By ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) appointment of former Tabasco Governor Adán Augusto López Hernández to replace Olga Sánchez Cordero to head the nation’s Interior Secretariat (Segob) smacks of political maneuvering and foreshadows further plans to restructure the presidential team with an undeniable hint of succession.
At first it seemed that López Hernández appointment was just a bad joke, but as the days go by, more and more pundits in Mexico are giving credence to the possibility that the real presidential successor has just arrived to the cabinet and is, not-so-coincidentally, from AMLO’s home state of Tabasco.
In the middle of his six-year term, López Obrador’s fixation on returning to the modes and methodology of the nepotistic practices of Luis Echeverria (who was president of Mexico from 1970 to 1976) is a secret for no one.
AMLO cut his political teeth during Echeverría’s term and with every action and decree he takes, the president has made it perfectly clear that the model of Mexico that he intends to reinstall socially, economically and, of course, politically.
AMLO’s goal is to reconfigure Mexico’s government so that it not only monitors every transaction and guarantees the legality of its often-clandestine operations within a supposedly free-market system, but also to proactively intervene in that market to eliminate competition with price controls, companies such as Gas Bienestar and monopolized services such as those of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). This is a redux of the economic model perfected by Echeverría in the 1970s and is the modus operandi of a leader who feels his calling it to tame the global marketplace.
AMLO’s social policy is based on the idea of establishing and granting generalized subsidies to support certain social groups with direct deliveries of resources in the form of universal scholarships and government handouts.
This model, also typical of the 1970s, lacks the methodological rigor of programs evaluated through the fulfillment of established and quantifiable goals. It does establish specific requirements for access to the benefits (thus, eliminating the concept of incentives for accomplishments). Consequently, its focus does not prevent it from reaching those who do not need it. Measurement and control instruments of this type, which institutionalize programs and help prevent their clientelistic use, are, in AMLO’s eyes, a thing of the neoliberal past.
AMLO has also bent over backwards to dismantle the electoral bodies set up to ensure democracy in order to return to the government full responsibility of organizing elections, as was the case in the Mexico of Echeverría.
López Obrador’s command to Mexico’s legislative and judiciary branches to pass his initiatives word-for-word, without changing a single comma and his incessant attacks and discreditations of judges, magistrates and ministers of the court when they dare to disagree with one of his pet projects, such as the Electricity Industry Law, stopped by Judge Juan Pablo Gómez Fierro, are another clear example of his preference for an ultra-presidential system.
In the Mexico of the 1970s, the president was the great referee who had the last word in every dispute or great decision. His chief operator, endowed with immense political, police, investigative and economic resources, without real counterweights, was the Interior Secretariat. Hence, an appointment to head Segob was a natural springboard for presidential candidates.
That was a Mexico focused on political stability, and it produced high rates of economic growth. It was a Mexico where the military remained in their barracks, helping in emergencies due to natural disasters, and far away from politics. It was a Mexico with marginal organized crime and submissive governors who did the bidding of the president because they owed their position to him. It was a Mexico with testimonial oppositions and no real possibilities of fighting for power.
It was a Mexico with teachers and workers controlled by large unions integrated into the state party. It was a Mexico that functioned from an institutional design conceived to revolve around the presidential figure and will.
And it was a Mexico that began to change gradually through a succession of political reforms that began in 1963 and had culminating moments in first 1976 first and later in 1995 and 1996. That Mexico ceased to exist when former President Ernesto Zedillo definitively liquidated the Imperial Presidency by endowing the Supreme Court and the Bank of Mexico with real autonomy and by removing the government from the electoral organization to hand it over to the parties with an independent Federal Electoral Institute (IFE).
Today, the arrival of a man with all the president’s trust to the Interior Secretariat, complemented by yet another scandal with the repression of new opposition mayors in Mexico City, which involves and tarnishes the reputation of the capital’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, who also has presidential ambitions, forces us to consider the possibility that AMLO is launching the country into what we had thought was a distant political past to jettison his candidate for the future in 2024.
The problem with AMLO’s plan is that Mexico is not the same country it was in 1976.
ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER is a lawyer and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) School of Law. He directed the political magazine Cambio and Radio Capital for 15 years. He also founded and directed GreenTV, a cable television channel specializing in sustainability and the environment, for five years. He has been a commentator and host for various radio and television shows and has written political columns for the newspapers El Día and Unomásuno, in addition to publishing articles in more than 20 regional newspapers in Mexico since 1995. He is the author of the books “One Hundred Names of the Mexican Transition,” “Chimalhuacán, the Empire of La Loba” and “Chimalhuacán, from Lost City to Model Municipality.”