By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
There is no doubt that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has favored the country’s military since taking office, constantly increasing its size, powers, budget and impunity.
One of the obvious reasons for AMLO’s affinity for Mexico’s armed forces is the simple fact that a well-pampered military is very unlikely to stage a coup against a head of state — even if he or she should decided to overstep their powers or terms — a bit of Machiavellian political wisdom long employed by authoritarian leaders around the globe.
And while many of AMLO’s critics have expressed concern over the expanding presence and power of the military in Mexico, along with the growing role of high-ranking former soldiers in his government, López Obrador has made it clear that he doesn’t give a damn about his opponents’ views or protests.
During his first two and a half years as president, AMLO’s main focus seems to have been making sure that his so-called Fourth Transformation (4T) reforms stay in place, even if an opposition government were to come to power after him.
And, by implication (and the dangerous precedence of the “legalized” term extension of his buddy-buddy Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldivar), AMLO is setting the stage for a possible prolongation of his own six-year term.
Following the handbook of the likes of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, AMLO has increased the salaries of the military and endowed its top brass with gifts to ensure that their loyalty remains with him, rather than with the Mexican people.
If there is one common element in all of the historical milestones that AMLO considers Mexico’s three previous “transformations” — its Independence from Spain, its Reformation (with the subsequent French intervention and the ephemeral empire of Maximiliano) — is that they all involved “drastic changes in the political balance of power brought about by (military) force, in which Mexico was obliged to take up arms,” Volpi wrote.
“In all three cases, civilian life was disrupted and the military reached unprecedented levels of influence,” he continued.
“In an irremediable manner, the 4T is setting as its prototype these periods of confrontation and war.”
Volpi went on to say that while he does not not know to what extent the idealization of Mexico’s “warlike past” is responsible for the surge in influence that Mexico’s Army and Navy have enjoyed during AMLO’s administration, he pondered that “perhaps it explains why a social leader who has always associated himself with the left is now determined to grant them ever more power.”
Volpi noted that no other Mexican president in recent history has empowered the country’s military so abundantly.
“Again and again, the president has insisted on qualifying the nation’s military as ‘good people,’ categorizing them as allies of Mexico’s institutions — or, rather, of his 4T — while obstinately ignoring the inherent dangers that an overly powerful military can represent for a civilian society,” he said.
“Nothing in López Obrador’s long previous political career (before assuming the presidency) suggested such an alliance with the Army, which he always said he viewed with distrust.”
In fact, Volpi said, before taking office in 2018, AMLO criticized former President Felipe Calderón for his use of military forces and repeatedly promised that if he were to became president, he would “return the troops to their barracks, entrusting public security tasks to strictly civil organizations.”
“The tragic breach of this promise is perhaps the greatest disappointment of AMLO’s administration,” Volpi said.
“The transition of the regime of the Revolution consisted precisely in gradually abandoning its warlike origin and keeping the Army in an increasingly discreet position. From Miguel Alemán onward, that relative invisibility of the Army — which was primarily associated with providing assistance during situations of emergency — earned the military enormous public trust, a trust that was shattered when Calderón began joint operations and exponentially increased both the military’s budget and its influence.”
Paradoxically, Volpi said, “López Obrador has surpassed, by far, the militarization initiated by his nemesis,” referring to Calderón, at whom AMLO never misses a chance to take a verbal swipe.
“Not only has (AMLO) not returned the Army to its barracks, but he has granted it the construction of his emblematic infrastructure projects, such as the Felipe Ángeles Airport — it is no coincidence that it bears the name of a general — and the Tren Maya tourist train,” Volpi said.
Moreover, he said, AMLO has completely excluded the military from his extremist “Republican Austerity” (which has left thousands of children with cancer and countless others with chronic medical conditions without medications), even going so far as to protect military trusts while eliminating those of all other government agencies.”
And finally, Volpi said, the culmination of AMLO’s largess of the military was confirmed on Tuesday, June 15, “when he publicly announced his intention — fortunately, with little chance of success — to propose a new constitutional reform that would integrate the National Guard into the Secretariat of Defense.”
What such a reform would mean, Volpi explained, would be that the Army would be in charge of virtually every aspect of public security, “something that happens only in the most authoritarian countries on the planet.”
“The fact that some of AMLO’s own political allies — the Labor Party (PT) and (Gerardo) Fernández Noroña (a prominent member of the PT) — have spoken out against the initiative confirms the magnitude of the absurdity it represents,” he said.
Volpi said all this goes to show that, given that he cannot completely bend the Mexican Constitution and voters to his whims, “Lopez Obrador has found in the Army the only institution that offers him absolute loyalty.”
“As we know, it is easy to beckon troops from their barracks, but very hard to send them back to where they came from,” Volpi said.
“We have already seen under Calderón just how many abuses and human rights violations the military can commit once it is entrusted with civilian tasks.”
Consequently, Volpi concluded, now is that time for “the entire country, including the opposition, civil society and the truly progressive sectors of the 4T, to come together to stop the extremely dangerous military drift of the president.”