The recent scene in the Mexican Congress was to be seen to be believed. One by one, the members of president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s governing coalition rehashed data and arguments devoid of logic or basis, in defense of their leader’s electricity reform. I do not know if they bought it themselves, but they closed with the guru’s mantra: “it is in the interest of Mexico’s national sovereignty”.
The concept of “national sovereignty” is useless when talking about energy today. The relevant concept is energy security. Currently, none of Mexico’s state-owned energy companies -oil producer PEMEX and power utility CFE- can pay the investment required not to rely on imported gas from Texas to generate electricity. Ensuring energy security for Mexico in this case would involve having sufficient gas and gasoline storage capacity, a variety of energy sources supply, better transmission and distribution lines, good regulation, and the ability to extract gas from unconventional fields located in northeastern Mexico, like those in Texas. All these actions were foreseen in the now-scrapped 2013 electricity law. Everything was canceled by the López Obrador’s administration from day one in 2018.
There is no country in the world that follows a model like the one now chosen by the Mexican government, which consists of first connecting the most expensive power plants to the electricity grid, property of an ineffective state-run company as CFE. No country prefers using fuel oil over clean energy. There is no recognized expert in the world who recommends this path. But that is the one López Obrador favors.
And so, lacking an analysis of the costs and implications of the new reform, running counter to the global trend of cleaner energy, risking a shortfall in the electricity required by Mexico, knowing that it is a violation of the Mexican Constitution and in violation of the USMCA trade deal, López Obrador’s steamroller in Congress turned a deaf ear to every counterargument offered by the opposition. The legislative process was mere pretense.
To work for president López Obrador is to accept his will. If he wants a train barreling through the Yucatán peninsula, best to build it. If López Obrador defends an alleged rapist as candidate of Morena for governorship of the state of Guerrero, best to forget the grievance. If he is concerned about the security of the palace where he lives, best to build a wall like no other. López Obrador does not like being defied, in public or in private.
Those leaders who make decisions unchecked end up mired in ridiculous projects. It happened to Argentina’s Juan Domingo Perón in the 1950s, when a Nazi-linked con-man convinced him that he could build a nuclear power device that could generate unlimited power. Perón set up an entire laboratory for him near the town of Bariloche in Patagonia. It was a monumental failure.
No one dares tell the Mexican king that he is naked. Many know that he has no clothes, although more than one believes him and is convinced of the moral and intellectual superiority of their leader. Political cartoonist Rafael Barajas, also known as El Fisgón, said last year: “Very often I do not agree with things Andrés Manuel (López Obrador) says. But now, my reaction is to ask myself: ‘What am I not understanding?’ And yes, I realize that very often, in the long run, he is right, and this you can eventually see.”
Having people believe López Obrador does not legitimize anything. About 75 percent of Republicans in the US, believe Donald Trump was victim of fraud in the past presidential election.
To avoid a one-man government, democracies set up a separation of powers, as well as a technical rationale space for complex decision-making, which cannot depend on the whim of a single person.
This has ceased to exist in Mexico. Congress does López Obrador’s bidding. They know that his electricity reform is unconstitutional. However, they hope that by the time legal challenges against the new reform reach the Mexican Supreme Court, it will be packed with at least a third of justices loyal to López Obrador, which is enough to defeat any action of unconstitutionality.
And forget about the technical rationale behind the electricity reform. This Mexican administration believes that that the idea of seeking out top experts to conduct sophisticated analysis in search of the optimal choice is a sign of moral perversion. What for, if there is already someone who sooner or later is right: president López Obrador, cult leader and founder.
* 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