I understand President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s need to create a circus. During his first 18 months in office, Mexico has recorded 53,000 murders including 6,000 women. The country has seen more than 74,000 Covid-19 deaths. After last year’s stagnation of the Mexican economy, estimates foresee a 10% drop of GDP in 2020. To top it all, the President’s bid to increase domestic crude production is failing: July’s crude oil barrel prices are the lowest since 1979. With so much failure what else can AMLO do besides creating a circus?
For starters, he could avoid such pitiful spectacles. Proposing a referendum to ask voters whether to prosecute or not five former Mexican Presidents is unconstitutional. If AMLO knows someone who committed a crime, he must brief the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (FGR). The latter has the duty to act on such a complaint. Enforcing the law is not optional or subject to a popularity contest.
The incredible thing is not only to have a President who dares to present such a question as subject of a referendum but even worst the reasoning behind it. In a letter detailing the motives, AMLO accuses former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) for the rise of inequality in Mexico. Following this logic, the growth in poverty during AMLO’s first two years in office and the thousands of Covid-19 deaths -in excess of his own administration’s most catastrophic scenario- would be a larger crime.
Nobody in AMLO’s cabinet raised questions about such a nonsense? The same can be said of AMLO’s idea to “raffle off” Mexico’s presidential jet. Originally, the plan was that the presidential jet would be the top prize but as the idea got stuck in the mud, AMLO had to twist himself into knots to find a viable exit.
Surely Mexico’s Supreme Court will reject the idea of holding such referendum. Endorsing it would be a scandal. There is no Mexican constitutional scholar who has publicly defended it.
The President will take advantage of the refusal of the Supreme Court to hold the referendum and accuse her of being one more of his conservative detractors. AMLO’s circus must go on.
The grotesque violation of all ethical principles in the government’s media circus opens the door for worst episodes in the future. Last Friday during his daily press conference, the President mocked Mexico City’s Reforma newspaper for publishing a story about the deadly massacres happening across the country in 2020. Later, AMLO wandered on stage without remembering what exactly he was looking for. Was that for what he fought for 18 years to become President of Mexico?
Perhaps many of AMLO’s allies think all these are great political strategies. To distract Mexicans from the current disaster. To show him as a different kind of politician.
A good political strategy, however, is not about the President winning small fights -if he wins them at all- but to prepare the Mexican government to handle the huge challenges that the country faces. It is not being so. AMLO is not buying time while at the same time working hard to devise a better strategy in the face of the pandemic, insecurity, or the economic crisis. The President says he is on the right track and that he is very happy and that he harbors no hate.
A successful communication strategy should help to persuade a significant part of the electorate that the route followed by the President is the correct one. Due to his constant faux pas, AMLO’s support base is narrowing and the gap with those who do not agree with him is growing.
Does AMLO believe that he needs the referendum or the raffle for rallying his support? If so, the President’s inner circle must be very concerned.
One problem for those leaders who are either revered or feared by his inner circle is that no one dares to contradict them. The automatic praise of his most loyal supporters isolates AMLO. Power is lonely. When one surrounds oneself with meek advisors incapable to tell you the truth, it is very easy to lose ground. Surely more than one in AMLO’s inner circle has celebrated him for the alleged success of raffling off the presidential jet. AMLO himself has already announced that he will organize another raffle next year.
* 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