In the mind of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), Mexicans have two options in front of them: to support the “corrupt party establishment” that governed Mexico before his rise to power in 2018 or to support him. This is the dilemma that he presents to us almost every day. This is the narrative he will use from now on until the 2021 midterm election.
Last week, a diverse group of 30 Mexican thinkers, scholars and intellectuals wrote an open letter criticizing the centralization of power, the mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, the institutional erosion and calling for a broad electoral alliance to have a more pluralistic Mexico with effective checks and balances. Currently, AMLO’s governing coalition has governing majorities in both Chambers of the Mexican Congress. After the letter was made public, AMLO described the group as defenders of the previous “corrupt regime”.
All the members of the group had also criticized one way or another the government of AMLO’s predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto. Many of the letter’s signatories were participants in the long fight for the democratization of Mexico of the late 20th century. Let us remember that while many of the group members were fighting for democracy, AMLO was a government employee and a member of the PRI, the party that dominated Mexican politics for decades.
The vast majority of those that criticize him support AMLO’s main mantra: the fight against corruption. We all are sick of public corruption and we do not want to see more embezzlement scams. Last week, the former head of Mexico’s state-owned company Pemex, Emilio Lozoya, was extradited from Spain to face corruption charges in Mexico. But this is not enough. We need an honest and transparent trail.
However, AMLO’s government goal is a different one. The extradition of Lozoya is meant to remind Mexicans of the previous governments. The idea is to reduce public debate in Mexico to the dilemma the president presents to us every day: AMLO or the corruption of the past. This notwithstanding that AMLO’s government has a collection of corrupt figures within its own ranks.
The most irritating thing is to see costly government policies being sold to us as if the inevitable price to pay to fulfill the transformation that AMLO promised in his 2018 presidential campaign. It is not like that. Fighting corruption and ending impunity in Mexico does not mean that one must accept a lousy pandemic strategy that has left an excessive number of dead. It does not mean either to agree on harsh budget cuts that leave government employees without basic tools like laptops to do their work. Everything is wrapped in rhetoric, but one thing is not related to another. At the beginning of the government, AMLO even said that the savings from fighting corruption would allow expansion in government spending. Now that the government implements further austerity cuts one may ask: where have all these savings gone?
Relatively speaking, Mexico is not near to be Great Britain during World War II, when Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided to confront Germany’s Adolf Hitler. At that time, the British people had to make a series of sacrifices, their lives were at risk, the economy was redirected to the production of weapons and food was rationed. Without these, war would not have been won. How is it that now the AMLO government has opted to leave the State so crippled that it cannot fulfill its main function which is to serve the Mexican citizens?
The focus on one single person, AMLO, makes it difficult to determine whether new public corruption scandals are brewing below the surface. There are plenty of stories in the Mexican press regarding contracts awarded to newly created firms -with links to members of the government- and not necessarily to firms presenting the best and most affordable tenders. These stories do not have a follow-up because checks and balances are simply not triggered. Mexico’s opposition parties are disarticulated. The Government Accountability Office (ASF) has not presented its analysis of President AMLO’s spending during his first year in office using as excuse the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, the ASF was very aggressive in reviewing the spending of former President Enrique Peña Nieto’s during his last year in office.
Since he took office in December 2018, AMLO has had all the power to build a fairer country with less poverty and exclusion. The pandemic could have been an opportunity to carry out public policies to support -intelligently and honestly- those Mexicans who need it the most. Not even in an emergency like the one we are experiencing we have seen President AMLO worried about the suffering and death due to the coronavirus. He has focused in polarizing in order to be able to tell his own tale.
AMLO lives off from presenting false dilemmas to Mexicans. The real dilemma however is why his government cannot be both honest and competent at the same time. This is the option that we must demand him to put in front of us.
* 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