By RICARDO CASTILLO
It’s no big surprise in Mexico that a single word, taken out of context, can reek havoc nationwide. It is happening right now!
Last Sunday, Sept. 16, President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) began his “thank you voters” tour (which he will extend over the next month to the rest of nation for awarding him with a landslide victory in the July 1 election) in the city of Tepic, in the western coastal state of Nayarit.
This is an almost literal translation of what AMLO told the crowd in Tepic:
“Possibly, due to circumstances and because the nation is undergoing a very difficult economic and social situation, possibly due to the bankruptcy situation the nation is in, we may not be able to comply with everything you are demanding, but we will keep all the promises we made during the electoral campaign.”
This short phrase was enough for the Mexican press, which, as a whole does not like AMLO, and the even-more antagonistic Mexican business community to jump on his speech and take a word out of context.
Nobody was hearing what López Obrador was saying about being unable to fulfill all of the nation’s needs immediately. The only thing the anti-AMLO forces – still a good 47 percent of the voters – heard was the word “bankruptcy.”
Since that speech, practically every Mexican Monday morning quarterback who does not like either AMLO nor his cadre of followers and voters took a nationalist stance to claim that the country is not bankrupt. In fact, they pointed out, all the New York economy rating houses say the exact opposite.
Beleaguered by the brutal onslaught from what he calls “the fifi press,” AMLO had to revamp his speech and explain his position in different terms when he spoke on Tuesday, Sept. 18, in Guadalajara, saying:
“I maintain that there is a crisis in Mexico and that there is a lot of poverty, a lot of abandonment (by the government), a lot of insecurity, a lot of violence, all of which stems from the failure of the neoliberal policy that we’re going to change. Everyone has said that they did not like the word, the term, bankruptcy. I have figures. We have endured 30 years without economic growth. Meanwhile, the nation’s economic debt, according to Fox Up to Date, grew from 1.7 to 10 trillion pesos.”
Actually, the debt figure has been updated to the official figure of 10.09 trillion, but also AMLO – to be fair – did not mention the nation’s gross domestic product has grown at a 1.2 percent average in the past 30 years. Admittedly, that is not much, but it is something.
AMLO tried to explain the word bankruptcy could be used to refer to other things besides the economy – while still pointing out that 56 percent of Mexicans live below the poverty line- but he tossed a meaty bone into the pack and the pack went for it.
During this past week, Forbes Magazine held a financial forum to gauge the transition of regimes from that of Enrique Peña Nieto to that of AMLO. The result was a brutal onslaught by the zillionaire crowd headed by AMLO’s eternal enemy, Claudio X. González, who went straight for AMLO’s jugular, claiming that what Mexico’s president-elect had said only showed that he had no idea of what he was doing and will be unable to keep his campaign promises.
But, isn’t that exactly what AMLO said in his Tepic statement?
Claudio X. González’s statement looked like an irresistible bait for AMLO to engage, but, instead, AMLO took a step back and made it clear, in his old-style language, that he had been quoted out of context and even misquoted. He added that is his detractors wanted, he would “apologize for it; love and peace, love and peace.”
AMLO’s use of the “bankruptcy” word, however, might have gotten an immediate reaction from the fifi press, but there was silence for a couple of days from the Peña Nieto administration, until Tuesday, Sept. 18, when Finance Secretary José Antonio González Anaya had to respond by saying and that, currently, Mexico’s public finances are healthy and solid, with a slowly diminishing inflation in accordance with the Central Bank of Mexico’s objectives, with “a sound, well capitalized financial sector with liquidity.”
What is clear is that, in the upper echelons of power, there is a certainty that the desire of Mexico’s entrepreneurial class is to continue on its current stable economic path, even at the cost of scant growth.
But it is also obvious that somebody spiked the hornets’ nest with the “bankruptcy” word in the elitist press.
Again, AMLO wields an abundant and often colorful oldfashioned vocabulary. When he refers to the fifi press, he is using an old French term used over a century ago to describe the wealthy. Consequently, the term can be interpreted today as the press of the wealthy, which, indeed, has reacted accordingly in interpreting the “bankruptcy” term, trying to instill fear in the middle class. Or at least, this writer – with over 50 years of experience in the Mexican press – sees it that way.
There are, however, justification for the word “bankruptcy” to instill fear into the hearts of the Mexican middle class.
Twenty-four years ago, in 1994, at this point of his term, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari was constantly claiming that he was delivering a sound and booming economy to incoming President-elect Ernesto Zedillo. The flowery language lasted until Dec. 14, when Zedillo found out that the nation’s coffers were down to $3 billion and that he had been handed over a very bankrupt nation. The memory of that recent history fact still sends shivers up the spines of stable Mexicans.
Hopefully, things are different nowadays, and AMLO’s unwillingly created “bankruptcy” snafu is just that, another tempest in a teapot.