With crucial midterm elections in two weeks, the political situation in Mexico is deteriorating quickly. The government is promoting polarization and violent confrontation as it perverts the law to go after its political enemies and support its candidates and friends.
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, widely known by his initials AMLO, has finally revealed his authoritarian aims by blatantly breaking the laws that rule the electoral process. These preclude public officials from supporting parties or candidates in forthcoming elections.
AMLO has effectively declared himself the sole arbiter of Mexico’s democratic processes. He has repeatedly disqualified the National Electoral Institute (INE), the respected authority in charge of organizing and overseeing free, fair, and competitive elections since its creation as an independent entity in 1997.
AMLO and his minions have promised to “obliterate” the INE at the first chance and fire the members of its council because they ruled in favor of disqualifying candidates for governor of his political party for violations of the electoral laws, which, paradoxically, were demanded by AMLO when he was in opposition.
It is increasingly evident that he intends to denounce every election his party loses as fraudulent and blame the INE, as he has with the many elections that he has lost: for governor of his home state of Tabasco in 1994 and for president in 2006 and 2012.
AMLO got furious at the treatment of his pal, an uncouth candidate his party imposed to run for governor in the state of Guerrero.
This was despite the candidate’s trail of past fiascoes, including a ruinous stint as major of Acapulco, accusations of multiple rapes and of close ties with organized crime. The candidate was barred from running for not reporting his campaign expenses.
What was AMLO’s solution? To nominate his friend’s daughter, someone without any political experience and whose father-in-law spent years in jail for links with narcotraffickers. And AMLO promised there would be no corruption or nepotism in his administration.
AMLO has been increasingly frustrated since his approval ratings finally started to fall and, according to most polls, they are lower at this stage of his term than those of three of his four immediate predecessors.
This has dimmed the prospect of his party winning big in the forthcoming midterm elections in which 15 governorships and all 500 congress seats are up for grabs.
AMLO had expected to consolidate a majority needed to pursue his radical agenda of concentrating all power in his hands while he continues to eliminate autonomous institutions which oppose his wishes when they are out of line and which act as counterbalances to his whims.
Another example of his contempt for the rule of law is a decree by which he pretends to extend the tenure of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who happens to be his political ally, for two years beyond the legally imposed limit, in clear violation of the constitution.
AMLO’s pretext is that no one else would be able to implement the flawed judicial reform that the Chief Justice had prepared, in violation of the division of powers, since crafting and modifying laws is the prerogative of Congress.
The courts are supposed to make sure that the laws are applied properly. Many observers see this “lengthening of the mandate of the Chief Justice” as a trial balloon for doing the same with his own tenure, which ends in 2024 without any possibility of reelection.
His daily press conferences are more like acrimonious homilies.
He uses them to lambast his enemies, attack the press for mauling him or his “achievements,” and seeds discord and hate between the “good people” that he embodies, and the rest of the population which he insults in a quaint and vulgar vernacular.
He has lied more than 50,000 times, an average of 86 in each of his daily sermons where he is surrounded mostly by fake reporters who vilely praise him and ask him irrelevant questions that allow him to go into tirades about any topic except the failures of his administration.
These orations, which for two and a half years allowed him to deflect blunders and fiascos that have resulted in grave harm to his people, seem to be wearing thin as a distraction and their approval is falling precipitously.
The recent disaster of a Mexico City metro convoy falling to the street after its elevated structure collapsed is a case in point. This time AMLO could not blame the “neoliberal and corrupt past governments,” as he does all the time even though he has been in office almost three years.
This is so because the city’s government has been run by him or his accomplices for the last 24 years and the collapsed metro line was the proudest feat of his Foreign Secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, when he was its mayor from 2006 to 2012.
Multiple lapses in the maintenance of the system, the second largest in the Americas after New York’s metro, is the full responsibility of his closest abettor, Claudia Sheinbaum, mayor of the capital. Both hope to be chosen by AMLO to succeed him as president.
