Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Photo: Raices BCS

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

If there remains any doubt as to whether or not Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has assumed dictatorial powers, his blatant use of “trial by president” should be proof enough for anyone with even the slightest knowledge of how a democracy is supposed to work.

Let me be very clear: The fact that AMLO has transformed himself into a dictator does not contradict the fact that he was, indeed, duly elected on a populist platform in an apparently uncompromised election in July 2018.

But being elected and becoming a dictator retroactively are two very different things.

Lest we forget, some of the world’s most notorious dictators — Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez (one of AMLO’s biggest role models), Chavez’s successor Nicolás Maduro (AMLO’s buddy-buddy), Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Italy’s Benito Mussolini, and even Germany’s Adolf Hitler were, in fact, duly elected to their offices (all on populist platforms, by the way).

But it was once they took office that these infamous elected leaders transformed themselves into dictators by assuming powers not granted to them in their roles as head of states.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of a dictator is someone who assumes “absolute powers” and imposes “complete autocratic control, often in an oppressive way.”

By that very definition, AMLO has, since taking office, turned himself into a dictator par excellence.

AMLO has, since taking office, turned himself into a dictator par excellence.

From the beginning of his six-year term in December 2018, López Obrador has set out to dismantle one-by-one every independent institution in the country by undermining democratic norms and the system of checks and balances in order to prevent criticism or legal intervention of his ravenous grab for absolute power.

Under his so-called “Republican Austerity” program, AMLO has slashed budgets for the National Electoral Institute (INE, which he later packed with his accomplices), the Transparency Institute and a slew of other sectoral regulators.

He has denied funding for NGOs, afraid of their independent voices and defense of basic human rights.

He dismantled the Federal Police and replaced it with his own handpicked army under the guise of a National Guard (which he has since deployed in civilian settings in clear violation of Mexican law and international human rights standards).

He has turned the nation’s Treasury Secretariat and Fiscal General Attorney General’s Office (which he conveniently renamed the Fiscal General of the Republic) into his personal weapons of intimidation and revenge (both headed by his cherrypicked confreres), callously launching tax evasion investigations and congressional inquiries against any person or institution that dared to question his methods, whether they be for granting major federal contracts without any open bidding process or nominating unqualified candidates to technical commissions.

AMLO’s obsession to obtain absolute control of every aspect of Mexican life has led to the shuttering of women’s shelters (in a country with an already dangerously high level of female abuse and femicides), the closing of more than 5,000 public soup kitchens (when, according to United Nations figures, 52 million Mexicans go to bed hungry each night), and, most cruelly of all, the suspension of access to crucial medicines for critically ill children.

AMLO’s obsession to obtain absolute control of every aspect of Mexican life has led to the shuttering of women’s shelters, the closing of more than 5,000 public soup kitchens, and, most cruelly of all, the suspension of access to crucial medicines for critically ill children.

In a paranoid effort to stifle criticism and weed out technically-minded and non-partisan public servants, AMLO went on a firing spree, removing highly qualified government workers and replacing them with untrained and incompetent rubberstamp yes men and women.

Not content to control a constitutional majority in both of Mexico’s legislative houses — the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate — AMLO, even before taking office, created his own personal “public opinion gage” in the form of highly questionable and politically skewed “referendums” of small samplings of his cohorts in order to justify extraconstitutional agricultural and economic policies and to “authorize” dubious infrastructure projects. 

In order to expand his already-powerful political base, AMLO reversed a much-needed Education Reform implemented by his predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto, and kowtowed to a corrupt teachers’ union that refuses to standardize academic qualifications for its members and even allows its “teachers” to sell or pass down their positions to their descendants regardless of those “heirs'” educational qualifications.

He then proceeded to stack the Mexican courts, padding their rosters with his favorite loyalist supporters (including the wife of a favored contractor) and railroading the courts to overturn rulings he disliked.

