Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Photo: AFP/Eyepix/NurPhoto

The relentless demolition of Mexico’s liberty and institutions continues unabated and at a faster rate as president López Obrador (AMLO) radicalizes and the June midterm elections get closer.

This crazy march of folly happens as his administration’s performance in battling the Covid pandemic earns international recognition as one of the worst in the world and the real number of deaths resulting from the disease, which the government tried to conceal, allegedly approaches half a million, a number close to that of the US but with one-third of its population.

Just as we reported in last month’s installment of this series, the law that reverses the reforms in the electricity sector that allowed private companies to generate clean and cheaper energy from wind and solar sources, and that was passed by Congress “without amending a single comma,” as AMLO instructed, has been frozen by two dozen injunctions because it violates contracts, implies a retroactive usage of the law, and violates the constitution.

AMLO reacted with fury to the judges’ rulings, threatened to investigate them, and promised to prepare an amendment to the constitution, but he lacks the needed votes of the necessary qualified majority in the Senate.

AMLO doubled down his challenge by sending Congress another law, just as illegal and ill-fated as the one alluded, this time for the oil sector, by which he suspends all permits to build new gasoline storage and distribution facilities and threatens a government takeover of all operating installations by the private sector “for reasons of national security,” in a clear threat to expropriate them at AMLO’s whim without any reason.

His aim is to restore the absolute monopoly of Pemex, the bankrupt behemoth owned by the government, over all oil-related activities. Another deluge of injunctions will follow, as in the electricity bill.

Predictably, private investment will freeze from oil production, storage and distribution as it did with the electricity system, and by contagion most private and foreign investment that has not dried up already, will do so now since it is increasingly clear that Mexico is not a trustworthy country and has returned to the lawless condition that prevailed for a good part of the 20th century.

The next assault on the extractive sector of the economy will be the expropriation and nationalization of lithium, including an ongoing investment concern in the northwestern state of Sonora of a Canadian Chinese consortium amounting initially to US$420 million.

The estimated net present value of the project is $1.25 billion, with an expected life of 200 years producing 35,000 tons per year starting in 2023. Lithium, which is an essential component of car batteries whose demand is growing as fast as the production of electrical vehicles, is expected to increase its price just as fast.

A bill to expropriate the budding lithium extraction activities is already in the hands of the lower chamber of Congress, but the CEO of Ganfeng, the Chinese company in the Sonoran consortium, said: “Nationalization may not be a good idea; there are many bad examples of nationalization of resources,” he told the Financial Times in September.

“An example is Bolivia. There are big lithium resources there but for many years no project has been built because Bolivians do not allow foreign companies to own mining properties. That’s a big hurdle for attracting investment.”

Just two weeks ago the new president of Bolivia, Luis Arce, an ally of the ultra-nationalist deposed former president, Evo Morales, visited Mexico to prepare cooperation agreements between the two countries in several areas, including the exploitation of lithium, a partnership that promises to cancel the auspicious prospects that had attracted large private investment with state-of-the-art technology.

Threats to independent electoral authority

In a country that finally managed to wrest control of the elections from the paws of the government only in 1997, and bestowed that duty to an autonomous entity responsible for organizing fair federal, state and local elections and supervising their results, was a solid step to consolidate the nation’s democracy.

The INE (National Electoral Institute), is now being threatened by AMLO and his allies to be “obliterated,” suggesting a tragic return to the times in which the government manipulated electoral processes at its whim and, unsurprisingly, the official party’s candidates won every election.

AMLO needs to win the coming June mid-term elections to consolidate the enormous power that he has already amassed, to carry on his demolition of Mexico’s institutions, laws and economy, in the name of his “transformation” plans.

Since his awful management of the pandemic and the country’s economy, which sank by 8.5% last year, started to erode his popularity, he is preparing the scenery to claim fraud in the elections, in case he does not win the decisive majority he needs in the Congress to amend or re-write the federal constitution.

