Two years ago, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his political party (Morena) won the Mexican Presidential election of 2018. The third time was a charm for López Obrador, who had previously run and lost in two previous occasions, first, by a narrow margin in 2006 and later by a much larger one in 2012.
It is fair to admit that AMLO inherited serious and long-standing problems that no one could have solved in the 19 months that have passed since his inauguration. Mexico had been the economy that grew the least in Latin America in the 21st century, only ahead of Venezuela, a country that now embodies apocalyptic ruin. The disaster at Mexico’s state-owned oil company (Pemex) also began decades ago, having arguably become the world’s worst performing large oil company. Mexico was already plagued by blatant corruption and sickening impunity that reached unbearable levels with AMLO’s predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto. For decades, Mexicans have endured the absence of a rule of law and, as a consequence, Mexico is plagued by growing violence from criminal organizations that openly control entire regions of the country. Despite relatively high tax rates, Mexico’s tax collection is low because more than half of its economic activity occurs in the informal sector. Mexico has tolerated crony capitalism in which equal opportunity does not exist and closeness to power has historically benefited a few. Tens of millions of Mexicans were already living in poverty, and Mexico’s economy is already one of the most unequal on the planet.
But Mexico has also achieved meaningful progress. Starting on 1997, Mexico embarked on a firm path towards democracy and it is fair to say that access to power is today defined at the ballot box. Mexicans managed to build independent agencies that were, increasingly, important checks and balances within government and useful sources of technical expertise to guide regulation and economic policy decisions. Mexican civil society has been on the rise. Mexico has probably the most respected central bank (Banxico) among all emerging economies. What Banxico is today is the result of dedication and professionalism that grew from the seeds that Miguel Mancera (the epitome of what a central banker should be) planted many decades ago. Mexico has world-class companies, and has managed to differentiate itself from the rest of Latin America by abandoning the old-fashioned model of being a commodity exporter. Mexico now exports more manufactured products than the rest of Latin America combined, and has managed to become America’s largest trading partner, thanks to NAFTA, and it is the country with the most trade agreements in the world.
In these past two years, AMLO has made all of Mexico’s problems worse and has weakened each of the country’s strengths. But the largest damage he has inflicted comes from having driven a deep wedge in cracks that already existed in Mexican society. Mexico has never been more divided while facing a more serious crisis.
President John F. Kennedy said that: “In a time of domestic crisis, men of goodwill and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics”. Today, Mexico faces the worst economic crisis in a century and an unprecedented global health crisis. As if these problems weren’t serious enough, a group of gunmen tried recently to execute the best chief of police that Mexico City has ever had, right in the middle of the most affluent and protected neighborhood in Mexico City. This act was an eloquent declaration of war, regardless of AMLO’s government acknowledging having received it.
The seriousness of the situation demands that we analyze problems and evaluate solutions for challenging problems, without previously choosing with whom we will agree. If we, as Mexicans, are not able to set aside political preferences and ideological differences, perhaps we actually deserve the terrible fate that awaits us. At the end of the day, all Mexicans want the same thing: opportunities for our children, food on the table, and for our sons and daughters to return home safely after a day of study or work. We want an everyday life where we talk about our families and interests, not about murder, illness or layoffs.
If we are not able to come together, we will all surely lose.
* 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