By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
There’s no denying that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO, as he likes to be called) is charismatic, and he definitely puts on a great show.
In fact, his daily song and dance act at the National Palace has become a standing-room-only extravaganza with “sold-out” crowds of politically developmentally challenged proselytes who see him as their messiah, ready to take them back to the warm-and-fuzzy 1960s of glorified socialism and peace-and-love politics.
And anyone who has witnessed his daily soliloquys and flights of fantasy can attest that he definitely delivers what they want (at least on his bully pulpit stage of the Palacio Nacional).
But for all his theatrical chatter and nonstop claims of moral superiority (the president doth protest too much, methinks), so far AMLO has been all talk and no cattle, and what results he has rendered in his first six months in office have been 180 degrees from what he promised to accomplish.
Take, for example, the fact that the Great Champion of the People was supposed to free Mexico’s underprivileged masses from the heavy yoke of economic oppression and lift the nation’s poor out of their squalor.
But according to the government’s own National Evaluation Council of Social Development Policy (Coneval), which is a subsidiary of the Social Development Secretariat (Sedesol), poverty has increased under AMLO.
During the first trimester of the year, extreme poverty was 5.4 percent higher in urban areas and 5.6 percent higher in rural areas compared to the same period in 2018.
So, as it turns out, instead of eradicating poverty, as he said he would do, AMLO has, in the span of just half a year, managed to increase the nation’s roster of destitute down-and-outs.
Then there’s the matter of unemployment.
According to the National Institute of Geography and Statistics (INEGI) – again, the government’s own statistics – unemployment surged in the first trimester of 2019 compared to that same period a year ago, reaching its highest level in 27 months.
And while Mexico has its own sui generis way of calculating unemployment (anyone who works at least one hour a week is considered gainfully employed), nearly 2 million Mexicans were counted among the jobless in March 2019, the most recent figures the INEGI has compiled.
Meanwhile, underemployment has jumped from 3.1 percent in the first semester of 2018 to nearly 3.4 percent for that period in 2019.
In other words, there are currently at least 3.7 million working Mexicans who don’t make enough to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads.
The informal economy – the unmonitored, untaxed world of barter and under-the-table dealings – now accounts for 52 percent of the country’s workforce and more than 30 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which translates into annual losses of more than 43 billion pesos in fiscal revenues.
(Forgive me if I insert a question here, but, without tax income, how does AMLO think he is going to keep paying a salary to be unproductive to those infamous ni-estudian-ni-trabajan, out-of-school-out-of-work “ninis” that he has so generously taken under the wing of the federal government’s budget?)
But perhaps AMLO’s biggest financial blunder (okay, it’s hard to nail down a single economic faux pas when there are so many to choose from, such as the no-go Santa Lucía airport project, the damn-the-torpedoes-and-slash-and-burn-the-Yucatan Tren Maya railway, and, of course, the pre-doomed Dos Bocas refinery project – an environmental disaster waiting to happen) is his unfounded belief that the Mexican economy is on a roll.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Not only did it not increase by the whopping 4 percent that AMLO promised at the start of his six-year term, it actually shrank by .2 percent in the first trimester of this year.
Ah, but the president will tell you, it’s all an international conspiracy.
The international ratings agencies, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and just about any other credible financial analyst in and out of Mexico are part of some global neoliberal plot that is out to ruin his administration.
Oh, and lest we forget, AMLO’s bafflegab double-talk show last Thursday, May 16, in which he bragged that direct foreign investment in Mexico had increased by 7 percent in the first trimester of the year compared to that of the first trimester of 2018, was pure, unadulterated spiel.
The truth is that, according to the Economy Secretariat, direct foreign investment in Mexico not only didn’t rise, but fell, from $12.644 billion in the first quarter of 2018 to $10.162 billion in the first quarter of 2019, a 19.6 percent downtick.
As I said earlier, AMLO is a great showman, and his nonstop theatrics are definitely entertaining, if you like that kind of thing.
But the truth is his act is getting pretty old and his talk has no walk (or its walk is in the wrong direction).
Maybe it is time for AMLO to stop putting on a show every morning and start doing his job for a change.
Either that, or quit his day job.