When I listen to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), I always wonder how much of his narrative is unprompted ignorance and how much of what he says is part of a meticulous and deliberate narrative with precise goals. I don’t have an answer. Last week, however, I listened to AMLO admit that his presidential campaign violated electoral law by accepting cash that was never reported to the Mexican National Elections Institute (INE). His party (Morena) already had access to Mexico’s public funding and was therefore subject to reporting rules.
Mexico’s corruption prosecution against Emilio Lozoya, the former head of state-owned oil company (Pemex), has nothing to do with making justice or consolidating the rule of law. AMLO’s goal is more rudimentary: he expects Lozoya to tarnish AMLO’s political foes and every opposition party. AMLO seeks to frame Mexico’s 2021 midterm election as a choice between returning to a corrupt past or keeping Morena in power, despite its failings. The last thing AMLO wants is for the 2021 midterm election to turn into a referendum on his government. If the latter happened, Mexican voters would tear his party to pieces.
The video in which a close aide of Manuel Velasco, the former Chiapas state governor, delivers envelopes full of cash to AMLO’s brother destroys the President’s anti-corruption dictum. The cash most probably came from the Chiapas’ treasury. It was taxpayer money. Bottom line: the governor of one of Mexico’s poorest states might have diverted resources to illegally finance a presidential campaign. Hence now we understand AMLO´s generosity towards Manuel Velasco and his alliance with Velasco’s Green Party, the epitome of Mexican corruption. AMLO had decided to put Velasco’s former aide in charge of Mexico’s new system for distributing medicines and vaccines. This only compounds the stench. In the old days of Mexico’s one-party system politicians would say: “Don’t give me anything, just put me close to the loot”.
The leaks of videos and documents violate due process, and will make it impossible to deliver justice. This also confirms that the independence of Mexico’s Attorney General is as inexistent as AMLO’s statesmanship. Those who believed that the current Attorney General Alejandro Gertz would be a trustworthy and meticulous public officer should just forget about it. Mexico is today so much further away from true rule of law. Moreover, a justice system at the service of the President, like today’s, makes it impossible to distinguish between those defendants who deserve to be punished by the law, from those who are being unjustly sullied by unsubstantiated accusations. This show only aims to fulfill AMLO’s campaign goals.
The mud fight is just beginning. More and more videos will implicate the old and the new. But be careful: do not believe that everyone who has been in Mexican politics is corrupt and that all parties are rotten. Let’s avoid repeating the slogan from Argentina’s 2001 debacle: “Everyone should go!” That is dangerous step. I know Mexican public servants who conducted themselves with integrity while holding relevant government positions. Furthermore, the role of the parties is vital for democracy, to educate political cadres, to muster individuals around common ideology and purpose, along with the need to represent them in government.
A myth has taken root in Mexico that we must discard all existing parties and anyone who has been active in them. Nothing would make it easier for AMLO’s party to remain in power. Mexican electoral rules make it impossible for an outsider to win a presidential election, especially when the government controls mass media. AMLO only achieved national recognition after having been Mayor of Mexico City, and after participating in two previous presidential campaigns. Vicente Fox only succeeded in his intent to become President of Mexico having served as Guanajuato’s state governor and after organizing a national campaign network known as “Friends of Fox” years before the 2000 presidential race.
Let’s behave as intellectually honest citizens. This trait is increasingly scarce among many observers of Mexican politics. Let’s make an effort to differentiate between legitimate accusations based on irrefutable evidence, and those that only seek to slander political adversaries. We shouldn’t have to settle for the least bad option, we should demand from those in power much more than empty ideology and sterile demagoguery.
Before Mexico’s 2018 presidential campaign, a prominent businessman scolded me for speaking and writing against the blatant corruption of AMLO’s predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto. He told me that speaking out made an AMLO victory more likely. That businessman did not realize at the time that what caused AMLO’s rise to power was, in fact, covering up Peña Nieto’s corruption. While Peña Nieto did put in place indispensable structural reforms for Mexico, it was not too much to ask that his government also conducted itself with honesty and integrity. Both things are not mutually exclusive. Let’s not fall for false dilemmas.
* 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