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Mexico’s AMLO: Two Years of Harm

Imagen: EFE/ José Méndez

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AMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) is celebrating his second year in office, and a look at the Mexican landscape shows us a country in much worse condition than in 2018. The transformation promised by the president has resulted in a severe economic crisis, the highest levels of violence in the country’s modern history, and the systematic weakening of the institutions that the nation had developed to leave the era of caudillos in the past.

On the campaign trail, Andrés Manuel managed to embody the hope of millions of voters who felt outraged by corruption and abandoned by “Neoliberal” modernization. Obrador used this hope to feed the political machine that allowed him to build a party under his complete control, win the presidency, and obtain comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress as well as multiple local legislatures.

With this support, on December 1, 2018, the Mexican President launched the “Fourth Transformation,” describing his government as one of the most important moments in the country’s history. That hope was shared by millions of supporters who voted for him; even many people who supported other candidates trusted that the Obradorist change would be for the better.

A “Fourth Transformation” with fourth-tier results

It’s been two years now. Obrador has had the most significant margin for political maneuvering since the beginning of the democratic transition. He promised that by now, “the work of the transformation would be finished,” so it is time to see the results. And they are awful.

Yes, objectively, they are awful. In basically all indicators, the country is worse off than in 2018, and Covid-19 is not a pretext because things started to worsen long before the first contagion. The country got into a recession in 2019, and for the last six quarters, the economy has declined compared to the previous year, something we hadn’t seen for almost 40 years.

Furthermore, unlike other economic crises, which came “from the outside,” this one was created by the federal government: Andrés Manuel canceled the construction of the new airport in Mexico City, declared war on renewable energy, and promoted the cancellation of large investment projects. In short, he’s feeding a scenario of uncertainty that adds to the country’s other adverse conditions.

As a result, in 2020, Mexico will be one of the hardest-hit countries in the world. Mexico’s central bank estimates a 9% decline in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It looks difficult for Obrador to end his term in 2024 with an economy of the size of the one he received in December 2018.

The handling of the pandemic has been chilling. While it must be recognized that Mexico did not give in to the oppressive and counterproductive impulses of many other countries in the region, it is also true that the Obrador Administration did not prepare in time. His government purchased inadequate-quality supplies for the medical personnel and has not effectively cared for the sick. Thousands of hospital beds have been empty while people are dying at home. Today Mexico is the fourth country with the most deaths from Covid-19 and usually ranks second in daily new deaths.

Another of the great hopes promoted by López Obrador was to solve the crime crisis. In the heat of the campaign, he even promised that, once he became president, criminals would return to do honest work because the government would no longer be corrupt. The reality has been starkly different: AMLO’s first two years are the most violent in the country’s modern history, adding up to nearly 60,000 murders, almost double the 33,000 that had happened in the first two years of the previous government.

It is not failure if it is on purpose

Even so, we cannot merely say that the government has failed. Obrador has achieved a series of reforms to concentrate more discretionary power and strengthen his political alliance. He reversed the education reform, eliminated more than 100 trusts, created the National Guard, and promoted a host of small changes, all with a common thread: to strengthen the Federation above the States, the Executive above the Legislative and Judicial branches, and the direct figure of the president above the rest of the Executive structure.

Even in terms of popularity, he has been successful. Given the disastrous results, a collapse in his popular support levels would seem inevitable. Still, Andrés Manuel arrives in December 2020 with almost the same backing he had in the first moments of his administration.

Why? There are two main reasons:

  • The first is the absurdity of hope: For millions of people, Obrador is a leader with whom they are emotionally connected, so they are unwilling to accept they were deceived. They cling to the idea that AMLO is changing the country, or that he will change it in his next four years in office. Or, at least -they say- “there is no more corruption,” and the old ways are -supposedly- gone.
  • The second is that the opposition remains repugnant in the eyes of millions of citizens.

The failure of the opposition

Beyond the absurd Obradorist statement that “they are not the same as the old guys,” when their team is full of relics like the infamous Manuel Bartlett or the slightly less shady Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, it is clear that the opposition has failed in its attempt to recover their own reputation and denounce the failures of the current government.

A survey published on November 30th by El Economista painfully reflects this failure: If the 2018 elections were repeated today, López Obrador would gain even more significant support (54.8% in 2018 vs. 56.9% in 2020).

So, it’s been two years of a disastrous government, which has kept practically none of its promises and has been characterized by constant scandals. And yet, the opposition has not convinced anyone. In 2018 the effective vote in favor of the center-right PAN was 22.9%; today it would be exactly the same; in 2018, the vote in favor of the center-left PRI was 16.9%, today it would be 17.2%.

These trends repeat in the run-up to the 2021 mid-term elections. Another poll, published on November 30th, in El Universal, places Morena (AMLO’s party) with a lead of almost 2 to 1 over the National Action Party (PAN).

All of this, even though people know that Andrés Manuel is doing a bad job. The only aspects in which his presidential performance receives majority support are in his efforts to decrease corruption (51.5%), to strengthen democracy (51.4%), to protect citizens’ rights (50.5%), and to increase Mexico’s international prestige (50.1%). In everything else, the percentages of support are in the minority, including fighting against poverty, job creation, the fight against crime, health care, and public education.

So what happens? People may be disappointed in AMLO, but they hate his opponents. The El Universal poll shows that barely 2% of people have a very good image of the PAN, while 42% have a bad or very bad perception of the party. In contrast, 9% of the population has a very good opinion of Morena, against “only” 23% who have a bad or very bad view of it.

AMLO, two years of harm and the absurdity of hope

Citizens continue to see the opposition parties as corrupt, arrogant, distant, and hypocritical. The opposition’s incompetence in understanding and responding to what people think of them has gone from funny to outrageous to worrying. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan opposition is colliding against the wall of its limitations. The “Frente Nacional Anti-Amlo” set the goal of having López Obrador resign before December 1st. Evidently, he did not, and now they face both the failure and the difficulty of having no party to compete with on the ballot.

As we approach the 2021 elections, the lights at the end of the tunnel are those of a drastic decline of support for the president’s party (from 52% in February 2019 to 32% today) and the possibility of a broad opposition alliance that could actually compete for a majority in the House of Representatives. Still, even now, there are many ambitions, many grudges, and many ineptitudes standing in the way.

For now, as of December 2020, Mexico is caught between a profoundly inept government, an opposition unable to understand its mistakes, and a society that clings to the absurdity of hope in the caudillo who promised peace, prosperity, and honesty but has delivered violence, crisis, and corruption.

Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”

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