By RICARDO CASTILLO
The 10-page-long resignation letter Senator Germán Martínez Cázares sent to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) on Tuesday, May 21, resigning from the directorate post of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) marked a turn of political chess castling even before the president has been in office for six months.
Immediately after Martínez Cázares’ personal renouncement of his job following a head-on clash with tightfisted Treasury Secretary Carlos Urzúa, AMLO brought to the scene young, brilliant and upcoming political candidate Zoé Robledo Aburto to lead the monstrous IMSS, a cancer-ridden organism long infested with misadministration that’s supposed to look after the health of all working Mexicans. Robledo was pulled from an under secretary position at the Interior Secretariat. His only previous experience with the IMSS was that – he said it, not me – the fact that he knew the institution well because his mother worked at a clinic as a secretary when he was a child. Good grief!
This castling, however, was to be the first of a series of personnel movements that only 10 days later is now threatening to turn into an AMLO administration revolving door.
A second even noisier “resignation” announcement came four days later, on Saturday, May 25, when AMLO, during one of his weekend outings, announced that he had received — and accepted — the resignation of the head of the Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat (Semarnat), Josefa González Blanco Ortiz Mena.
(Josefa’s resignation merits some additional comments, which I will offer, starting with the over-abundance of last names tagged to her regular name of Josefa. She is the daughter of former Interior Secretary and Chiapas Governor Patrocinio González Blanco. Besides that, apparently she’s the granddaughter of former Finance Secretary Antonio Ortiz Mena. Tagging a bunch of family last names to your first is an old Spanish custom of the royalty days, when there were dukes and duchesses, counts and countesses prior to the 1821 Independence. The custom of using a long list of last names still gives some – not all – Mexicans the feeling of “belonging” to Mexican royalties, which, of course, have not existed since Emperor Maximilian was ousted from power in 1867. Her real name – under Mexican law – should be Josefa González Ortiz – an ordinary common name, if you ask me, but with Gonzalez Blanco Ortiz Mena, she comes off, at least in the eyes of some, of political pedigree.)
But what’s more interesting about Josefa’s resignation are the motives for which she opted to quit her job. AMLO said in his announcement of her leaving that she had first consulted with him.
Her problem was that earlier last week she had a reservation in Aeromexico to fly from Mexico City to Mexicali, Baja California. Apparently, she got stranded in Mexico City’s ominous traffic – nothing rare – and missed her flight. However, she talked to “a friend” at the airport and he called up the pilots as they were about to take off and ordered them to delay the plane’s departure. “It’s a presidential order,” he apparently said. The pilots reported that they were ordered to delay. So they delayed the flight for about 35 minutes, until the environment secretary arrived. She boarded and off they went.
Yet times have changed in Mexico, and by the time she boarded the plane, several irate passengers had already posted news of the delay on social media. The story immediately went viral. The big discussion was over how AMLO, who travels on regular flights and is always on time, could have given such an order.
By the time Josefa got back from Mexicali, she asked to meet with AMLO. He received her, but by then the embarrassment caused by the lie (either hers or her friend’s at the airline) of a “presidential order” was getting out of hand.
Of course, AMLO never issued such an order, so he had no choice but to let Josefa Gonzalez Blanco Ortiz Mena go. She scurried out, but not without being noticed.
The opening at Semarnat immediately sparked old ambitions. Lobbying began posthaste to gain the post for former Chiapas Governor and Senator Manuel Velazco Coello. Also competing for the position was Martha Delgado, of the Secretary of Foreign Relations political team of Marcelo Ebrard.
AMLO, however, made the decision to instead appoint environmentalist Victor Manuel Toledo Manzur, a biology professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Toledo has authored literally hundreds of articles on environmental care and has been seen as an ecological prophet in the desert for many years. He writes a weekly column in AMLO’s favorite newspaper, the left-wing La Jornada, and may bring about a different perspective and perhaps change some of AMLO’s signature programs, such as the Santa Lucía airport project, the Mayan railroad, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec industrial corridor project and the massive planting of trees on the Lacandona rain forest, all of which are being questioned by environmentalists.
A problem Toledo may face is that he is a scholarly researcher and not a seasoned politician. How will he deal with the financial powers at be to implement programs? Plus, the fact that Josefa (and all her last names) did some radical revamping at Semarnat, laying off close to 3,000 employees and enforcing drastic budget cuts, which have made many of the former programs not only unviable, but nearly impossible to carry out. Toledo Manzur will have to start from scratch, which may bring about a fresh start to old problem solving.
There have been other turns in AMLO’s revolving door, but for the meantime, the resignations of Martínez and now-former secretary Josefa have been noisy enough to bring about the question of who will be next to resign on AMLO.