One week ago, I shared on Twitter a video (which was already public) in which three sons of Mexico’s President appear (one of them not wearing a face mask) at Acapulco’s Princess Hotel. It seemed to me that the fact that they were on vacation there was a matter of public interest, at a time when Mexico suffers the worst pandemic in 100 years, when at least 60,000 Mexican families have lost a loved one to Covid-19, when the Mexican government fired 60,000 cleaning workers due to the President’s untimely austerity policy, when the President himself has asked government bureaucrats to return part of their paychecks despite them living day to day, when there are 10 million new poor, and when one in three Mexican families has lost at least half of their income. Is it really offensive to ask Mexico’s “First Family” for empathy?
The austerity image that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) projects is a shameful scam. While demanding that Mexicans live with only one pair of shoes and eat “rice, corn and beans”, AMLO lives in the Palacio Nacional, Mexico’s grandiose palace from the Spanish Colonial era. However, it is not realistic that millions of his loyal supporters (who have never wondered what he lived on, what was his source of income, and why he has not paid taxes for much of this century) question AMLO. Nor should we expect that they criticize the President’s immoral responsibility in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, or on the crime spree where 100 Mexicans are murdered every day.
After my tweet last week, I received more than 5,000 insults and dozens of threats. Many Twitter users limited themselves to offend me, while others reproached me for not respecting the privacy of AMLO’s minor child (perhaps with some reason, although he was the one not wearing a face mask). Still, others singled me out for allegedly not having criticized previous Mexican presidents (which I did in dozens of columns easily accessible online). I did not denigrate or ridicule him. AMLO’s youngest child is well known to Mexicans because his parents have repeatedly paraded him in the media. The episode is as much of public interest as those involving former President Enrique Peña Nieto’s daughters, who were mocked for their frivolity by those who censure me, or those involving the son of former President Felipe Calderón, whom AMLO himself slandered at the time.
So let’s concede: “leave the politicians’ kids alone”. But let us demand, then, that the President’s supporters commendable desire to protect children includes young Mexicans who suffer from things much more serious than an indiscreet tweet. I would like to see the President’s supporters express equivalent outrage at the lack of cancer treatments for children in Mexican hospitals. And what about the relationship between some congressmen of President AMLO’s party -Marti Batres and Sergio Mayer- with an alleged pedophile? Is it right not to raise outrage? In those cases, their complicit silence prevails.
This selective outrage leads to another alarming phenomenon. Without mentioning my name, the first lady Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller accused me of being a “paid propagandist”. The Mexican government and its supporters do not admit the possibility of legitimate and honest critics. All criticism supposes (as Gutiérrez Müller’s harsh tweet suggests) a political plot or a conspiracy financed by malicious interests. My criticism is neither one nor the other. I am simply an observer of Mexico’s reality, a country that deserves much more than what this government offers. Only in dictatorial countries (or in those that are so authoritarian that are in the process of becoming so) is criticism confused with conspiracy. And only in “banana republics” the voices that should be independent join the fanatics. This is what happened in my case with the head of Mexico’s government news agency and the deputy governor of Mexico’s central bank who sympathizes with AMLO’s government project. Both, like so many others, confirmed their submissive militancy, far from the temperance and independence that their positions demand.
Anonymity on social media adds to the virulence of attacks and fosters harmful polarization. The attacks are ad hominem. Ninety-nine percent of those who insulted me on Twitter would not do so while looking me in the eye, because they would know that I am a man like any other, with qualities and defects, with the right to think differently without deserving grievance.
In this Manichean world no one listens to what is said. People only see the political affiliation of the one speaking. There is no constructive dialogue. Mexico faces the worst health and economic crisis in generations more divided than ever. If not even this catastrophe unites us in search of common purpose, we will suffer a deserved collapse.
* 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