Undoubtedly, each government forges its own history, some due to their achievements, others because of their dogmatism. If something characterizes the current Mexican government, it’s its absolute lack of ability (or willingness) to learn. Since it arrived in power in December 2018, the López Obrador administration’s script has been absolute and set in stone. Nothing can alter it even if conditions changes radically, as it ensued with the Covid-19 pandemic. The results of the government’s first year in office clearly displayed the price of the López Obrador administration’s stubbornness. While a good part of López Obrador’s presidential campaign in 2019 hinged on criticizing Mexico’s low growth rates (on average) and intolerable corruption, the first year achieved the milestone of decreasing the country’s growth rate to negative territory. And it also did nothing more than elevate and legitimize the corruption of its own cadres. The second year was full of pandemic-fueled setbacks, without the administration’s dogmas changing in any way.
After a year of near-total paralysis, catastrophe looms in Mexico. You don’t have to be an expert to realize that, instead of strategy, the López Obrador administration harbored a hope: that the pandemic would resolve itself. Now, 12 months later, the Mexican government doesn’t even have a vaccination strategy. From the beginning of this unusual crisis, the López Obrador administrations’ only goal has been to help its political base for electoral purposes. Most Mexicans can go resort to their own devices (a more appropriate expression for the feeling exists). In a word, there never was, nor is there now, a health strategy. It took president López Obrador a year to learn precisely nothing.
Experts state that the risk of not advancing at a brisk rate with vaccination is twofold: on the one hand, Mexico could end up isolated from the world, a leper colony-type with whom nobody wants to interact, which could even affect exports, our main source of growth. On the other hand, as professor Ian Goldin of Oxford University says, “the longer this takes, the greater the risk of mutations which could render the vaccines impotent, as is already apparently happening in South Africa”. In other words, continuing to do nothing involves risking an unimaginable crisis both on the health and the economic fronts. A catastrophe.
Of course, not everything is the Mexican government’s fault. The entire world is dealing with the problem of vaccine shortages, compounded by detrimental responses toward defeating a virus whose core characteristic is its ubiquity, in that it strikes everyone and crosses borders no matter what walls some nations want to erect. The European Union recently imposed controls on vaccine exports, when some of the main laboratories (starting with Pfizer in Belgium) that manufacture them for the whole world are located in its territory.
All of this, however, does not excuse the Mexican government’s lack of foresight. Its disregard has been such that the only really existing plan is the one developed and financed by Carlos Slim for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Everything else has been casuistic, leaving the country helpless and dependent and at the mercy of what is, at least for now, a sellers’ market. While many governments in the world have suffered from the same inability to foresee and anticipate next steps, what sets ours apart is its absolute unwillingness to learn. Successful models are not a state secret: they are visible and many nations have tweaked their strategy when it has not proven effective. All except Mexico: the only important thing here is not to lose June’s midterm elections.
The Mexican government erred in the diagnosis, clung to an unsuccessful strategy, miscommunicated (or better deceived), did not foresee vaccine purchase, and still has the gall to state that “we are doing fine.”
The contradictions of the anti-Covid-19 “strategy” are ample. The López Obrador administration has made it clear that it has unspeakable goals, which are no less real, starting with the fact that its goal isn’t to solve the issue of the pandemic, but to preserve its majority in the Mexican Lower House of Congress intact. Other contradictions have stemmed from this prodigious unwillingness to learn: for example, the evidence to date does not confirm that this virus produces permanent immunity. That has not led to modifying what appears to be Mexico’s actual strategy from the beginning: achieve “herd immunity” without the vaccine, regardless of how much it denies it or might be a delusion. This would imply that the loss of life would continue to grow endlessly.
Then, when reality- in the form of 513,000 Covid-19 deaths- overtook López Obrador’s, the government embarked on a new adventure: “stick it to Uncle Sam”. The Chinese or Russian vaccines may end up being just as effective as the others, but circumstances suggest that the Mexican government decided to play geopolitics by mischievously buying vaccines from those who are challenging “our” power in the big leagues. Of course, there is nothing wrong with acting with sovereignty in mind, but this course of action stinks more of 1960s student radicalism than a well thought out plan for duly steering the country’s development going forward.
Waterloo marked Napoleon’s defeat and it changed the history of Europe. If we continue down the current government’s path, only the clumsiness of the opposition could prevent a similar outcome.
* Luis Rubio is chairman of México Evalúa-CIDAC and former chairman of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI). A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @lrubio