During his almost two years in office, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has repeatedly thanked Mexican immigrants in the United States for the remittances they regularly send back to their families back home. In a video distributed via social media last week, AMLO thanked them again as he engaged in a baseball practice and shared his predictions for the Major League World Series. AMLO ended the video by acknowledging those Mexicans working abroad and saying: “Now that we need them the most, the more they are helping us! Even despite the (Covid-19) pandemic. This (help migrants provide) is pulling us out of the hole”.
AMLO spends his days talking and talking. He is happy with the world revolving around him. And so it is: Mexico’s public conversation is defined by him. This column is one more proof.
I believe it is not merely a political strategy: AMLO believes that everything has to do with him. When someone criticizes his actions, he never acknowledges any wrongdoing. In his mind, AMLO believes that he is the victim of a “conspiracy” of Mexican conservatives. AMLO is always ready to use data he considers positive in his favor, like the rise in migrant remittances, saying that all this is only happening because Mexican migrants want to help his government.
The President should not be thanking Mexican migrants. He should rather be asking them for forgiveness. Mexican migrant workers in the US already endure enormous hardships and should not be feeling the pressure to send even more money to their relatives amid a pandemic. In the face of such a high number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in Mexico, along with a deep economic crisis, many Mexican families in the poorest areas of the country have incurred in huge expenses. In many cases this situation has drained their few savings. When Mexican migrants send them money, they are doing it for their families, not to help AMLO.
AMLO should thank the United States government for these record-high remittances. The US expansive economic policy, including personalized stimulus checks to millions of US citizens, explains in part the availability of cash among workers of Mexican origin in the US and therefore the possibility of sending more resources to their relatives in Mexico. By the way, AMLO has not implemented such relief for the Mexican population.
According to data provided by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), arrests of Mexican migrants at the US border have increased 26 percent when compared to 2019. In his egocentric mind, AMLO could end up thanking the high number of Mexicans increasingly leaving the country in search for work in the US. AMLO must believe that Mexicans are leaving the country because they know that ultimately AMLO will recognize them for the remittances they send.
German sociologist Max Weber wrote once that a politician “has to overcome a quite trivial and all-too-human enemy: a quite vulgar vanity, the deadly enemy of all matter-of-fact devotion to a cause, and of all distance, in this case, of distance towards one’s self”. AMLO cannot distance himself from his ego. During his early morning press conferences, AMLO likes to say he never hides his feelings. “My chest is not a safe”, he says. Regularly, AMLO’s speeches are full with lies along with insults and personal attacks against his chosen imaginary adversary of the day. This kind of communication has worked for him both in media and politically.
AMLO also likes to feed his ego. He seems to believe Mexicans cannot wait to hear his forecasts and opinions on baseball. In the video last week, does he think that he is in a stadium full of fans applauding him for being a good hitter?
One thing AMLO keeps doing is kicking the country’s problems down the road. It is offensive to see the Mexican President practicing baseball during a weekday when he should be rather solving things in his office. Covid-19 cases are rising in several Mexican states. More than 90,000 Mexicans have officially died from Covid-19, according to highly underestimated government numbers. Mexican health authorities are mostly focused on implementing mitigation measures (saying that Mexicans must take better care of themselves) but they are not launching any containment strategy to avoid a rebound.
Following a narcissistic logic, AMLO is wasting public money in building new baseball stadiums around the country and promoting the sport that “our great leader” happens to worship. What AMLO actually says through his baseball videos is that the thing that really matters to him is satisfying his tastes, whims, and campaign needs, not the needs of the country.
In his enormous vanity, AMLO cannot realize how much he looks like the typical Mexican politician of our authoritarian past: President Adolfo López Mateos (1958-1964) liked expensive cars. President José López Portillo (1976-1982) loved riding horses. López Obrador plays baseball.
* 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