The Economist Compares AMLO to Cantinflas

A caricature of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador dressed like the late comedian Cantiflas. Photo: The Economist


The highly respected British news magazine The Economist compared Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to the late slapstick comedian Cantinflas in its Saturday, July 17 edition.

“It is a question that might have been devised by Cantinflas, a comic actor who turned the Mexican taste for circumlocution into an absurdist art form,” the weekly news magazine wrote, mocking the upcoming Aug. 1 referendum devised by AMLO to enlist public support for his ongoing persecution of his predecessors.

The question that will be asked in the loosely structured, loosely monitored referendum is: “Are you in agreement or not that appropriate actions in accordance with the constitutional and legal framework be carried out in order to undertake actions of clarification of political decisions taken in the past by political actors, aimed at guaranteeing justice and the rights of the possible victims?”

“This is what President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants Mexicans to decide in a national referendum on Aug, 1,” the magazine pointed out.

“Decoded, what it means is, should he be authorized to orchestrate a kind of unofficial show trial of his five most recent predecessors and their subordinates?”

The Economist, which in May of this year courted the president’s wrath by dubbing him “Mexico’s False Messiah,” went on to say that AMLO “has always insisted that he became president in order to draw a line under 30 years of what he calls ‘neoliberal,’ corrupt government.”

“He holds those five presidents responsible, variously, for corruption, the concentration of wealth, electoral fraud and a failed drug war that begot yet more violence,” The Economist said.

“Shortly after his landslide victory in 2018, he began to talk about holding a referendum over whether to put the ex-presidents on trial.”

The 177-year-old magazine decorously pointed out that “to resort to a popular vote to decide whether or not to prosecute someone is a travesty of the rule of law.”

“The Supreme Court, whose president boasts of an ‘affectionate’ relationship with AMLO, narrowly ruled that the referendum was constitutional, but softened the question to its current convoluted form,” said the article, titled “A Mexican Show Trial?”

“What makes the exercise even more surreal is that the president says he won’t vote, because he is not ‘vengeful’ and doesn’t want to dwell on the past. If ‘the people”’ decide otherwise, however, he will act on their wishes.”

The magazine also astutely noted that the referendum will serve several aspects of the AMLO’s political agenda.

“He is fond of consultative votes,” it observed.

“They support his claim to take more notice of the people than his predecessors did. He has used them to provide backing for decisions he wanted to take anyway, such as the cancellation of a half-built new airport in Mexico City.

But unlike his past referendums, “this one will have binding force if 40 percent of the electorate take part and a majority votes in favor.”

“If that happens, some think the government will set up a kind of truth commission into the recent past,” the article continued.

“But turnout may fall short. The opposition is boycotting the vote. The independent electoral authority, which complains that the government is starving it of funds, says it will install only a third of the number of polling stations it used in a midterm election last month.”

The Economist likewise said that the referendum “also confirms that, in fighting corruption, AMLO prefers theatre, which he can direct, over substance.”

“Mexicans are fed up with graft; the government of Enrique Peña Nieto of 2012 to18 was notoriously corrupt,” it said, so AMLO “made ending corruption a central plank of his campaign.”

Notwithstanding, “corruption in Mexico is in robust good health,” María Amparo Casar of the watchdog group Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI) told The Economist.

“There is talk against corruption, but there is no anti-corruption policy.”

Without making direct reference to some of AMLO’s most recent scandals — including alleged acts of embezzlement of public funds by at least three of his siblings and several of his cousins — the article said that instead of progress to root out corruption in Mexico, there  “has been regression.”

“Although public contracts are supposed to be tendered, as López Obrador promised to do, his government has awarded them by fiat in 81 percent of cases, more than the 79 percent under Peña Nieto,” it said, citing Casar.

“The office of the special prosecutor for corruption cases has had its funding and staffing cut.”

In short, the article said, “the fight against corruption has become a political tool” for AMLO’s thirst for centralized power.

The Economist article also made reference to the ongoing trial of former Pemex Director Emilio Lozoya, a former head of Pemex, who, after having been extradited from Spain to stand trial for allegedly taking bribes from the Brazilian construction Odebrecht, managed to make a deal with the Mexican Attorney General’s Office to pay an exuberant compensatory fee and to serve as the government’s witness against AMLO’s political enemies.

“The president claimed victory in last month’s election because his party gained 10 state governorships. But it lost its majority in the lower house of Congress (it can still eke one out with allies) and suffered a humiliating defeat in Mexico City,” the article said.

“Though he remains popular, López Obrador is no longer invincible.”

Weakened by a dwindling constituency, a mishandling of the covid-19 pandemic that has left more than 236,000 Mexicans dead, surging violence and the worst economic slump in the country’s recent history, The Economist said that AMLO wants to use the referendum “to distract attention from policy failures.”

And to that end, the article said, the president “needs all the Cantinflas spectacles of political theatre that he can muster.”

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