By RICARDO CASTILLO
It’s been barely a month since Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) won the July 1 election, and he is already raising eyebrows — not so much for his victory, but because some of the nominations he has made.
Particularly grabbing attention are the appointments of several persons to his energy management cabinet. Definitely, the least controversial is his future energy secretary, Rocío Nahle, who was expected to be named.
But over the weekend, AMLO rang what’s being called off-key bells with the appointment of Octavio Romero Oropeza (Oro) as Pemex’s general manager; Germán Martínez as director of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) and still-Senator Manuel Bartlett as head the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE.)
The problems with each member of this peculiar trio are similar. Though all three politically opposed Mexico’s Energy Reform, carried out by President Enrique Peña Nieto, the biggest thing that the three have in common is a total lack of knowledge and experience in the directorates to which they were named.
Oropeza is an agronomist who has been loyal to López Obrador forever, but was government secretary when AMLO was Mexico City Mayor from 2000 to 2005. The question being asked now is what’s an agronomist who’s never tarred his heels at the helm of the nation’s oil and petrochemical industries doing being named to head it up? Unfortunately for AMLO, the question is a valid one.
Next, you have a former public function secretary from the Felipe Calderón administration, Germán Martínez, who was later transferred to the position of National Action Party (PAN) president, a post he had to quit after the PAN lost badly to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) during the 2009 midterm elections. He later broke with the PAN, and about a year and a half ago, joined AMLO in his campaign. He’s said to be a fine lawyer, but does that constitute sufficient qualifications to run the IMSS, which provides medical services to over 80 million Mexicans?
In all of these cases, a lack of experience would be fine as long as the men in question prove to be at least honest public administrators – something that remains to be seen.
The biggest concern Manuel Bartlett. His political history goes back to the 1980s, when he was a solid member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and was appointed secretary of the Interior by former President Miguel de la Madrid, under who he served from 1982 through 1988.
During that period Bartlett was alleged to be involved in two nefarious crimes. One was the murder of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent in Mexico Enrique (Kiki) Camarena. Bartlett – though not associated with drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, who was found guilty of the murder – was accused by the DEA of not sharing insider info and the U.S. organization still holds a grudge against him. In fact, as far as I know, Bartlett is still wanted in the United States for grand jury questioning.
Then, on May 30, 1984, under his mandate at the Interior Secretariat, a muckraking journalist was gunned down on Mexico City’s Insurgentes Avenue, allegedly for providing then-famous U.S. syndicated columnist Jack Anderson with info on a money transfer made by President De la Madrid.
True or not, those stains on Bartlett’s CV remain very much alive.
But perhaps his most indelible blunder was his calling off the count on the 1988 presidential election to award the victory to Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who governed Mexico from 1988 to 1994. At a later date, Bartlett confessed he was ordered by De la Madrid to kill the vote count – in which Salinas was losing to leftist presidential candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. A major scandal ensued, but still that did not kick Salinas out of the post.
Salinas subsequently rewarded Bartlett’s “sacrifice,” naming him secretary of education. After that, he became governor of the state of Puebla and remained a major political heavy roller until, in 2006, he was left out of Mexico’s political game by the PRI’s younger opponents. It was then that he joined AMLO in his protest against the 2006 “electoral fraud” in which AMLO lost to Felipe Calderón.
Bartlett then moved from the Party of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) to the Labor Party (PT), where he’s been for the past 12 years. He is currently a federal senator, a post he has held since 2012 for the PT. He will finish his term a month from now on Aug. 30. Mexico’s next Senate will take power on Sept. 1.
Perhaps the past may be forgotten – few Mexicans have good memories – but what has some observers – not even critics – hitting the alarm button is Bartlett’s total lack of knowledge of the electricity industry. The closest he’s been to it, a commentator says, has been the light switch at his home.
Surely, Bartlett’s greatest asset nowadays is having helped AMLO along three political presidential campaigns, the latest of which coalesced in AMLO’s humongous 30-million-vote victory and the squashing of nearly all opposition.
But will Bartlett, now 82 years old, be fit to run the bankrupt, state-owned Federal Electricity Commission, which is indeed a complicated monster of a company and not only that, which has lost a veritable mint during the Peña Nieto administration?
So, Oropeza for Pemex and Martínez for IMMS are seen as bad enough appointments. But Manuel Bartlett Díaz for the CFE is seen as AMLO’s worse appointment yet.
For the meantime, it is unlikely AMLO will change his mind and not keep his political commitment to this awesome threesome. That’s got people in Mexico worried already, even if the trio is not due to take over their new posts after Dec.1, when AMLO takes office.
On Monday, AMLO justified his nomination of Bartlett, saying that the former governor of Puebla is a man who has been defending the CFE for many years.
Yet, the protests from Mexico’s right, center and most definitely AMLO’s own leftwing are mounting. This goes to show that there are certain people who have been at the heart of the old PRI political system who still face rejection.
Will AMLO listen? Pay heed? His voters are now rebelling.