It is worth highlighting that AMLO has never recognized the results of the many elections he has lost, blaming rigged electoral institutions, and has only accepted those that favored him, for mayor of Mexico City in 2000 and for president, when he ran for a third time in 2018, claiming that in these cases the “people” had won over the corrupt system, which is the one that gave him his victories. 

As a matter of fact, those two triumphs were tainted since he ran illegally because he did not fulfill the conditions to be a legitimate candidate. In the first case, he was impeded to run because he did not fulfill the residency requirement as he was registered as living in his home state of Tabasco and not in Mexico City.

In the second, he had been impeached as mayor of the nation’s capital because he refused to heed a ruling against his actions by the Supreme Court, and should have gone to jail instead of the campaign trail.

In both cases, spineless sitting presidents decided to let him run, yielding to AMLO’s blackmail that he would unleash widespread violence if his candidacies were blocked.

AMLO’s environmental disaster

One of AMLO’s pet cock-eyed projects, a massive $3.4 billion tree-planting program dubbed “Sowing Life,” intends reforesting 1 million hectares by paying people in the rural areas to sow new trees.

The project, which is ridden with incompetence and corruption, has also led to boost mass deforestation by giving incentives to the people to cut grown forests and even burn them, in order to receive the $220 monthly stipend paid to those who participate in the program.   

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), a United States-based environmental non-profit organization that has collaborated with the Mexican government to assess the results of the reforestation program, Sowing Life may have inadvertently caused the deforestation of 73,000 hectares of land in 2019, the first year the scheme ran.

The estimate came from a study that used satellite images to measure recent deforestation. In addition to Yucatán and Campeche, lands in Veracruz, Tabasco, Quintana Roo and Chiapas have been devastated due to people’s desire to participate in Sowing Life, WRI found.

Bloomberg noted that the estimated area of land deforested in 2019 was almost equal to the size of New York City, 78,000 hectares, or 485 square kilometers.

What AMLO and his people do not understand is how incentives work, which in the case in point means that the money of the program is the only source of income for the potential recipients. And there is no available land because they are surrounded by mature rainforests, they will dispose of them to be able to plant the saplings that the government will give them, along with the money.

Human rights violations

Human Right Watch (HRW) recently lambasted AMLO’s systematic scorn for human rights, when he criticized the most recent report of the US State Department, which disparaged Mexico’s atrocious record under his watch, of violating the most basic rights of its people and the migrants that flow into its land seeking to reach the US.

He said that no foreign country had the right to opine about his country’s human rights records, returning to the troglodyte position of the legendary Latin American tin-pot dictators of the past.

HRW also condemned his constant attacks on the press that objects to his government’s performance, a situation that has poisoned the atmosphere and led Mexico to become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, only comparable to war zones, like Syria and Afghanistan, in the number of slayings of journalists.

Since AMLO took over, 24 journalists have been killed and in 2019, 609 received threats, attacks or other forms of aggression.

This toxic climate for pressmen and human rights defenders is stimulated by the daily invectives that AMLO’s aims at his “adversaries,” among which these two groups are at the top of his list in his daily rantings disguised as press conferences.

Since the boss attacks by name the people who criticize him in the media, his underlings feel free to do the same with vicious assaults, especially on social media. The other ingredient that stimulates this dangerous situation is the total impunity of those who commit crimes, since less than 1% of them face trial and are punished.

Things are bad but, unfortunately, they will get much worse, particularly if AMLO’s political party wins big in the forthcoming midterm elections.

So far, AMLO’s accomplishments have been: an economy in ruins; the highest death rate worldwide from Covid and an obscene use of vaccinations for political gains; violence and insecurity at record levels; hundreds of billions of dollars wasted in useless projects without any evaluation; rampant corruption at all levels of government without any constraints; the education and health systems destroyed and in the hands of incompetent ideologues; and many other AMLO-made disasters that will push the country backwards many decades. 

All in the altar of an egocentric, inept, narcissistic and increasingly unstable and authoritarian leader.