By RICARDO CASTILLO
There’s an old practice in Mexican political journalism known as “tying knives” (“amarrando navajas,” if you want the Spanish term.)
The term is not political in origin. In fact, it actually refers to the moment before a cockfight when the people in charge of making the birds fight tie a steel blade to the roosters’ spurs. Consequently, when the battle begins, one of the cocks is going to stab the other … and win the fight.
In journalism, the term refers to pitching one politician against another.
There’s no doubt Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is very much aware of the practice, which usually comes with provocations of calling a politico a coward for not engaging with a foe. The fact is that, over the past year, throngs of people have wanted AMLO to show his nationalism by picking a fight with U.S. President Donald Trump. But López Obrador has evaded the “tying knives” practice and never taken the bait. As a result, he has not had a fight with Trump.
The last time AMLO used the words “I’m not going to pick a fight with President Trump,” which he has literally publicly repeated at least 100 times in public in his first year in office, was last year on Dec. 13, after the signing of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
On celebrating its success AMLO said: “Everyone was wagering on the fact that since I am from the tropics, that I was going to engage in a fight with Donald Trump. Even he himself told me that they were all betting on that we were going to fight over, but I don’t want to fight with you.”
AMLO continued: “Well, me neither, I said to him.”
To sum it up, AMLO has managed on a consistent basis to avoid a collision course, not just with Trump, but with all those who have disagreed with many of his controversial decisions.
Let’s just start with Evo Morales, the toppled Bolivian would-be dictator who reelected himself for a fourth time this year. AMLO, on believing that Morales’ life was truly in danger, sent a plane to Bolivia to fly him to Mexico and give him asylum for a month. Evo clearly disagreed with AMLO’s friendly policies toward the United States – and not so amiable Trump – and left the nation almost in silence, giving thanks for the hospitality. He left the same day the final protocol for the USCMA was inked.
The Evo affair was no little matter. Most observers in Mexico agree that AMLO has sent a clear message of a new line of relations with the leftwing governments of Latin America (Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and now Argentina, mainly), letting them know that Mexico’s top priority in terms of international relations is the United States. Period. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
The road to now in AMLO’s administration has not been easy. It’s been one of winding roads, even today, as the USMCA has yet to be voted on in the U.S. Congress, where it is now in the Washington political arena and not a national issue in Mexico any more. But Democrats will surely use the USMCA vote against Trump as a secret weapon Mexicans call “the wooden knife,” which can be stabbed with, but will neither cut you nor kill you, although it’s sure to nag you to hell.
AMLO’s no-confrontation policy is also paying off on the home front. Surely everyone remembers the ruckus raised by the cancellation of the New International Mexico Airport (NAIM) on the Texcoco dry lakebed basin to the east of Mexico City. The cancellation came, to boot, after a much-questioned referendum carried out in October 2018, and executed on his first day in office on Dec. 1.
The next move AMLO made was clear up all the debt from the project and invite all construction companies participating in the canceled airport to help build the new airport near the Teotihuacán pyramids, at the Santa Lucía Mexican Air Force Base.
Nevertheless, paying up contractors was not sufficient. The move stirred clear international investors mistrust and even further enticed the Big Three international credit rating companies to literally declare war on AMLO’s leftist government due to the NAIM cancellation. (Plus the fact that the creditors lost the juicy contracts they had under the Enrique Peña Nieto administration. For sure, they had their motives.) It took a year of consistent foreign investment luring and enticement moves to stabilize the country’s economic boat.
AMLO’s most important move, however, has been coming to terms with the several existing entrepreneurial organizations that he knew were extremely unhappy with him. To them, the NAIM cancellation was the initiation of a clear move to leftist policies.
Over the months and through his chief of staff and close financial advisor, Alfonso Romo, AMLO has managed to bring into the fold top groups such as the Business Coordinating Council (CCE) through courting a friendship with its leader, Carlos Salazar Lomelín, as well as with Antonio del Valle Perochena of the Mexican Business Council, which gathers the nation’s top capitalist millionaires. They have all pleaded to invest in infrastructure projects during 2020 and beyond. That’s marks another AMLO success.
And then, there’s Mexican business tycoon Carlos Slim, who was the biggest loser with the cancellation of NAIM, as it was his master project and investment. Slim turned out to be a pragmatic man and knew he could do nothing to stop the NAIM cancellation and admitted it – not without claiming that it was AMLO’s mistake, of course.
But AMLO invited Slim to participate new business ventures and Slim, over the past six months, has become a highly welcome personality at the National Palace. And government contracts — not as profitable as the NAIM would have been, true, but profitable nonetheless — are now trickling down in his direction.
The point being is that AMLO has steadily managed to get out of trouble through negotiations and dialogue, and definitely staying away from the “knife-tying” cockfighting mongers of yesteryear, who are now in search of better ways to create conflict and sell newspapers.