AMLO has precociously cancelled national and international government contracts, earning Mexico repeated financial downgrades by global rating agencies and the permanently eroding investor trust and confidence.

Without any legal justification, AMLO doles out cash stipends each month to more than 20 million Mexicans who he has deemed worthy of income from a paternal state that has him as its “Great Benefactor,” and he has handed over millions of dollars from government coffers to foreign countries (mostly Central American nations and Cuba) without any congressional approval.

AMLO has mismanaged and misled the Mexican people on the growing covid-19 pandemic, and he has destroyed the nation’s economy for decades to come.

He has mismanaged and misled the Mexican people on the growing covid-19 pandemic (as of Sunday, Sept. 13, according to government statistics, 663,973 Mexicans have contracted the disease and 70,604 have died from it, although most outside sources consider the Mexican government covid figures to be sorely underestimated), and he has destroyed the nation’s economy, which he alternately blames on previous administrations and the novel coronavirus.

But perhaps the worst of AMLO’s multiple sins against the Mexican people has been the flagrant use of his daily nationally broadcast, bully pulpit press conferences (presented to a herd of unabashed AMLO lovers who refuse to raise real journalistic inquiries and who take his constant babbling spiel as gospel) to serve as judge and jury of anyone he feels has wronged him or his beloved Fourth Transformation administration.

AMLO loves to attack the press (among his favorite punching bags are Reforma and El Universal, both highly acclaimed and professional newspapers) for trial by media, which, admittedly, has become a shameful practice worldwide.

But what about trial by president?

AMLO constantly belittles and insults his detractors and continually accuses the six Mexican presidents who preceded him of being “corrupt” and “unscrupulous,” slanderous allegations by any measure.

And now, finally, one of the victims of his outrageous defamations has finally taken AMLO to task.

Alfonso Ancira, the owner and president of the Monterrey-based Altos Hornos de México (AHMSA, Mexico’s largest steelmaker), has filed legal charges against AMLO in a Mexico City administrative court on grounds of “defamation,” “an unjust biasing the courts,” and what he called “a continuous public lynching” of his character, which, collectively, Ancira claims, violates his right to due process and the presumption of innocence, along with10 articles of the Mexican Constitution and one article of the American Convention of Human Rights.

Granted, Ancira was arrested in Spain in May of 2019, but, as of yet, he has not been tried for the charges for which he was detained (his alleged involvement in the allegedly unlawful 2015 sale of a fertilizer plant to the state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex), and he has not been convicted of any crime.

Furthermore, when Ancira managed last month to get a ruling by a Chiapas court stating that the federal charges against him had expired, AMLO took to attacking the court and intimidating the judge, calling the ruling irregular.”

In other words, AMLO went beyond his nonstop badmouthing of an untried and unconvicted detainee, and used his self-imposed unlimited powers to threaten the nation’s already-frayed legal system.

AMLO has gone beyond his nonstop badmouthing of untried and unconvicted detainees, and has used his self-imposed unlimited powers to threaten the nation’s already-frayed legal system.

Ancira — who may indeed be guilty of the mounting charges against him, but that is a matter to be decided by the courts and not by the press or AMLO — is not the only victim of defamation and public trial by president.

López Obrador´s incessant verbal assaults and unproven accusations have been waged against numerous opponents and people currently under arrest and awaiting trials, from former Secretary of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development (Sedatu) Rosario Robles Berlanga to former Pemex Director Emilio Lozoya Austin.

Ancira’s suit against López Obrador is unlikely to go to court, and AMLO’s dictatorial control over Mexico’s judicial system will probably lead to a conviction against the steel owner, as well as all those currently facing trials under the unscrupulous scrutiny of a judicial biased president.

In the end, the almighty AMLO will certainly get his way and see his favorite enemies jailed, be it justly or unjustly.

Without a doubt, AMLO has proven the authoritative power of his will, but, in so doing, he has also proven himself to be a dictator by any definition of that word.

…Sept. 14, 2020

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