Officials in the López Obrador administration usually attach the adjectives “regrettable” and “unfortunate” when referring to Mexico’s more than 150,000 Covid-19 mortal victims. It would seem that government officials were handed a manual of death-appropriate words.
Administration officials have been very disciplined in using these adjectives, but unfortunately their scant empathy with hundreds of thousands of grieving Mexicans who have lost relatives is noticeable. In fact, López Obrador officials have frequently been photographed smiling and carefree. They are enjoying power, without shouldering the responsibility that comes with it.
One example, of many, of that unfortunate flippancy with which they dwell in power occurred last Thursday. During his morning press conference, president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) spoke for almost nine minutes about baseball, the Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, the role of journalism, and whatever else that caught his fancy. Unruffled amid new record Covid-19 deaths, AMLO seemed to have the luxury of time. Only a retiree would be so lucky.
I don’t know how AMLO bears, devoid of concern, those deaths that would have been avoidable had he made other decisions. How many Mexicans would be alive today if he had simply set the example and used a face mask since day one of the pandemic or even started doing so a month ago?
AMLO is currently sick with Covid-19. We hope he gets well soon, but his team did not fathom the virus’ enormity a year ago. Neither the magnitude of the tragedy today. What is he doing to alleviate the worst health crisis in Mexico City’s history?
AMLO seems to believe that he can make the problem disappear by talking about anything else. And to a certain extent, he is right. There is practically no public debate about his responsibility for the government’s shortcomings in the face of tragedy.
The Mexican President’s regrettable lack of empathy taints his decisions. Donald Trump heaped anguish on millions of Mexicans during his term in office, not only with his actions (his repeated and unsuccessful attempts to scrap the DACA program were a source of great anxiety for its nearly 700,000 beneficiaries, most of Mexican origin), but also with his speech. There is evidence of an increase in hate crimes against Mexicans after Trump’s arrival to the White House in 2017. His defeat should be celebrated by a government concerned with Mexicans’ welfare. But AMLO considered Trump a friend. Except when he used him to stop poor Central American migrants, Trump did not bother AMLO.
A true left-wing Mexican government should be celebrating Joe Biden’s rise to power. The United States has decided to return to the World Health Organization (WHO) and take part in the COVAX global facility to bring vaccines to the poorest countries. More importantly, Biden has proposed a change in U.S. immigration policy: no more separation of asylum-seeking families, support for “Dreamers”, and a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. These are measures that enhance the well-being of millions of Mexicans.
AMLO has at least applauded this latest policy change on migration. However, a pro-Trump Mexican left has emerged along the way. It is one of the most bizarre things I have ever witnessed. Today, science, data, and ideology do not matter. Only political logic does.
I think there is another reason that explains AMLO’s discomfort with a Biden administration: it will reflect badly on him. Biden is going to tackle Covid-19 and will not sidestep it by talking about things like baseball. He has laid out an ambitious plan to face the crisis. Unlike Republicans, who believe that the government is there to obstruct, Democrats believe that it is a powerful tool that can be used to benefit people.
I concur. Amid the anguish of the pandemic, a competent government makes all the difference. Unfortunately, the Mexican government does not seem to believe in its ability to deal with Covid-19. López Obrador is still engrossed with his personal projects, like building an oil refinery in southern Mexico.
Mexico has never had the need of an effective, people-oriented government as it has today. We need a government that is not just preoccupied with talking and winning the next election.
* 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