What did AMLO do when he was told of this disaster, which cost 26 lives and seriously injured another 85 passengers? Escape to the tropical southeast of the country where he comes from and avoid talking about the issue, which he called just “an incident.”
In the following weeks he studiously evaded alluding to the victims or their families, whom he refused to visit because he didn’t want to “make propaganda,” the only thing that he does repeatedly for his causes.
His wife, a demagogue who poses as a historian, sent condolences to the victims, not to their relatives.
With 9.2% of Covid patients dying, Mexico has the highest fatality rate in the world and according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation of the University of Washington, the true number of deaths is 625,000, not the official 225,000.
This makes Mexico higher than the official frontrunners in this bleak contest, with the US with 602,000, India (295,000) and Brazil (450,000), all nations that have much larger populations.
The reasons for this debacle can be attributed to the reckless policies followed by AMLO’s government to deal with the pandemic by, first ignoring it, and then resorting to magic solutions like amulets, consuming traditional indigenous foods and pandering that Mexicans were immune because they were Mexicans.
The facts are that the country did the fewest tests with a crumbling health system that AMLO’s government bled of resources to finance his pet projects. Hospitals rejected thousands of infected people who were forced to die at home.
The use of masks was discouraged by official policy and then by the refusal of the President to wear one. Measures to enforce social distancing were adopted late and weakly enforced.
The vaccination campaign was among the least efficient in the world because the government insisted on having the monopoly and operated it more like an electoral crusade than a health one.
And for ideological reasons AMLO decided to discriminate against essential workers in the front lines of fighting the disease, especially medical personnel of private sector hospitals, clinics, and drugstores.
The consulting firm Integralia reports that from the beginning of the political campaign in September of last year until April 30, the number of “political violence incidents” was 169. These left 210 victims of whom 143 died.
Political violence should be placed in the context of the extended insecurity and homicidal violence suffered by Mexico as the result of the inept managing of this issue by AMLO.
He decided from the beginning to make a tacit accord with organized crime that he would not go after them, although it is unclear what he got in exchange. The US Defense Department reported recently that 35% of the country’s territory was controlled by bands of marauders.
Most of the attacks are undertaken by criminal organizations that want the cooperation of local authorities to conduct their illicit business at lower costs, and most of these events occur far away where the presence of federal forces is light or nonexistent. This pattern is changing since the impunity with which these bands operate has lured them to more populated parts of the country which are more profitable.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Mexico was the most dangerous nation for journalists in 2020 with 14 deaths, ahead of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. So far 2021 is on target to be just as bad if not worse.
The toxic atmosphere against journalists is fed by daily tirades in which AMLO accuses the press of being the enemy of the people and attacks by name on all those who are critical of his government.
Still smarting from the defeat of his ally and friend, Donald Trump, AMLO has been picking fights with the Biden administration, beginning with his executive order to stop all cooperation with US security forces in their common fight against criminal organizations, which has been a big gift to the narcos.
Now, he is denouncing Biden’s government for meddling in Mexico’s politics and trying to topple his government because USAID sponsors an NGO that has been fighting malfeasance and corruption long before he became president but has been loudly denouncing the many instances of dishonesty in his administration.
He even wrote a diplomatic note to the US government demanding an immediate halt to such pecuniary support.
We can add to this tense situation the many fights that are brewing on Mexico’s violations of the new North American trade agreement, on labor issues, regional content of automotive exports, and the equal treatment of foreign and domestic investment as agreed in the accord.
Many of these brawls will end-up in dispute resolution panels which will favor Canada and the US in most cases, or in pecuniary penalties and countervailing duties.
All these arguments explain why it is so crucial that in the forthcoming elections, the control of Congress must be wrested away from AMLO and his party, for Mexico to avoid becoming an authoritarian dictatorship in the hands of a messianic demagogue.
Manuel Suarez-Mier is an economist and former central bank official, economic diplomat and professor at Georgetown and American universities. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org