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The Political Implications of López Obrador’s Deteriorating Health

AMLO en el hospital, México en terapia intensiva. Imagen: EFE/ Sáshenka Gutiérrez

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On Friday, January 21, Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, had to enter the hospital to undergo heart surgery, and again rumors regarding his state of health began to spread, especially in the corridors of Twitter and WhatsApp where some opponents shared with a glimmer of hope the versions that López Obrador’s medical situation would force him to resign “at any moment.”

However, despite the tweeters’ wishes, the president “is in perfect health,” at least according to the terse statement from the Ministry of the Interior, which explained that AMLO entered the hospital at 10:30 a.m. and 6 hours later he underwent “a cardiac catheterization” where “the heart and arteries were found healthy and functioning properly” as part of the “preventive and routine studies” he undergoes every 6 months.

Of course, the excessively careful language of the statement did not eliminate the rumors, since, initially, cardiac catheterization is not in itself a “routine procedure”—in addition to the fact that (between Christmas and his COVID infection) so far in 2022, he has 10 days without official activities and he has not registered any official activity outside the national palace for more than a month.

López Obrador in the hospital

The fact is that there is a probability that AMLO will die in office, and he himself acknowledged it in the video he published on Saturday, January 22, where he also said that he already has a “political will” and this is not an exaggeration, since Obrador is a 68-year-old man (the oldest Mexican president in more than a century) who has already suffered a heart attack and who is subjected to immense pressure 24 hours a day, with all the physical wear and tear that this implies.

Therefore, beyond whether or not the catheterization on Friday, January 21 was a routine procedure, the president’s hospitalization is a clear reminder that there is a real scenario where AMLO may simply not be able to conclude his six-year term.

Mexico in intensive care unit

If Andrés Manuel dies before handing over power to his successor in 2024, it would place Mexico in an almost unprecedented situation, as the only Mexican president to have died in office was Benito Juárez, exactly 150 years ago (Maximiliano and Carranza were assassinated while theoretically in power, but had already lost power.)

On paper, the path to follow is very clear. Article 84 of the national Constitution states that, upon the “absolute absence of the President,” the Congress of the Union will appoint by an absolute majority “the substitute president who shall conclude the term,” which would guarantee the appointment of a pro-government substitute, since Morena and its allies control the majority in both chambers of Congress.

Consequently, the real problem is not legal, it is political. López Obrador has captured more power, popularity and influence than any other leader in the last generation. If he dies or resigns untimely, he would leave a vacuum impossible to fill, at least in the short term. It would bring Mexican politics to a grinding halt, as he is the reason that the ruling and opposition parties have assumed the alliances and narratives with which both have defined themselves in recent years.

La oposición mexicana anhela que AMLO esté fuera de la presidencia, pero necesitan una opción competitiva para reemplazarlo. Imagen: EFE/Miguel Sierra
Mexican opposition longs for AMLO to be out of the presidency, but they need a competitive option to replace him. Image: EFE/Miguel Sierra

The inevitable result of that disruption? Uncertainty, balkanization and polarization.

Ignoring the risk of Obrador dying before the end of the six-year term is deeply irresponsible. Even he knows it, and he said so in his Saturday 22nd video.

Why? Because the figure of AMLO functions in the Mexican system as a sort of center of gravity, giving order to the political game, channeling and containing the momentum of ambitions on both sides. Without that center, the whole system would fall into chaos while a new equilibrium is reached, and there is no guarantee that the resulting equilibrium will be better than the current one.

And this is the key point that must be understood, especially by the opposition: if AMLO dies or resigns, neither the reasons nor the forces that brought him to power would disappear; all the brotherhoods, interests and capitals that felt betrayed by the technocrats who promoted the democratic transition.

These pro-government groups, well organized and (in some cases) well-financed, have a clear proposal: to reverse the modernization of the country, returning Mexico as much as possible to the closed model of the old PRI, taking advantage of the nostalgia for that romantic past that beats in the hearts of millions of Mexicans and comes to the surface at the first opportunity in the form of angry denunciations against “private companies” and “foreign investors.”

Obrador did not create that movement, he simply inherited it and articulated it to make it more effective electorally, during 3 presidential campaigns he learned to embody his hopes and in a certain way to contain his ambitions, strategically directing them towards the political project of what he calls the “fourth transformation.”

Therefore, in the absence of Andrés Manuel, the ruling forces would not disappear or surrender to the opposition. On the contrary, this would be the green light to advance the free-for-all where on both sides alliances would unravel and passions would run wild, giving the advantage to the radicals. After the turbulence, Mexico could well be left in the hands of a caudillo worse than AMLO, who may try to reverse the free trade agreement with the United States or organize massive expropriations.

Therefore, the hopes of the opposition should be neither in the resignation nor in the absence of Obrador, but in the construction of a credible and competitive political alternative, and for that they need every moment between now and the 2024 elections. Do not wish for haste, if AMLO stays in the hospital, Mexico will fall into intensive care unit.

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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