Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Photo: presidencia.gob.mx

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once famously quipped, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

The point that Disraeli was trying to make is that the selective use of numbers can bolster any argument and disguise any truths to accommodate a political agenda.

Nowhere is that persuasive power of carefully culled figures more apparent than in the case of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who, whenever confronted by facts and numbers that inconvenience him or contradict his mule-headed policies to socialize the country at any cost, inevitably resorts to one of his favorite catch phrases: “Yo tengo otros datos” (“I have other data”).

One of the most recent — and blatant — examples of López Obrador’s obstinate refusal to accept any figures that disprove his ranting panoply of unilateral dictates and allegations is the on-going saga of Mexico’s Superior Auditor of the Federation’s (ASF) calculation of the actual cost of his 2018 cancellation of the New Mexico International Airport (NAIM).

Late last month, the ASF issued an extensive cost analysis of the government’s overall expenditure in cancelling the $7 billion project, which was well over half completed when AMLO decided to shut it down out of spite and vengeance against the country’s previous administration.

The study, which involved the participation of more than 20 financial analysts and took more than a year to complete, showed the true cost of the NAIM cancelation was 331.9 billion pesos, almost three times the amount that AMLO had contended.

For months, AMLO had bragged that the cancellation had only cost the government 100 billion pesos, and gleefully proclaimed that that figure translated into bottom-line savings for the nation.

Not one to hold his temper, AMLO immediately broke out in a ranting-raving temper tantrum when he heard about the ASF analysis, angrily decrying the validity of the report and threatening once again to “shut down” the ASF, a still-quasi-independent entity that the president sees (along with every other independent government agency) as a threat to his ever-expanding autocrat power.

In an effort to try to appease the president’s fractious ire, two days later, the head of the ASF backtracked on the numbers it had released, citing inconsistencies in methodology and alleging that the real cost was much lower than previously reported.

But that was not enough to uncrinkle the ruffled feathers of the vainglorious AMLO, who rails out against anyone who dares to repudiate his “otros datos” truths.

Splenetic to the end, AMLO not only mocked the ASF for its “erroneous report,” but used the redacted version of its analysis to further justify the elimination of independent agencies, noting that government bodies that are not 100 percent under his thumb and dictate “cannot be trusted.”

But the ASF-AMLO confrontation story doesn’t end there.

On Monday, March 8, the ASF auditor who was responsible for overseeing the NAIM cancelation cost analysis, Agustín Caso Raphael, offered one last Hail Mary pass to placate the president and find some middle ground that would neither contradict AMLO’s concocted figures nor compromise the credibility of the Superior Auditor’s Office.

Treading with diplomatic tiptoes, Caso Raphael appeared before Mexico’s AMLO-regimented Chamber of Deputies to say that “while the position of the secretary of the treasury (Arturo Herrera, another AMLO petty minion who has no qualms about walking in the shadow of the president to find himself a dishonorable grave beneath his feet and who, on the orders of his great “Colossus,” declared that the ASF report was composed of basic errors in 75 percent of its content) is very respectable, but these are estimates, not definitive figures.”

In an apparent bid to save both his job and the ASF, Caso Rafael went on say that “the report of the Superior Auditor’s Office is consistent with the methodology used.”

In other words, he said, the statistics derived from the study can be remolded to accommodate whatever results are sought depending on how they are interpreted.

Consequently, Caso Rafael maintained, after recalculating the statistics over and over again, there “were no errors and no bad faith” in the ASF’s calculations, which he added, would be reviewed once again (no doubt to better adapt to the president’s political agenda).

Lambasted with a flurry of combative and accusatory questions from the pro-AMLO deputies, Caso Raphael said that he at no time intended to “offend” the president and pointed out that “there are no good or bad statistics, just different methodologies for analyzing them.”

But, of course, we all know that it is only AMLO’s numbers that the president will accept.

And so, to paraphrase Disraeli, here in Mexico, there are lies, damn lies and AMLO’s “otros datos.”

…March 11, 2021

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