Leer en Español
Incompetence worsens any crisis, increasing problems, before eventually collapsing everything. In Mexico, the federal government has turned its strategy into a eulogy to ineptitude and the result is a humanitarian tragedy that worsens every day.
It is true that Covid-19 reached the whole world and that the Mexican president had no responsibility for its origin, but it is also true that almost all other countries have responded to the crisis more adequately (or at least more consciously) and that the irresponsibility of the Mexican authorities has directly caused thousands of deaths that otherwise would have been avoided.
In praise of incompetence
From the beginning, Andrés Manuel López Obrador made it very clear that technical considerations are irrelevant for his government, and politics is the only thing that matters. He has even bragged about it, literally declaring that his officials must have “90% honesty and 10% experience.”
The “90 % of honesty” leaves room for a 10 % of corruption that has resulted in scandals such as those of Manuel Bartlett. But in this case, the most serious thing is that this 10% of experience is accompanied by a 90% of incompetence that has turned the Mexican Government’s strategies into a string of errors that kill.
During the last 20 years, Mexico had consolidated a public health care program known as “Seguro Popular,” which was not perfect, but it did represent a gigantic advance over previous options. Thanks to this program, millions of Mexicans had access to medicines, consultations and even specialized surgeries free of charge. Lopez Obrador did away with all of that work, eliminating Seguro Popular (for being “neoliberal”) and replacing it with an “Institute of Health for Well-Being” (INSABI), which centralized health care decisions.
Obrador promised that on December 1, 2020, Mexico would have a health care system similar to Denmark. However, INSABI failed even to come close to the Danish standard and it also lagged behind the Mexican standard. It operated for almost a year without even having operating rules and (beyond the pandemic) has led to a serious setback in the quality of public health care.
Incompetence kills, also due to lack of medicines. The Mexican Government opted for a consolidated purchase of medicines through the UN, supposedly to “avoid corruption,” but the result is that Mexicans are facing medicine shortages that have not been seen in decades. This year’s purchase has been delayed for months, and there is still no clarity in the contracts or in the medicines to be manufactured.
And we are not only talking about medicines for headaches. The country has been facing a chronic shortage of oncological medicines for 2 years. The parents of children with cancer have insisted again and again to the Obrador Government, which only responds with pretexts, so they have even filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office without any authorities’ reaction.
Add COVID to this stew
In Mexico the first coronavirus cases were registered on February 28; the country had a couple of months to prepare, buy equipment, and train personnel, but they did not do so. In March, when the seriousness of Covid-19 was evident, the Mexican government said that the disease was not serious and that it was not an emergency situation.
Already with cases and deaths in the country, Obrador and his team spent months giving contradictory signals regarding the use of masks and the seriousness of the situation. He explained that “being good with our conscience, not lying, not stealing, not betraying, that helps a lot so that the coronavirus does not spread,” while Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the man in charge of fighting the epidemic, said with pseudo-religious devotion that “The President’s strength is moral, it is not a force of contagion” and that is why he could continue touring without masks or healthy distance.
The delirium reached the extreme when the president boasted that the pandemic “came as a ringing endorsement of the purpose of the transformation.” Meanwhile, medical personnel received only a handful of supplies, and these were of such poor quality that they had to return them.
The results of the sum of incompetence are grotesque. Mexico is the country with the most deaths among medical personnel, the fourth with the most deaths worldwide (this week it will take third place from India), and the second in mortality rate. More than 8.5% of Mexicans who officially fall ill with Covid die, and the obvious conclusion is that this is due not only to poor medical care but that the official statistics are still far below the real number.
As the months pass, the situation worsens. In much of the country, hospitals are collapsed, and the sick are piling up in the corridors. In the streets, thousands of people are desperately looking for an oxygen tank and oxygen for those tanks, (which in many cases, they paid for with their life savings). Many more die in a matter of hours, without even getting to the hospital.
Mexico City and nine other states are currently at emergency levels, but without restrictions, because the economy would not resist them. Unlike the rest of the countries, Obrador’s government gave practically no support to employees and companies, which are now clinging on tooth and nail to avoid bankruptcy, even at the risk of death.
The same incompetence is reflected with vaccines. A few weeks ago, Obrador promised that Pfizer would send 400,000 vaccines a week. Still, it turns out that none will arrive in almost a month (219,000 arrived on January 19, and the next ones will arrive on February 15th). Mexico is one of the countries with the lowest vaccination level among its main economies.
Now, the consequences of incompetence reached the National Palace
On January 24, President Lopez Obrador announced that he is sick with Covid, which is potentially catastrophic considering that the president has been living with his cabinet and normal citizens, without masks and without the slightest respect for healthy social distancing measures. Also, a couple of days ago he had dinner with the main businessmen of the country, the so-called “group of 10.” And now all of them are at mortal risk.
The President’s irresponsibility is illustrated by the fact that Obrador started to show symptoms since Saturday 23rd, but still on Sunday 24th he boarded a commercial flight to travel from the city of San Luis Potosi to Mexico City. Yes, he needlessly risked hundreds of people at the airport and on the plane itself, just to cling to his populist narrative that he “travels like the people.”
Many people do not believe that Obrador is sick and claim that “surely he was the first to get vaccinated”, and that would be the logical and normal thing to do, but this is not a normal government. Andres Manuel is capable of not having been vaccinated, and if he is seriously ill, there is an equally real risk that the president will get worse or die in the next two weeks.
López Obrador is not young he is known to have health problems. It has been common knowledge for years that he suffers from various ailments and has even had (at least) one heart attack. With his age, his position and his health conditions, he should have taken better care of himself than anyone else, but he did not.
If AMLO dies, the country would face its worst institutional crisis of the last century. According to the Constitution, Obrador would have to be replaced by a substitute president appointed by the Congress of the Union, but this does not mean a vaccine against the inevitable instability and even violence from his supporters, who would surely blame a neoliberal conspiracy or imperialism.
Yes, incompetence kills, in Mexico it has killed at least 150,000 people during this pandemic, and if in the next few days it also takes the president, it could kill along with him stability and what is left of institutions and political certainties.
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”