In these chronicles about the destruction of Mexico’s institutions, economy and democracy since the new government took over on December 1, 2018, I have only identified the leader of the gang of demolishers – the country’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as ‘AMLO’ for his initials). But in order to undertake such an enormous devastating enterprise in a country of 130 million people, almost 2 million square kilometers and a GDP of US$1.4 trillion, the 14th largest in the world, he clearly needed a large group of accomplices and enablers.
Interestingly, his cabinet is composed of a collection of mediocrities, most of whom had no previous experience in the high-level government responsibilities that were given to them. This is understandable since the only light that shines in the government is AMLO’s own, as he performs as its spokesman and only star, in early morning daily press gatherings dubbed the mañaneras –which is slang for a sexual encounter in the morning, as they are mostly cheer-leading sessions attended by his adoring fans, not by the serious media.
The president contradicts or scolds his employees in public, whenever they dare depart from the obdurate script that he has defined for them in their assigned areas of responsibility, and they submissively acquiesce to the master’s whims. The sole exception in more than a year of AMLO’s arrival to power was his initial finance minister, Carlos Urzúa, who clearly saw that it would be impossible to maintain economic equilibrium and fulfill his boss’ capricious waste of money galore in doomed projects and massive vote-buying operations for future elections by giving money away to 22 million people. Urzúa resigned his position, went back to academia and remains a severe critic of the government.
What follows is a sketch of three of the members of the team that accompany and support AMLO in his devastating effort. In future texts, I will review his other key abettors in this disastrous endeavor.
Marcelo Ebrard, dubbed the super-secretary, and by some, even the virtual vice-president, is an old apparatchik of the PRI, the party that dominated Mexican politics for seven decades, but when he saw the doors of opportunity closing, he jumped ship, first to the PRD, a coalition of left-wingers and disgruntled ex-PRI members, and then followed AMLO into his new outfit, Morena (Renewal National Movement). He performed badly as Mexico City’s mayor from 2006 to 2012, and at the end of his tenure was forced to flee the country to France, the land of his ancestors, amid suspicion of a massive fraud committed in the construction of a new subway line he allegedly participated in, among claims of embezzlement and dishonesty.
AMLO put Ebrard in charge of foreign relations since he is virtually the only cabinet member who speaks foreign languages, and was given the tasks of finalizing the detrimental new US-Canada-Mexico trade agreement, which will cost the country seriously in terms of employment and competitiveness, and to represent his boss in all foreign meetings, since AMLO, who comes from a small tropical hamlet, refuses to travel abroad, mindful that he would be completely out of his depth.
Under his boss’ orders, Ebrard became the welcome mat for the US President Donald Trump’s every whim, including stopping by brutal military force the caravans of Central American refugees traversing Mexico, on their way to seek asylum in the US. Mexico also bowed, under strict orders from Washington, to a plan dubbed “Remain in Mexico”, forcing the country to receive, so far, more than 70,000 asylum seekers that reached the US and were returned to Mexico, in dismal conditions and probably for years, until their applications are reviewed. Ebrard dreams of becoming AMLO’s successor, but his shifting and opportunistic political career has not helped him. He is not considered a true follower by AMLO’s fanatical fans.
Arturo Durazo, in charge of homeland security, has absolutely no knowledge or experience in the delicate and complex area now under his responsibility. All his previous experiences in government were limited to being a courtier, first as the “private secretary” – a position that manages the agenda of his boss – of the PRI candidate to the presidency in 1994, who was assassinated four months before the election in Sonora, Durazo’s home state. Amazingly, he was invited to occupy the same position with clueless president Vicente Fox (2000-06), a former Coca-Cola salesman turned politician, from the right-wing PAN (National Action Party), after having supported AMLO in 2006 and again in 2012. Fox and AMLO had exactly the opposite ideology, a fact which makes Durazo’s career impossible to fathom, except for his extraordinary abilities as an opportunist.
It is clear that Durazo, a political carpetbagger with no ideas or principles, has failed dismally in his job of pacifying the country, which under his direction and following his boss’ mantra that violence should be fought “with hugs and not with shots”, achieved an all-time record number of assassinations in 2019 – 35,600 – while he boasted to a perplexed national audience that the “trend had changed since the rate of growth of crime and violence was not as steep as in previous years.” All experts in national security project that the situation will only get much worse since the ridiculous “strategy” followed by AMLO’s government and orchestrated by Durazo, will continue to fail dismally.
Alfonso Romo is perhaps AMLO’s most important enabler, since he has been a prominent businessman from the key industrial stronghold of Monterrey, and had the difficult job of rounding up support for his champion from a private sector, which had very good reasons to be wary of the president’s leadership and ideology. Romo sold them the idea that AMLO would not follow the radically populist promises he made repeatedly on the campaign trail, suggesting they were a bunch of lies to gather the support of the uncouth, ignorant and marginalized fervent fanatics of the leader, and that he would govern rationally once he was elected.
Romo was quite successful in selling such balderdash to many entrepreneurs, including international investors, but each and every promise that he made regarding the “true and more rational AMLO,” has proved to be a lie, beginning with the cancellation of Mexico City’s magnificent new airport, which would have been comparable to the new aerodromes in Beijing and Istanbul. Romo swore it would be finished – 35% of the work had been completed – but AMLO canceled when he was president-elect, even before he took office.
The same happened to the energy reform that was undertaken in the previous administration, to finally open-up the country’s energy sector for competition and private investment – oil and electricity sectors mismanaged for many decades by two inept and corrupt state-owned monopolies. Romo swore that the reform would stand, but AMLO and the accomplices he put in charge – all of them close allies, completely ignorant about energy and unqualified to head those crucial industries, did exactly the opposite and have blocked all efforts to modernize the energy sector.
Romo, whose formal title is AMLO’s Head of Cabinet, is supposed to be his boss’ bridge with the private sector to ensure that confidence and investment remain high. But in his 15 months in the job, the populist soul and impulses of the president have thwarted any confidence that the private sector might have that his would be a rational, growth- and investment-friendly administration since it is exactly the opposite.
Despite all his pledges to “reconstruct Mexico because there is a lack of ethical values and morals”, Romo himself has a dubious record of business integrity, having performed shady deals that set him in a collision course with his powerful father-in-law, and led him to being ostracized by the mighty coalition of the 10 most influential entrepreneurs in Monterrey. His tawdry business trail was revealed in the US by the Wall Street Journal.
Manuel Suárez-Mier is an economist and former central bank official, economic diplomat, professor at Georgetown and American universities. He is currently consulting in Washington DC; firstname.lastname@example.org