has built files containing all kinds of information about all opposition figures in Mexico. The government’s strategy is to leave no stone unturned seeking for information it can use to blackmail those checks and balances that can reign in the executive branch: Mexican legislators, magistrates, judges and members of independent agencies. (In the era of austerity, the AMLO is spending the equivalent of US $117 million on “intelligence” services). One would hope the government is able to reach “findings” beyond just alleging that “the opposition wants to win elections” as AMLO did this week. When such blackmail fails, the AMLO government will resort to administrative measures to punish those who oppose them, as they have already done with the reduction of government salaries or the reassignment of officials to remote areas of Mexico
Deep inside, however, AMLO faces a structural problem. Any policy measure needed to solve the colossal crisis Mexico faces will weaken him with his die-hard base of supporters. AMLO knows well by now that without private investment he will not reverse the worst decline of the Mexican economy of the past 90 years. His relationship with private investors could not be worse after having cancelled the now-scrapped Mexico City International Airport (NAIM), after he unilaterally tried to alter major gas pipeline contracts, after cancelling the partially built Constellation Brands brewery in Baja California, and after using the Mexican tax service to extort big private companies. A fan of history himself, AMLO will hold the dark honor of being the Mexican president who generated the most poverty in history, with 10 million new poor people.
Mexico’s opposition must unite. There is too much at stake. The document showcased by AMLO earlier this week -allegedly calling for the formation of a broad opposition coalition- is fake. But it is actually something that should exist. This is not about politics, it is about Mexico. At the polls we need to stop authoritarianism, abuse and the excesses of the state. Mexicans need to defend democracy and to hold accountable an inept government: it should go. There are 3,000 elected positions at play in 2021, including 15 state governorships and 500 Lower House seats. AMLO is desperately seeking that Mexican voters focus on anything rather than his performance as president. Let’s make sure this issue is clearly on the table.
* 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