The Normalization of Illegality


Puebla Governor Luis Miguel Barbosa. Photo: Google


Failing to point out, protest or become indignant at the illegal behavior and actions of public servants, which we had come to believe was a thing of the past, is the new norm that is giving credence to the thesis of authoritarian and caudillista regression in Mexico, supported by an exacerbated populism expressed to describe the current stage of national politics.

Political rallies crowded with swarms of public servants and bureaucrats during working hours, led by the likes of Mexico City Governor Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexican Interior Secretary Adán Augusto López and members of the Guard Nacional on Air Force planes, to promote — illegally — President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) controversial (and, as it turned out, moot) revocation of mandate referendum on Sunday, April 10, are red-light signals of a return to the most cynical, immoral and simulating practices of politics that, we were told, had been eradicated with a strong culture of denunciation and condemnation.

But these illegal rallies of support to simulate the popularity of the president’s leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party, financed by the illegal use of public resources, are not the only — nor the most dangerous — expression of a return to a government disregard in terms of the rule of law.

During the second half of March 2022, in the municipality of Ocoyucan, in the central Mexican state of Puebla, there was a government-orchestrated attempt to expropriate a piece of property located in the Auxiliary Board of Santa María Malacatepec. The event took place on  Wednesday, March 23, at 5 a.m., and the plan was simple: Invade and occupy the land in question, and then “distribute” it among the participants of the occupation. A call to at least 784 people to participate was announced through WhatsApp and Telegram.

The call to join in the expropriation of the property was made by a group identifying itself as the Left Unit, which is nothing more than a band of Puebla politicians from Morena, managed and controlled by Governor Luis Miguel Barbosa. This is the same governor who never bothered to explain how he bought the house that was owned by Miguel de la Madrid in Coyoacán. The same one who claimed that covid-19 only affected the rich and that the disease could be cured with turkey sandwiches. He is the same stubborn and cynical politician who said that the death of Governor Martha Erika Alonso, who defeated him at the polls, and her husband, Senator Rafael Moreno Valle, were a punishment from God because “they had robbed him” of a win in the elections.

The property that was, and continues to be, the target of the invaders, is a communal farm ejido, and it was the owners of that farm who, upon learning of the ongoing invasion operation, alerted the municipal authorities of Ocoyucan and appeared on their land to defend it as the outsiders arrived in vans and cars to proceed with their plot. When asked what they were looking for at the ejido, some of the outsiders said that they had been summoned for a land sale at that place. The presence of the municipal police of Ocoyucan, a municipality governed by the centralist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in open opposition to Barbosa and Morena, ended up dissuading the invaders on that occasion. But there have since been numerous rumors that the outsiders are planning to again try to seize the land at a later date.

The particularity of the ejido property in question, and the explanation for the attempted invasion, is its close proximity to Santa María Malacatepec, with the Angelópolis project, a high-end housing and office development real estate platform that, as governor, Manuel Bartlett (who is currently the head of the Federal Electricity Commission and a close political ally of López Obrador) promoted in Puebla.

As in any attempted invasion, there is clearly an economic incentive here, increased in this case by the fact that the land, due to its privileged location, has a significant commercial value. Malacatepec is a natural alternative to the growth of the Santa Fe-style residential area, but, in this case, near to the city of Puebla.

In Mexico, land invasions have long been tolerated, and even encouraged, by the powers that be. Many times the practice served to benefit political clients above the law, and, invariably, it helped to fattened the pockets of corrupt politicians who protected local political bosses. One of the most famous cases was that of Guadalupe Buendía Torres, who squatted on land in Chimalhuacán, that she in turn sold and resold to various dupes.

These practices of invasion and dispossession are almost always organized by a local leader. In most cases, the perpetrator manages to get away with the crime because he or she has the tacit approval of higher-ups.

But whether they are prospected or not, these are crimes, equivalent to the theft of entire buildings, and they are only allowed to take place because they are permitted and encouraged by government authorities.

The fact that this practice still exists in a Mexico that claims to have been democratized in a venue of multiparty transparency, just like the shameless abuse of public resources by politicians to promote campaigns, is evidence that the country still has a long way to go in overcoming the stench of corruption.

Real legal security guarantees should benefit both foreign investors, who are now seeing their businesses threatened by the president’s expropriation reforms in violation of free trade agreements, and communal farmers who may be victims of bosses representing real estate mafias.

These practices have to stop. Illegal acts cannot be tolerated, much less endorsed, by the government and its leaders. Otherwise, Mexico will only continue to regress, not progress, in its goal of true justice for all.

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