By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
And so it begins…
After opening a Pandora box of a video tape of questionable origin, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has now finds himself embroiled in a mounting scandal of allegedly illegal funds that have already cast an incriminating shadow on his left-leaning National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party and even his brother.
It all started with a series of leaks and videos — still be to released publicly — of alleged payoffs and acts of embezzlement that are part of the tantalizing exposé trial of “protected witness” Emilio Lozoya Austin, the former head of the state-run oil interest Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) under former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The allegations made thus far by Lozoya have been powerful media bombshells that seem to clearly implicate high-level members of the past administration, and had constituted a significant boost for AMLO’s slipping popularity.
Pleased with his newly minted drain-the-swamp banner against the ubiquitous corruption that has for decades — maybe even centuries — inundated nearly every aspect of the Mexican political landscape, AMLO, who ran on an anti-corruption platform and who inevitably resorts to redundant spiels against the graft and malfeasance of past administrations whenever he runs out of topics or wants to defer attention away from his own political shortcomings (the country is in a dire economic crisis and the covid-19 pandemic has surpassed, by the government’s own definition, catastrophic levels), then decided to up the ante.
Suddenly, out of the blue, last week another mysterious tape appeared on social media (the “blessed social media,” as AMLO constantly refers to it), displaying Guillermo Gutiérrez Badillo, the private secretary and a close friend of Querétaro Governor Francisco Domínguez Servién (at the time, a senator for the opposition National Action Party, or PAN), receiving huge packages of cash, allegedly destined for Domínguez for having supported Peña Nieto’s controversial Energy Reform. This video was allegedly filmed in 2013.
Ah, but then someone in the opposition turned the tables on the president and, in a clear tit-for-tat move, released two videos on Thursday, Aug. 20, showing none other than AMLO’s little brother, Pio López Obrador, receiving large bundles of cash in 2015 from close AMLO cohort, David León, a former civil protection chief who was recently named to run a state entity that will distribute medical supplies.
The damning videos were first shown by journalist Carlos Loret de Mola on his online news program Latinus, but soon went viral.
Confronted about the tapes by his own swarm of pro-AMLO media flies during his regular early morning press conference on Friday, Aug. 21, López Obrador hemmed and hawed, saying that these latest videos had “nothing to do with corruption,” and were simply the filming of the delivery of “contributions” to Morena made by his supporters, which were later used for the 2015 elections in Chiapas.
The only trouble with that excuse — okay, one of the many troubles with that excuse — is that there were no relevant differences between the three videos (they all show politicians receiving bundles of money), and no way to verify either the source of the cash nor its eventual destination in any of the three cases.
Asked if the funds his brother received were subsequently registered with the appropriate electoral authorities, AMLO said he was not sure and quickly changed the subject.
López Obrador was clearly displeased with the “gotcha” tape of bro Pio, and, in true AMLO fashion, decided to launch yet another grenade in his endless war on critics, this time against the highly respected Mexican news magazine, Nexos.
In retaliation against the conservative press (all of which AMLO considers “corrupt” and “illegally financed by the right”), AMLO torpedoed Nexos with a government fine of $45,000 and a two-year ban of all federal advertising (not that the Morena government advertises in any non-pro-AMLO publications in the first place).
The fine and advertising ban were supposedly imposed because Nexos allegedly presented false documentation while trying to get paid for a public health promotional ad that ran in the magazine in 2018. (The amount the magazine billed for the ad was less than $3,000, raising questions about whether the punishment was proportionate.)
In a statement, Nexos editorial director Héctor Aguilar Camín said that the allegedly false documentation was the result of a “bureaucratic” issue and could be sorted out, but under the AMLO administration, all opposition is considered guilty until proven innocent.
The decision to persecute Nexos was immediately condemned by both national and international press groups and human rights organizations alike, which called the fine disproportionate and excessive.
AMLO’s vendetta assault on Nexus constituted yet one more step in AMLO’s ongoing war against freedom of the press.
Although he has openly insulted and barraged journalists and media that dare to speak against him, this was his first blatant act of news censureship.
Since he took office, AMLO’s unbridled hatred of and rantings against the press has led to a surge in the number of journalists killed in Mexico, which, according to Reporters Without Borders, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting freedom of information, tally over 30 under the president’s 21-month watch.
The Mexican president’s ceaseless lashings out and growing attempts to silence freedom of the press will only help to amplify AMLO’s many failings as a statesman, and, left untempered, could very well lead to his political demise.
…Aug. 24, 2020