Early in December, I was invited to debate Elvira Concheiro PhD, a Marxist sociologist and expert on German philosopher Friedrich Engels, on the occasion of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s second anniversary in office. No one knew at the time that only a few days later, the President would appoint Concheiro as Treasurer of Mexico, a key position where she will be responsible for managing the federal government’s daily cash position among other functions.
During my debate with Concheiro, I was incensed by her lack of empathy for the more than 100,000 Mexicans (officially) killed by the Covid-19 pandemic, by her questioning of the official data in which I based my arguments, by the fact that she stated that Mexico had been transformed without supporting it with evidence, and by her stating that no-bid contracts were an effective tool against government corruption (!). Concheiro fell into all the cheap rhetorical devices used by the President’s devotees. She disqualified me from the start. She did not attempt to refute my arguments or offer her own. She took refuge in common phrases drenched in dogma and resorted to questioning my motives for criticizing the López Obrador administration. Those who listened to our debate, can appreciate better the character of someone like Concheiro who has never held management or financial responsibilities and who has now been appointed to serve in a top Mexican government position that requires, by law, specialized skills and financial knowledge.
Concheiro’s designation as Treasurer of Mexico was the most evident, clear and abrupt action by the López Obrador: he gave away an influential government position to a radical, far-left militant who does not meet the most basic job requirements. The very fact that she was appointed to this post helped me to understand better the mess of López Obrador’s national project. Why pick someone from the most radical wing of the Mexican left as Treasurer? Concheiro was a member of the Mexican Communist Party, she was very close to iconic leader Arnoldo Martínez Verdugo, and is the sister of the current undersecretary of education (who is known for organizing land invasions in the seventies). As the millionaire heirs of a Mexican match company, Concheiro comes from a “caviar left family”. The most basic explanation of why López Obrador selected her is that he simply does not value effective governance. The President’s priority is to hand out plum government posts to members of his governing coalition with the goal of strengthening his base’s loyalty just ahead of Mexico 2021 midterm election.
I also understood that for the radical left wing from which Concheiro comes, the first two years of the López Obrador administration are just the first phase of a much longer political project. In their minds, they need to be patient and tolerate what they see as neoliberal policies: an independent central bank, an open trade policy, alliances with socially conservative parties (like the evangelical PES), joining forces with businessmen and key López Obrador allies like Alfonso Romo, and interact with a new oligarchy loyal to the project. For these leftists, the only goals are: to buy time to systematically weaken Mexican checks and balances and to amass as much power as possible. Once these objectives are achieved, these leftist forces will attempt more radical changes. Among other beliefs, they are convinced that the private sector is immoral because it generates profits. For them, 110,000 Mexicans dead, 12 million new poor, and 33 million unemployed Mexicans are a reasonable cost on their way to achieve the transformation they long for. For this kind of Mexican left, democracy “is the most aristocratic way of governing” as Trotsky said.
The big question is: Who is using whom? Is Mexico’s radical left tolerating a conservative and dim-witted President like López Obrador because it sees him as a “useful idiot”, someone it needs to win power in the coming future? Or, is it rather López Obrador who is taking the radical left for a fool as a way to perpetuate himself in power with its support?
For now, Mexico is the clear loser. With Concheiro’s designation as Treasurer of Mexico, López Obrador is effectively destroying what used to be a technical government post. López Obrador has now effectively managed to dismantle another area of government where specialized knowledge is needed, just as he did with the Ministry of Health, the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) and other crucial bodies. With so many politicians being designated to posts based solely on their loyalty and ideology, who in government will actually get things done?
If López Obrador’s party (Morena) manages to keep its governing majority in the Mexican Lower House in the 2021 midterm elections we are lost. The country is falling apart when a brutal international environment is coming. How will López Obrador please his political clienteles without devastating the government’s public finances? Will he try to tap into the resources in Mexico’s private pension funds (AFORES)? Will he make use of the Central Bank’s international reserves?
Let’s open our eyes before it’s too late.
* 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