By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
There’s no debating the fact that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) knows which side of his bread is buttered on (and which side to keep on buttering).
As his popularity continues to wane due to his disastrous mismanagement of the covid-19 pandemic, his head-strong insistence on pouring seemingly endless funds into a moribund state-run energy sector already on fiscal life-support, his damn-the-torpedoes development on the Tren Maya tourist train that environmental experts say will devastated the fragile ecosystem of the Yucatan Peninsula and, lest we forget, his unabashed power grab to control every aspect of Mexican political life and utter disregard for the nation’s laws and constitution, AMLO is banking on his personal National Guard (GN) army to keep him in power even when his most devout followers finally turn on him.
Back in the start of his presidency in early 2019, López Obrador said he created the National Guard as a small, elite unit to “clean up corruption” within Mexico’s federal police.
But since then, AMLO’s military has grown, from a paltry 32,000 members at the start of 2019 to more than 160,000 members today.
And to keep this ever-expanding army faithful to him, AMLO has awarded them with countless spoils, from control of the very lucrative customs division to the total construction and management (and the pocketing of earnings) from the Tren Maya project.
Moreover, AMLO has showered the National Defense Secretariat (Sedena) with unprecedented financial resources (just in the first quarter of this year, the military’s trust soared by more than 32 percent), and, to make matters worse, the Army and Navy are now exempt from financial accountability to the rest of the nation.
Under AMLO’s watch, in the last two and a half years Mexico has eroded from a fledgling democracy to a quasi-police state under the GN, and this is all part of López Obrador’s plan to concentrate power and ensure his dictatorial reign, following to the letter the political playbook of his hero and role model, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
After already having turned over at least 27 civilian powers to the military, on Monday, May 10, AMLO presented Sedena with yet another choice prize: the Isthmus de Tehuantepec railroad project in southern Oaxaca.
Like the Tren Maya, the Tehuantepec Isthmus railroad system is a project that the local residents do not want and have fought over for more than 18 decades.
This so-called “Railroad to Nowhere” project — which would stretch 300 kilometers from Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, to Salina Cruz, Oaxaca — has been a political hot potato that nearly every Mexican administration since the mid-1940s has explored and subsequently abandoned because of its infeasibility and the social discord between the diverse local communities, which cannot come to an agreement on routes and logistics.
But no matter. Now the Mexican military will take charge of the Isthmus railway, and, as in the case of the Tren Maya, plow ahead, regardless of local objections or protests.
And as for AMLO? Once again, he has shown himself to be an overbearing and despotic tyrant whose only interest is consolidating his own absolute political power and keeping hold of it through a mollycoddled military.