By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
As my esteemed colleague Ricardo Castillo pointed out in his column on Friday, March 8, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is due to present a self-styled analysis of his first 100 days in office on Monday, March 11.
And as Castillo duly noted, the left-leaning AMLO is expected to “blow his own horn” about his many accomplishments over the last three months, no doubt, with frequent baseball terms and references in keeping with his overt obsession with that sport.
But while AMLO is not shy to sing his own praises, as evidenced by his constant self-glorifications during his daily morning press conferences, he is less keen about admitting his flaws and tends to downplay any personal or political shortcomings or redirect blame on his favorite list of culprits: the corrupt “fifi” media and private sector, the even-more corrupt international ratings agencies, and, of course, Mexico’s “corrupt-to-the-core” neoliberal governments of the past.
There is no reason to suspect that the president’s analysis on Monday will be any more impartial than his usual early-morning spiels.
So while AMLO will certainly be self-aggrandizing in his account of his mounting popularity (which he has indeed accomplished), the cancelation of the New International Mexico Airport, or NAIM (the results for which the jury is still out) and his admittedly successful (albeit costly) war on huachicoleo (fuel theft), he will probably cover the issues of crime, a drop in international credit ratings and dwindling foreign investment prospects with a broad stroke, if at all.
And so, with that in mind, I offer up a brief juxtaposing analysis of López Obrador’s first 100 days in office:
The cancelation of the NAIM was in AMLO’s eyes a great achievement and the fulfillment of one of his most important campaign promises, justified by a farcical “referendum” in which less than 1.5 percent of eligible voters participated and for which there was no oversight to ensure impartiality as to the wording of the questions or guarantee that people did not vote more than once.
Notably, the plebiscite resulted in more than 90 percent support for the scrapping of the $13 billion airport, which, according to who you spoke to, was already 20 to 40 percent completed.
AMLO’s alternative to the NAIM is to expand the existing (and already-overcrowded to the point of dysfunctionality) Mexico City Benito Juárez International Airport and to add two additional landing strips at the nearby Santa Lucía military air base.
The problem with that solution is that: 1) it closes Mexico out of the global air communications market as a regional hub (which translates into big money in terms of international landings); 2) the cost of destroying the already-built section of the project and paying off contractor cancellation fees amounted to more than $5 billion (plus the money already paid out for the work left half-done); 3) the Santa Lucía airport is geographically aligned with the Benito Juárez Airport, which means that air traffic will conflict and very few additional planes will be able to operate and, to make matters worse, the Santa Lucía Airport is too small to handle large aircraft landings or takeoffs; and 4) the cancelation of the NAIM immediately triggered jitters among both national and international investors, along with a tumble in the peso-dollar exchange rate (which, admittedly, has since been compensated), a steep drop in the Bolsa (which remains stagnant) and a downgrade by JPMorgan Chase of the country’s predicted growth rate from 2.4 percent to 1.9 percent, a relegation that has since echoed across all of the Big Three international credit agencies, the Bank of Mexico (Banxico), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and, most recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), all of which predict that Mexico will be doing well if it manages to pull off a 2 percent growth rate in 2019 and 2020.
But, hey, Mr. Never-Studied-Economics López Obrador knows better than all those amateur financial quantitaters that the country will grow by at least 4 percent this year, and he has the unflinching support of the masses to prove it (although what popularity and economics have in common is beyond me).
But moving right along on some of the president’s other controversial “accomplishments,” we have AMLO’s brilliant decision to throw out his predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto’s (EPN) Education Reform (perhaps one of the few real triumphs of the past administration) and let teachers go back to “teaching” without having to bother to take tests themselves to see if they are qualified (and then there is the inevitable return of the practice that EPN had managed to squelch of allowing “teachers” to pass down their positions to relatives regardless, of whether or not those “heirs” have any professional training in the field). Welcome back, “Maestra” Elba Esther Gordillo and your pack of pseudo-teacher mafiosos.
As for the “success” of the president’s war on gasoline theft, well, yes, according to his government’s figures, fuel piracy dropped by 86 percent in the first two months of his ambitious anti-huachicoleo campaign, but in four weeks alone the price of gasoline shot up nearly 2 pesos a liter in February, and most Mexicans and residents of Mexico do not need to be reminded of the gasoline shortages of December and January. And, lest we forget, 132 Mexicans lost their lives desperately trying to get gasoline in Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo during that AMLO-provoked fuel shortage.
We have covered AMLO’s controversial new National Guard (GN) ad nauseum in Pulse News Mexico over the last couple months, so suffice it to note that the new military-and-civil mix national defense body has garnered the condemnation of practically every Mexican and international human rights organization, all of which warn that it opens the door to serious threats to Mexican democracy and national civil institutions and could potentially violate international human rights standards by allowing the military to intervene in civil matters.
As for crime, murder rates in Mexico are still climbing, despite the fact that AMLO has called off the war on drugs, with January 2019 (the most recent month for which official data is available) qualifying as the bloodiest ever, with 2,928 registered homicides and 140 kidnappings (with 164 victims), also the highest for any January.
In fact, according to the Executive Secretariat for the National Public Safety System (SESNSP), since López Obrador took office, there have been no less than 94 homicides a day, which translates into four every hour.
In order to finance his new “social” programs — many of which amount to nothing more than handing out cash to do-nothing supporters — AMLO cut funding to the arts, science, tourism and clean-energy programs.
Under AMLO, Mexico has become an international disgrace in terms of its foreign policy, with the president defending the Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, despite the fact that this monster sent troops to burn direly needed food and medicine at his borders rather than allowing it to enter into the country. In defense of this turn-a-blind-eye policy, AMLO keeps referring to the clause in the Mexican Constitution that promotes nonintervention in the affairs of other countries, but that very same clause makes reference to the defense of human rights of all people, which, for López Obrador, doesn’t seem to apply to the Venezuelan people.
And I am intentionally not touching on the unsolved murder of Samir Flores Soberanes, who actively opposed AMLO’s initiative to open a controversial thermoelectric plant in the state of Morelos, and the mysterious death of newly instated Puebla Governor Martha Erika Alonso and her husband — both strong political enemies of AMLO — in a helicopter crash in December.
To be fair, it is still early in AMLO’s administration, and it will be a while until the merits or failures of his policies can be impartially judged.
But President López Obrador will no doubt be rating himself as “batting a thousand” during his first 100 days, so I offer up this meager (and incomplete) not-so-shining analysis of his first three and a half months as a counterbalance.
Only time will tell which analysis is more correct, but I’m laying odds that López Obrador will not go down in Mexican history as the country’s best president, me canso ganso!