Mexican Social Security Institute Director’s Resignations Stirs up Political Hornet’s Nest
By RICARDO CASTILLO
In what constituted the first internal rupture of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) administration, Senator Germán Martínez Cázares, director of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), turned in his resignation on Tuesday, May 21, after denouncing “pernicious interference” from Treasury Secretariat (Hacienda) officials, apparently acting on orders from Treasury Secretary Carlos Urzúa.
Martínez Cázares read a very long letter of resignation to the IMSS Technical Council and accused Hacienda of brutally slashing the institute’s operating budget, offering only cosmetic fixes and refusing to pay heed to the needs presented by the IMSS.
In describing some of the measures taken by the Treasury Secretariat, in addition to “an absence of dialogue,” Martínez Cázares said that’s its many full-time workers are facing job insecurity, while unfilled job vacancies are on the increase. He also said that there is a “brutal backlog” in medical infrastructure in which progress is at a standstill. He said contracts and agreements (with pharmaceutical companies) are on the verge of ending as claims and suits pile up, and access to medical supplies, though guaranteed, is in a precarious state and, in some cases “hanging by a thread.”
AMLO was taken aback by the resignation, but immediately came to the defense of Treasury Secretary Urzúa. He was on tour in the state of Veracruz at the time, but he commented:
“The Treasury has to participate in all deeds corresponding to the Social Security Institute and the Institute of State Workers (ISSSTE), as well as the federal government. Even though these are decentralized and autonomous institutes, I am very orthodox and very respectful of the decisions made by the Treasury.”
The very next morning, AMLO announced that Zoé Robledo Aburto, a former senator from the state of Chiapas, as well as a political analyst and Interior undersecretary in the AMLO administration, would take over the post.
Though the resignation of Martínez Cázares, who, as of Wednesday, May 22, is back in his Senate seat, does not represent a crack at the seams of the administration, it certainly gave way for the throngs of AMLO critics to vociferously unleash their ire and claim that the country is beginning to crumble. The Mexican press on Wednesday was full of accusations. Two things, however, shield AMLO from their criticism. One is his outstanding popularity, and the other is his solid majority in both houses of Congress.
What Martínez Cázares described as a critical situation at the IMSS is nothing new, although it is a fact that, under the current administration, accountants have been ordered to slash the budget wherever they can. Of course, these moves under the “republican austerity” money programming established by Urzúa – on AMLO orders – has wreaked havoc in some areas of the IMSS’ finances.
The IMMS is programmed to provide free medical service to all Mexican workers who by law must be registered with it. Registrations keep increasing on a yearly basis, which has provoked, particularly over the past few years, a tremendous overpopulation and long waiting lines for persons seeking medical care, many of whom go unattended.
A former IMSS director, Mikel Arriola, who quit his job during the administration of Mexico’s past president, Enrique Peña Nieto, to run for Mexico City governor, claimed that past directors like himself have nothing to do with the current crisis. Using medical references, he washed his hands of all responsibility by saying, “at IMSS, I delivered a healthy baby.”
In his resignation, Martínez Cázares said that saving to control excess expenditures in medical care “is unhuman.”
“That control is affecting poorer Mexicans and producing negative effects: halls full of people in pain, poor treatment and delays in patient attention,” he said. “A second indirect effect is the strengthening of private medical services.”
In his resignation, Martínez Cázares also said that he knew this would cause a scandal, but that he acted in absolute conviction, with an intent to construct, not destroy. However, he said, “the millions of sick who are being cared for in our clinics and hospitals do not deserve, not for a minute, to be victimized by the power grabs going on.” Martínez Cázares claimed that the Treasury wanted to control the IMSS in violation of the fact that it is an autonomous institution.
Martínez Cázares said that since his appointment to the IMSS directorship post – which forced him to request a leave of absence from the Senate – he sent a budget to the Treasury officials overseeing the IMSS and complied with the president’s instructions to practice austerity and discipline in spending. He claimed he never received an answer on his budget proposal. In March, he said he sent a request to hire the programmed personnel needs for 2019 and, again, received no answer. He made proposals for the National Development Plan 2019-2024 (the administration’s financial guidebook), “but they were not included,” and finally, on May 2, Martínez Cázares said he made an appointment, apparently with Urzúa, to discuss pending issues, but that meeting was cancelled at the last minute.
This final act is what he said prompted him to make the decision to resign and return to his Senate seat.
Just as there were strong reactions against AMLO because of Martínez Cázares’ resignation, the proportionate representation senator did not come out unscathed from the fray. Several columnists said that perhaps the discomfort Martínez Cázares created at the IMSS was that of “a fifth column.” Many people in Mexico will recall that that he was former President Felipe Calderón’s right hand man. He ran Calderón’s campaign and helped him make it to the presidency. He was first named Public Function secretary and then kicked upstairs by Calderón to the presidency of the National Action Party (PAN), which under his aegis went asunder during the 2009 midterm elections.
In fact, his resignation was immediately taken up as a banner by current PAN senators and deputies as one more of the many failures of the AMLO administration. These same PAN members celebrated Martínez Cázares’ accusations against Urzúa, who, in the eyes of many, is doing nothing other than applying “the St. Francis austerity” dictated by AMLO, who made Martínez Cázares a National Regeneration Movement (Morena) senator under the plurinominal mode of seats in Congress, which awards sets according to the number of votes acquired in the last election. In this department, Morena is tops.
Definitely, the Martínez Cázares affair is the rock making waves in the pond of Mexican politics at the moment.
But the real question is: Will this improve the IMSS’ shoddy medical services?
Maybe it will, if Treasury Secretary Carlos Urzúa decides to unleash a torrent of pesos in the direction of the IMSS.