The government of president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s seems determined to ruin its international reputation. It seems to believe that it is immune to the consequences of its actions. The power and influence of criminal organizations in Mexico has grown so much that they no longer bother to keep a low profile. At this pace, Mexico could become a narco-state. Some people believe this is already the case.
The government’s bad reputation hurts us all. It increases the risk of investing in Mexico, which becomes an inconvenient business partner. This bad perception makes transactions with Mexicans more expensive, by requiring foreign firms and investors to be more cautious. It makes Mexico a dangerous tourist destination, and it even complicates it for Mexicans to travel abroad, given that visa requirements increase. This already happened when Peru asked Mexicans for a visa due to the presence of Mexican cartels in this country.
It would be irresponsible to accuse López Obrador of being in cahoots with the drug cartels without having proof. I will not do it. But let’s take a look at appearances from the perspective of someone abroad who does not know Mexico.
After several successful drug kingpin captures during previous Mexican administrations, López Obrador’s attempt to arrest Ovidio Guzmán -son of convicted drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán- was such a comedy of errors that president López Obrador was forced to illegally order his release. Weeks later, president López Obrador went out of his way to pay his respects to El Chapo’s mother, while visiting his state. Months later, he apologized for having accidentally called Guzman by his nickname, during a press conference. The same president who routinely denigrates Mexican journalists and berates his adversaries apologized for offending El Chapo, a murderous criminal.
But there is more. The recently approved legislative changes to Mexico’s National Security Law is a dream come true for the drug cartels, given that they make bilateral cooperation with U.S. law enforcement agencies (DEA, FBI and CIA) nearly impossible. Without the intelligence that these agencies provide, the increasingly weak Mexican peers become totally innocuous. Mexico’s credibility as a crime fighting partner and its relationship with the U.S. are at risk.
The legislative proposal to force Mexico’s Central Bank (BANXICO) to buy surplus dollars –in cash- from Mexican commercial banks would facilitate money laundering. It would compromise the integrity of the BANXICO, one of the few Mexican institutions that enjoys unanimous international respect. López Obrador’s majority in the Mexican Congress are pushing such change just to help Banco Azteca which recently lost its correspondent bank in the U.S. -Lone Star National Bank- after the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN) sanctioned it for violating AML legislation, precisely because of its relationship with Banco Azteca. The proposal has been unanimously rejected by BANXICO’s Board of Governors, by the Mexican Banking Association (ABM), by the Mexican National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV) and by Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). Despite the Mexican Senate’s decision to delay the debate on the proposal until February, the influence of Banco Azteca’s founder, Ricardo Salinas Pliego, with the López Obrador administration keeps growing. Why?
At the same time, the López Obrador administration is risking the Mexican Armed Forces to being infiltrated by criminal organizations. The recent arrest in the U.S. of Mexico’s former Defense Minister, Salvador Cienfuegos, is the best example of such risk. Someone could cast doubt on the reasons why López Obrador decided to give the military the control over Mexico’s seaports and customs operations. Let’s not forget that the Mexican Pacific ports (like Lázaro Cárdenas and Manzanillo) are the main gateways for Chinese fentanyl entering North America. Also, someone could be suspicious of why López Obrador has decided to hand the control of the new Felipe Ángeles airport in Central Mexico to the military, since it could potentially offer an optimal point of entry for drugs from South America into Mexico.
Observers not used to dealing with a government that improvises public policy -like López Obrador’s does- must be highly suspicious that every decision benefits criminal organizations. Doubts should grow even more when they realize that López Obrador has always been an enemy of transparency: nobody knows what was his source of income for over decade, or how he financed his several political campaigns. Moreover, a video recently surfaced where his own brother was shown receiving cash “to finance his presidential campaign”, that was never reported to electoral authorities, as the law mandates. The incident was never properly investigated.
Mexico needs accountability and transparency. The country needs international help to fight transnational criminal organizations. It is urgent to reverse the increasing militarization of security tasks. Mexico needs a well-funded and truly independent Attorney General Office (FGR). Legislative changes presented by López Obrador’s party in Congress (MORENA) to would further weaken control mechanisms would be a colossal mistake.
Mexico is going from bad to worse and the country’s deterioration is accelerating. Let’s vote in Mexico’s 2021 midterm election as if the future of the country depended on it because, in fact, it does.
* 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