By RICARDO CASTILLO
The change over of presidents in Mexico is always a formal event, and this time was no exception, except for the fact that the style of doing things has changed. Some, if not all, of the stiff formality of yesteryear was absent in the proceedings that took place on Saturday, Dec. 1.
The real change of administrations from that of now-former President Enrique Peña Nieto to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) began close to midnight on Friday. Nov. 30, when three different secretariats changed hands simultaneously.
Proceedings began at 11:30 p.m. Friday at the Interior Secretariat (SeGob), where all political power is harnessed. This is a ministry that cannot be without a commander. The reason is simple. In the absence of the president, the Interior aecretary takes full command of the government and fronts all the responsibilities a president has. Outgoing Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete Prida initiated the ceremony to pass on command to Olga Sánchez Cordero, the first woman to ever hold the second-most powerful post in government.
At the Mexican Army headquarters, General Salvador Cienfuegos passed on the command he had held for the past six years to General Luis Crescencio Sandoval González.
At Navy headquarters in Mexico City, Admiral Vidal Francisco Soberón released command to Admiral José Rafael Ojeda Durán.
Also, lawyer Alejandro Gerz Manero became the first head of the Office of the Nation’s Fiscal, a new name which means the end of the old Attorney General’s Office.
Civilian Alfonso Durazo took over the helm of the new National Security Commission, which now controls the Federal Police and is the man who is now in charge of creating the new National Guard, a federal police that will feed its ranks from the existing military who will be converted into civilian cops. The Security Commission was previously a branch of the Interior Secretariat, but will now be an independent law enforcement office.
With these changes made, the time gap of nearly 12 hours between midnight and the time then still-President-elect AMLO and the moment he was sworn in Saturday was filled and both the legal, defense and political columns of the Mexican government were in place.
Then came the swearing-in ceremony that took place at the Chamber of Deputies with the presence of Enrique Peña Nieto, who handed over the presidential sash to Chamber of Deputies President Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, who in turn, placed it across AMLO’s chest.
Protocol has it that all incoming presidents must repeat the following: “I swear to keep and see that the Constitution of the Mexican United States and the laws emanating from them are kept and to loyally and patriotically perform the charge of president of the republic the people have bestowed upon me in a democratic manner always looking for the wellbeing of the union; should I not do this, have the nation demand it from me.”
And with that, AMLO was no longer called “president-elect,” the way he had been for the past five months, since July 1, when he won the election with a 53 percent majority vote.
AMLO made an approximately 70-minute speech, in which he literally repeated what he preached during his electoral campaign with very few variations. Here’s the gist of some of his governance plans:
Most meaningful, perhaps, was that having Enrique Peña Nieto in front of him, AMLO not only praised but also thanked him.
“I am grateful to all of your attentions, but mainly, I recognize the fact that you did not intervene, as other presidents did in the past, in the presidential election. We have endured that anti-democratic outrage and we value that the president respected the people’s will. For that, thank you very much, lawyer (licenciado) Peña Nieto.”
After this friendly touch toward the outgoing president, AMLO went on to outline in broad terms of what he calls the Fourth Political Transformation of Mexico.
“In the independence, the people fought to abolish slavery and reach national sovereignty. In the Reform (1857-1859), the people fought to gain dominance over civilian power (over Catholic control), and the restoration of the republic. In the Revolution (1910), the struggle was for justice and democracy. We now want to convert a peaceful and orderly, but at the same time profound and radical, transformation to finish off corruption and impunity” in the management of the federal government.
“Nothing has damaged Mexico more than the dishonesty of governing leaders and the small minority that has profited with their influence,” he said.
AMLO also blasted the neoliberal economic policy that has been imposed on Mexico for the past 36 years – six different administrations – and “has been the most inefficient in Mexico’s modern history. During all these years the economy grew at a 2 percent annual rate. Since all the wealth is in a few hands, the nation’s population has been impoverished. The neoliberal policy has been a disaster, a calamity.”
Then – it was a moment when Peña Nieto put on a please-please-let-me-out-of-here face – AMLO went on to attack Peña Nieto’s neoliberal reforms in energy and education, both of which, he said, he will do away with as much as he can.
“The Energy Reform has only meant a drop in oil production. When it was approved four years ago, it was promoted with promises that it was going to bring in a jetstream of foreign investment. Iy only managed to bring in $760 million dollars, 1.9 percent of the incipient public investment carried out by Pemex and barely 0.7 percent of the promised (target) investment.”
AMLO also blasted – without mentioning Peña Nieto by name — the ever-decreasing amount of the nation’s staple seed: corn.
“Maize originated in Mexico, that blessed plant, but we’re now the nation that imports the most corn in the world,” he said.
Peña Nieto nervously rubbed his beard, but stood as still as he could. But then came words of relief in what is one of the most controversial decisions AMLO has made in terms of legally going after past corruption, which, of course, should include Peña Nieto.
“We are going to start this new stage without persecuting anybody because we are not betting on circus and simulation,” he said. “We want to truly regenerate public life in Mexico. Plus, honestly speaking, if we file charges, we would not do it against scapegoats and we would have to start with those on the top. There would not be sufficient courts nor jails. But it will not happen because we would push the nation into fracturing dynamics, conflicts and confrontation. I propose we put a final period to that horrible history and better start from scratch.”
AMLO also drew a line with the wealthy.
“Another distinctive form of the new government will be the separation of economic power from political power. The government will not be a facilitator for pillaging. The government is not going to be a committee at the service of a rapacious minority. It will represent rich and poor alike.”
The plan, he added, is to “fight against poverty and marginal living standards as it has never been done before in Mexican history. We will shove aside the neoliberal hypocrisy.”
In the evening, AMLO held a meeting at Mexico City’s main square Zócalo with the attendance of over 100,000 people. He delivered another speech, but pretty much sticking to the same themes he touched on at the inauguration.
At this ceremony, the politically organized indigenous tribes of Mexico handed him the baton of command to lead them out of suffering from racial discrimination and poverty, something AMLO pledged to do.
But at the end of his speech, he told the cheering crowds who accompanied applause their with sea shell horns:
“Please bear with me if I don’t come up with swift results. The truth is, I receive a bankrupt administration.”
It was a hectic inaugural day for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will take Sunday, Dec, 2, off to start his administration fresh Monday morning “at 6 a.m.,” discussing security issues, “as I will do every day from then on.”