Last week, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said: “When you have to choose between law or justice, justice must prevail. The law is made for man, not man for law.”
Under AMLO’s legal doctrine, the law is, at best, a tool for his goals. At worst, it is an annoying obstacle. It is never a limit.
For him, the important thing in the exercise of power is to pursue fairness. When he talked about his plan to “raffle off” the Presidential jet earlier this year, AMLO argued that: “the ends are sublime and that’s what justice is”. This because allegedly, the raffle was made to help Mexican government hospitals.
This Presidential jet’s raffle was carried out even though, according to AMLO, there was “a tangle of regulations that prevent progress.” This is almost a confession that he violated various rules along the way to conduct the raffle. A very questionable US $91 million donation by the Mexican Attorney’s General office surrounding the raffle became a painful legal mess. For AMLO, this does not matter as long the goal is fair. He knows when things are fair and what not.
For AMLO, the State is him. That is why he would have been furious if the Mexican Supreme Court would have determined that AMLO’s proposal to launch a referendum that forces the prosecution against five former Mexican Presidents. What greater justice exists than to ask the people “if they want to judge their predecessors?
It is understandable that AMLO -who took office in December 2018- had different goals from those of the past. That is why a large majority elected him, fed up with the abuses of the powerful. But that does not mean that you can do what you want simply because his ends are sublime. That is another form of abuse. It is much worse because we know that AMLO’s personality does not tend to be fair and impartial.
Two years after his party gained control of the Mexican Congress, we can assume that the law in Mexico today is fundamentally what AMLO wants it to be. Not even having control of Congress during the past two years has been enough. Last week, the President said: “it turns out that nothing can be done because of regulations!” That is the reason AMLO wants the Mexican Congress to pass a budget law that gives him all the power.
AMLO he can do whatever he wants in his ranch in southern Mexico. But he does not as head of state. AMLO swore to respect the Constitution. This implies not only complying with the annoying formalities of rules and regulations, but with all key principles emanating from the Constitution.
Some of the laws passed during AMLO’s term seem to have gone beyond constitutional boundaries. We are waiting for Mexico’s Supreme Court to decide it. Yet the Court has been too slow in processing several challenges against some of these laws.
A central aim of the Constitution is to limit political power. You can only do what the law explicitly states. The Constitution clearly defines what an official can do. AMLO’s subordinates must obey the law first and not their boss.
However, working in AMLO’s team implies being willing to break the law to pursue some sublime end. In September, the head of Mexico’s Institute to Return Stolen Goods to the People (INDEP), Jaime Cárdenas, resigned after only little more than 100 years in his post. Cárdenas said he detected major irregularities inside INDEP. These irregularities including precious gemstones going missing from seized jewelry destined for auction. His bosses in AMLO’s government did not seem to care. Cárdenas said he also grew weary of asking the administration on “complying with administrative regulations, [which] at times […] were seen as an obstacle to decision-making and to achieving results”.
AMLO wants that those projects that are close to his heart be completed. It does not matter what the law says. In the words of Cárdenas: “They surely expected loyalty from me, which, of course, I had, but my loyalty was not blind. It was a reflexive loyalty.”
There is little self-introspection among officials in the AMLO government. Blind loyalty dominates. I do not know how his most ardent officials are going to take their boss latest phrase: “Loyalty to people turns, most of the time, into abjection and into subservience”.
* 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