One of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s most ardent supporters, 30-year old political activist Antonio Attolini stated recently that president AMLO (as he is popularly known) had similarities to some larger-than-life figures: “(His) idea of sacrifice for the sake of a greater good could recall the greatest leaders in history. Perhaps he does resemble them in that: […] Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, Luther King, Mandela. He’s at that level”. Another vocal AMLO supporter, activist, and TV presenter Estefanía Veloz went even further: You can’t compare AMLO and Jesus, because “Jesus did not fill the Zócalo (Mexico City’s main square) so many times”. Now that the political campaigns ahead of Mexico’s June 2021 midterm elections have started, his Lord and Saviour (AMLO) rewarded Mr. Attolini with a candidacy for member of the Mexican Congress.
AMLO likes to talk about Jesus and draw parallels: “I am a follower of Jesus Christ…because he defended the poor and was against (the exploitation of) the oppressed”. According to his interpretation of Christian theodicy, AMLO believes that, just like Jesus sacrificed himself for the poor around him, he is sacrificing himself for the poorest Mexicans.
This is false. AMLO lives happily in Mexico’s elegant National Palace, not in the modest house he promised while running for office in 2018. AMLO is enjoying power as I had never seen any other Mexican president do before. All this amid the pain of hundreds of thousands of deaths, many of them directly attributed to the AMLO administration’s poor decisions in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to government estimates, Mexico saw 417,002 excess deaths from January 2020 to mid-February 2021, 71 percent of them Covid-19-related. That means that about one in every 250 Mexicans has died of Covid-19 or causes associated with it. Among Mexico’s urban poor, entire families have been mowed down. Amid this Dantesque scenario, AMLO has found the time to smilingly brag on social media about his baseball playing skills.
On the night of his electoral victory in 2018, AMLO promised that his administration will govern for all Mexicans: “We will listen to everyone, we will serve everyone, we will respect everyone.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Among AMLO’s most controversial decisions was his decision not to vaccinate most health workers of Mexico’s private hospitals despite many of them treating Covid-19 patients. Still, AMLO has found enough vaccines for his own legion of political operatives across Mexico and teachers in the southern state of Campeche. The AMLO administration has not even been able to fully vaccinate health workers in Mexico’s government-run hospitals. Needless to say, many doctors and nurses who are not dealing directly with the virus are also dying from Covid-19. Mexico leads the world in Covid-19 deaths among health workers, with a total of 2,159 as of March 25, according to estimates by Mexico’s UNAM university researcher Héctor Hernández.
More vaccine doses began arriving in Mexico a few weeks ago, very overdue the promised schedule. But over 5 million are stockpiled in warehouses. AMLO has decided not to resort to Mexico’s Social Security Institute (IMSS) infrastructure or the wide network of private pharmacies and hospitals to administer them. AMLO wants to control each vaccine dose and show it off, even if it unnecessarily slows down the process. In the U.S., CVS pharmacy locations can administer 20 million doses a month on their own. As of April 8, Mexico had administered a total of 10 million vaccine doses among a population of 126 million.
Thousands of Mexicans run the risk of becoming ill and dying each day vaccination is delayed. Every elderly person who gets vaccinated in crowded places faces the same risk.
If AMLO were a man close to the teachings of Jesus, he would do everything to vaccinate the greatest number of Mexicans as quickly as possible. He would not be thinking about the political returns. To achieve the goal of vaccinating all Mexicans as soon as possible, he would ask the private sector for help.
AMLO gave us a few days of respite during Easter (barring some tweets about Jesus). I had hoped he could take those days to reflect on the health and well-being of Mexicans. I also hoped that we could witness a kind of resurrection after the Easter break: a returning AMLO willing to sacrifice his political and ideological interests for the sake of greater well-being for all. Ignoring those Pharisee followers who surround and praise him without ceasing could be a first step in that direction. It has not happened.
* 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