By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Ah, the fickle love of an authoritarian president.
When Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) loves you, you can do no wrong.
His buddy-buddy Félix Salgado Macedonio — who was repeatedly accused of rape, embezzlement and close ties with drug cartels, but still managed to garnish the governorship of the coastal state of Guerrero, albeit via his daughter as a proxy — and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) professor Pedro Salmerón Sanginés, who has been accused of sexual harassment by numerous colleagues, including within the president’s leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party, but is busy packing his bags for Panama, where he will soon hold the title of Mexican ambassador — can attest to that.
And, of course, when it comes to his brothers, blood is definitely thicker than the waters of truth, and even videos of them taking mass quantities of cash in manila envelopes.
But woe be unto those who dare to cross López Obrador.
Take the case of poor Rogelio Jiménez Pons, who started off on López Obrador’s good side, earning himself the title of National Tourism Promotion Fund (Fonatur) director even before the president took office.
A fellow Tabascan (AMLO likes to make a big deal about his native state), Jiménez Pons served as the head of Tabasco tourism during the administration of Leandro Rovirosa Wade and also served as federal delegate of that secretariat in the state.
Jiménez Pons had barely taken office when the president charged him with the herculean task of overseeing one of his pet mega-projects, the 1,500-kilometer Tren Maya tourist train.
But try as he might to deal with the constant onslaught of indigenous protests, ecological objections, legal suits and inflated budgets ordered by the military (to which AMLO decided last year to grant full and unaccountable oversight of the project), Jiménez Pons just couldn’t cut the mustard in AMLO’s books.
Time and time again, the Tren Maya’s trajectory had to be rerouted, and costs kept soaring.
According to the government’s own figures, the price tag for the controversial train — which many environmentalists say will decimate over half of the natural fauna in the Yucatan Peninsula — has already jumped from an original estimate of 140 billion pesos to it current projected cost of at least 200 billion pesos, and counting.
On Jan. 11 of this year, AMLO finally showed Jiménez Pons the proverbial door — the back door — and replaced him with another devoted AMLOphile, Javier May Rodríguez. (AMLO giveth and AMLO taketh away.)
May Rodríguez, who had previously served as secretary of the president’s Bienestar program, never went to university and has no engineering or architectural experience (while Jiménez Pons is an internationally acclaimed architect), but, hey, he is a true AMLO proselyte, so who needs experience?
But getting back to the political saga of Jiménez Pons…
On Tuesday, Jan. 25, even AMLO had to admit that his much-touted train to riches for Mexico had turned into a money-sucking white elephant, with no end in sight for either completion or budget constraints.
But rather than assume responsibility for the albatross project, López Obrador, true to form, decided to blame someone else.
The obvious scapegoat for the train’s financial and engineering gridlock would have been the military, which, since it has taken over responsibility for the mega-project, has ignored all legal and human rights of those affected by its development and has gleefully allocated reams of government monies that its doesn’t have to account for.
But AMLO knows full well that when the majority of Mexican people finally wake up and discover how badly he has destroyed their nation and sunk its economy into financial abyss, he is going to need the army to keep him and his so-called Fourth Transformation government in power.
So it fell on the now-unemployed Jiménez Pons to be the fall guy for AMLO’s Tren Maya catastrophe.
And when it came to shelling out the blame, AMLO didn’t mince words in his verbal tirades against Jiménez Pons, saying that his once-favorite architect was “irresponsible,” “unreliable” and “undetermined,” in other words, a Fourth Transformation slacker.
“The government needs responsible people, who are committed and will stop at nothing to get the job done,” AMLO said.
“That is what is need to finish these works, people in charge who are fully committed, who apply themselves thoroughly.”
Jiménez Pons, it seems, no longer met those requirements.
“In order to carry out a project, full command is required, along with permanent, constant supervision.”
Again, AMLO seems to have found Jiménez Pons lacking in those qualities.
And while the president did imply that Jiménez Pons would still be on his A-List (or at least, his B-List) when it comes to Christmas cards this year, he did say that friendship is no excuse for “not producing results.”
Yup, Jiménez Pons was AMLO’s perfect patsy.
López Obrador even went so far as to compare Jiménez Pons (not favorably) to his “more productive” counterparts in charge of the president’s other pet megaprojects.
General Ricardo Vallejo Suárez is “working day and night” to complete the Santa Lucía Airport, and Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle “never takes off” and “is not wasting time” in constructing the Dos Bocas refinery, AMLO admonished.
Finally, while AMLO thanked Jiménez Pons for “opening the path” to the Tren Maya’s construction, he said that “what we need now is more action.”
So next up to bat is May Rodríguez, and if Jiménez Pons were to have any professional advise for his replacement, it would no doubt be to keep his head low and stay on AMLO’s good side.
Then again, May Rodríguez has an impossible task ahead of him, and it may only be a matter of time until it is his turn to bite the bullet and take the blame for AMLO’s blunders.