Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador showing a two-dollar bill during a press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City on March 18, 2020. Many questions remain unanswered over his leadership. Photo: AFP

No amount of evidence and hard facts are able to move Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) from the world of fantasy and lies that he has built to deceive his countrymen of the awful job he has done at the head of its government.

This is where the metaphor of the Four Horsemen is a useful tool to illustrate the breadth and depth of the tragedy happening to Mexico.

The rider who mounts the white horse represents the pestilence that lashes at the country. According to the latest statistics, Mexico is the number four nation with the most deaths as the result of its inept management of the Covid-19 pandemic, with 67,000 deaths and more than 620,000 proven cases, which according to international health authorities, is a gross underestimate and that the real number is probably 3.5 times larger.

The bad management of the plague has various reasons. AMLO downplayed its depth and dangers from the beginning, declaring repeatedly that the worst was over, despite all the evidence piling up to show it was worsening.

He refused to wear a mask and urged the resumption of normal life and economic activities repeatedly. He subscribes to the mortal blunder that the least number of tests that are done, the lower the scattering of the disease.

As a result of this nonsense, the country has made only 10.8 tests per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the smallest numbers anywhere in the world, and far behind the 68 of Brazil, 34 of India, 99 of Colombia and 56 of Perú.

National health service demolished

Another serious error was aiming to maximize the number of beds available in hospitals and not the number of people cured, which resulted in droves of people being rejected access to treatment that led to an inordinate number of deaths outside the health system.

On top of this, AMLO’s government declared war with the system of procurement and production of medicines and medical supplies that led to widespread scarcities and lack of treatment for other diseases as well.

What is his solution? Create a new government-run monopoly for the import and distribution of these crucial elements to run a health system, which will take years to be up and running.

In one word, the national health service that existed, with lots of defects and problems, was demolished without anything to replace it, except in AMLO’s feverish imagination.

The rider with the red horse represents war, in the case of Mexico against the criminal organizations that keep growing and extending their power as the result of a complete absence of law enforcement from a rudderless government that has no idea what it is doing.

The policy of “hugs and not bullets” predictably resulted in an exponential growth in crime and in de-facto failed states in large areas of the nation.

Murders, kidnappings, disappearances and all sorts of robberies and extorsions continue to pile up in ever larger numbers. Ninety-nine people have been assassinated daily since AMLO took over on December 1, 2018, almost 63,000.

Criminals untroubled

Between January and July this year the number of massacres (429), acts of torture (404), dismemberings (365), desecrated corpses (572) and many other similarly gruesome acts of savagery and violence have continued to grow.

In many cases, the armed power of the criminals is vastly superior to that of the police, the new and ineffectual national guard and even the armed forces.

AMLO confuses talking – something he does non-stop – with acting, and every morning at 6 am he holds a “national security” meeting with the civilian and military personnel in charge of the task.

Given the statistics and the future projections, the meetings are a complete waste of time and clearly distract the officials in charge from their work, which in any case they do badly because most of them have no experience or training to fight criminal organizations.

Thus, it is not surprising that with a clueless leader, no clear and defined strategy and incompetent personnel in charge, the results of the war against crime are so dismally bad.

The third rider has a black horse that in the biblical imagery represents famine, which will come as the result of the total collapse of the economy that in the second quarter of the year fell by 18.9%.

I stick to my forecast that in 2020, GDP will fall by at least 12%, something that is now acknowledged by the central bank in one of its scenarios.

Pet projects

The number of unemployed since the plague started exceeds 12.5 million, 16% of the working-age population, in a country with virtually no safety-net for them since there is no unemployment insurance, and most of them toil in the informal economy where there is no institutional help at all.

The bankruptcies of small and medium-sized businesses have been widespread. According to ECLAC, it is expected that 500,000 business will close their doors for good, and a much larger number in the informal sector that is impossible to measure.

This terrible situation is due to a combination of the pandemic and AMLO’s decision not to implement any counter-cyclical measures, as they have been applied virtually in every other nation.

He is spending the government’s money on his pet projects, like saving the bankrupt oil monopoly (Pemex) and building a useless train in the Mayan peninsula, and in giveaways to people he expects will vote for him and his party in return.

He now boasts that 23 million families are benefiting from his gifts, which would represent 70% of the population, while a few weeks back the figure he gave was 23 million people, 16% of the population.

This is typical of a president that has no time to look at the official figures and makes them up as necessary for his propaganda.

The government has been belligerently harassing investors, in some cases ordering them to stop projects well advanced in their construction, like a large beer plant in the north where Constellation Brands had already sunk in US$1.4 billion.

An unhealthy solution

All private investments in the fields of oil and electricity are on hold since it is evident that the intention of the authorities is to restore absolute control of those areas to the government monopolies that mismanaged them for decades.

The latest invective is against manufactured food products and soft drinks, blaming them for the health problems of the population, but the truth is that some of the owners of the largest corporations in those sectors were vocally opposed to AMLO’s presidential bid, and retribution time has arrived for them.

All of these elements combine to seriously erode private sector confidence in the government, induce large capital flight and the certainty that the country will lose its investment grade later this year or, at the latest, at the beginning of 2021, which will lead to an even more massive loss of capital, foreign and domestic.

The fourth rider is on a ashen horse, in this case it is not death, as in the biblical text, because that is riding in all the other horses. It is AMLO’s frontal assault on the country’s institutions, the rule of law, democracy and honesty in government. 

One of the crucial reasons why he was able to gather 30 million votes in the 2018 election was his promise to fight corruption, although he never said how he would do it, except for bromides like “I will sweep corruption, like a staircase, from top to bottom,” and the constant repetition that he himself exemplified honesty.

Coming from someone whose last regular job ended in 2005 and who has been crisscrossing the country ever since in a permanent campaign, the statement is at the very least dubious.

Hidden riches

He has never shown a tax return, claims to have no properties – suitably, he transferred the ownership of several apartments in Mexico City and his ranch in Tabasco to his sons – to having no bank accounts or credit cards, and says he carries only the equivalent of $10 in his wallet. 

But it is well known, from the beginning of his career as a “social activist,” that he has received millions in payments from blackmailing federal and local authorities with violence, and that he surrounded himself as mayor of Mexico City with scoundrels, many of whom we caught on-tape in the act of receiving bribes.

The same goes for a good part of his current entourage of inept officials, that lie and hide their riches from the required patrimonial declarations that are required annually. 

The number of government contracts that are assigned directly, without the obliged public bidding, has grown exponentially in the tenure of AMLO in the job, and now represents almost 90%.

And only last week, a video of one of his brothers receiving large wads of cash from a person close to the president – who was about to be named head of the new government monopoly to distribute drugs and medical devices nationwide – to finance the 2018 campaign, was dubbed by AMLO as just the “generous contribution of the people who wanted change.”

If the president gets away with his project of completely neutralizing the autonomous electoral institute and the Supreme Court, as he has been laboring hard to do, he will fraudulently manipulate the 2021 election, consolidate his control of Congress and become Mexico’s autocrat without an expiration date, very much like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and many others like them.

Only two days ago a vehicle of AMLO’s party was seen with a painting of the “founding fathers” of the country, including Ché Guevara.

Perhaps the most memorable phrase of his umpteenth report to the nation of September 1 was, “I don’t want to boast, but in the worst possible moment (for Mexico), we are blessed to have the best government.” Delusions of grandeur? 

Manuel Suárez-Mier is an economist and former central bank official, economic diplomat and professor at Georgetown and American universities. He now is a consultant residing in Washington, DC.

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