By RICARDO CASTILLO
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) daily, Monday-through-Friday, 7 a.m. press conferences at National Palace downtown Mexico City are paying off.
Every morning, he gets hold of the nation’s mike to clear out the daily barrage of misunderstandings about his administration. In short, every morning, AMLO gets to wash the dirty dishes caused usually by his personnel and. now and then, even himself.
During the first two weeks – his third week in office is due today, Friday, Dec. 21 – three subjects that have come up repeatedly were the funding stoppage for the New International Mexico Airport (NAIM), his announcement that all state governors would be supervised by a “super delegate,” and third and noisiest. his Federal Law for Remunerations. which aims at putting salary caps on all federal government officials, none of whom can make more than the 108,000 peso cap AMLO set for himself.
On the airport case, construction continues under the aegis and financing of Mexico’s Número Uno billionaire Carlos Slim, who told construction contractors to continue work during the first quarter of 2019. He’s financing, he told them. So the controversial airport construction goes on while AMLO keeps touting converting the old Santa Lucía Mexican Air Force Base into one of three airports servicing Mexico City.
Secondly, AMLO had to negotiate with and calm down nervous governors from 32 states of the nation and convince them that the super-delegate was not a watchdog policeman, but rather the president’s personal representative in each of the states, or “viceroys,” as the popular lingo immediately renamed the super-delegates. AMLO had to make the point that his representative would not mingle in the state’s administrative affairs in any way-. That served as a temporary pacifier for the governors.
Then came the Federal Law for Remunerations, which was immediately stopped as “unconstitutional” by the Mexican Supreme Court. This dead cold stoppage of a presidential mandate sparked what was the most bitter encounter between the new president and the 11 judges of the Supreme Court. The point being is that the judges each make 265,000 pesos a month, while the president of the court has a 365,000 peso salary.
“Not even Donald Trump makes that much,” AMLO told the judges, who argued that salary caps were unconstitutional because they were considered by the executive as retroactive and no new law or even ordinance can be retroactive.
The friction between the Supreme Court judges and AMLO came to an end as he attended the Supreme Court final report of its outgoing and retiring president, Luis María Aguilar Morales. Yet from body language, it was clear that AMLO was delighted when Judge Aguilar Morales finally finished his discourse, always defending the “constitutional right” of the Supreme Court to set limits to the executive and legislative branches of government.
In short, the salaries of judges did not go down, and now it is in the hands of Mexico’s two legislation houses to try to set up limits to the “outrageous” wages judges at the Supreme Court – and elsewhere in the nation – are making, not including bribes, of course.
AMLO promised during his campaign he’d sweep the house, “the way it should be,” from the top down, only this time the judges did not let him have a broom with which to do it. But for López Obrador, starting with the Supreme Court was a good beginning, even if, for now, the struggle over the broom has resulted in a stalemate.
Those were the three issues making the most news commotion during the president’s first two weeks.
In the third week, two mayor mistakes caused AMLO problems. The first came in a preview in the 2019 national budget that suggested that universities would stop being autonomous. AMLO used his press conference to clarify that the statement was a typo and that universities would continue to enjoy their traditional autonomy.
The second one was accredited to another typo that cut down the budget for universities by over 5 billion pesos. The question being (which AMLO so far has played dumb about answering) continues to be: Who made that typo? Definitely among those drafting the budget, there were some AMLO enemies who wanted to harm him. And also, where was Finance Secretary Luis Urzúa when he presented this budget to the Chamber of Deputies? Didn’t he check out the education budget before it was presented?
The shortchanging for universities, more than just a scandal. immediately turned into an uproar just this past third week of AMLO’s mandate. The National Association of Universities and Higher Education Institutions (ANUIES) immediately cried foul, and AMLO was told that an increase and not a cut in the budget had been pledged by him during campaign.
Visibly upset, AMLO acknowledged “there’s been an error in the 2019 national budget” and immediately ordered a correction by drawing funds from different secretariats to make up for the 5.5 billion pesos missing from the universities’ budget. Still, AMLO is not answering the question as to who shortchanged the universities in his name. For sure, this is the first real embarrassment AMLO has had to apologize for, but … who done it? Hush!
Traditionally, Christmas vacations in Mexico start on Dec. 21, but for sure there will be no vacations for AMLO. In fact, the Mexican Senate had pleaded to go on vacation the moment they clear the 2019 budget out of their agenda, which that have until Dec. 31 to do.
Will AMLO suspend his press conferences too and take a break? We’ll find out next Monday.