President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration has a thirst for centralization only rivaled by its managerial incompetence. In a global pandemic like today’s, that makes for a deadly combination. Yet, López Obrador’s Covid-19 strategy remains unchanged.
The Mexican president decides everything and executes policies in an opaque way. For example, Mexican citizens do not know for certain the content of the Covid-19 vaccine deals that the López Obrador administration signed. The only thing we do know is that for three days last week the Mexican government applied an average of 6,600 daily vaccines.
Mexico’s absurd centralized vaccination strategy strives for a trifecta: vaccinate, spread propaganda, and show who is in charge. No other country in the world is doing it like this. Unlike Mexico, no country has opted to favor vaccinating teachers and political operatives before health workers.
We did not have to go through this. Mexico had the resources to buy enough Covid-19 vaccines and the capability to develop an effective strategy to administer them.
Imagine if the López Obrador administration had acknowledged in August that the pandemic was out of control and decided to call on Mexican civil society to design and deploy the best possible vaccination strategy. That’s what the López Obrador government should have done if it truly believed that ‘the Mexican homeland comes first’.
Instead of pressuring leading Mexican businessmen to buy tickets for the so-called “raffle” of the presidential jet, the López Obrador could have used his enormous power to obtain financing and aid to buy vaccines and administer them. For example, he could have engaged the Mexican private sector to vaccinate all its employees along with their families. That could have been not only successful but also commended by Mexico’s businessmen. Vaccinating is ridiculously cheap against the cost of not doing it. A scientific and ethical committee could have drawn up vaccination rules to do it fairly across all sectors of Mexican society. The country would be in much better shape.
Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim did understand early on how important it would be for the country to have access to the Covid-19 vaccine. Using his business acumen, Slim managed to secure access to AstraZeneca’s for Mexico and part of Latin America. The arrangement was announced on August 12. Sensibly, Mr. Slim has not made a big deal of it. Thanks to this effort, Latin America will have access to 150-250 million vaccines. Under the deal, Mexico alone will get 77 million. That is the bulk of Mexico’s confirmed Covid-19 vaccines.
The Covid-19 vaccination challenge has laid governments bare. In the U.S., former president Donald Trump understood that a vaccine was required and invested billions of dollars to fund its development. While Trump bungled the vaccination strategy, the U.S. federal government did not become a bureaucratic bottleneck hindering everything, as it happened in Mexico. In total, the U.S. has applied more than 44 million vaccine doses while Mexico has only administered 723,000 doses.
There is no recipe for how much centralization is ideal in the current global vaccination effort. It can work when countries have competent institutions. The British government bought the required doses in time and leaned on its powerful public health system to vaccinate its population in an orderly and expedient manner. More than 13.7 million have been inoculated. Great Britain hopes to have covered its entire adult population by the first half of 2021.
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) offers a case of failed centralization in administering Covid-19 vaccines. The EU took a long time to buy vaccines due to the intricate internal negotiations among member countries about how and what to buy. Health decisions had not come under the aegis of the European Commission. The EU made a mistake in trying to centralize vaccine purchases.
The López Obrador administration insists that every aspect in society must be centralized. Mexicans are paying for it with thousands of Covid-19 deaths and with a failed vaccination strategy. Now, López Obrador is setting its centralizing ambitions on the Mexican electricity sector. The president has proposed a legal reform that would violate several precepts in the Mexican Constitution. Moreover, no argument can be made that the reform will make electricity cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable. It will lead to disaster in power generation. López Obrador argues that the Mexican state, however, would be able to “recover its sovereignty” through this reform. This is the code word for saying they will centralize the electricity sector, regardless of the cost for the economy.
* 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