OPINION

Elements of Mexico’s Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena). Photo: Google

By MARK LORENZANA

The word democracy is a combination of two Greek words: demos, which means “people” and kratos, which means “rule.” The ancient Greeks, after all, are credited with inventing democracy as a form of government.

In Mexico, though, “the rule of the people” has been steadily replaced by the rule of one man — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).

The latest demonstration of this was López Obrador’s declaration on the morning of Monday, Aug. 8, during his daily press conference at the National Palace, that he will issue a presidential decree that essentially transfers the security functions of the Mexican National Guard (GN) to the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena).

A reporter from Mexico City-based Proceso magazine, naturally, asked AMLO if he wasn’t overstepping his bounds in his decision to bypass Congress. A democratic form of government, after all, has its checks and balances. And so the reporter asked López Obrador outright why he needed to resort to presidential decrees instead of going through the legislative branch.

“Wouldn’t you consider, instead, going the democratic route?” the Proceso reporter asked AMLO.

“I will never violate the constitution. But I have to use every legal option I have for us to move forward,” López Obrador argued. “I have problems to solve. I have to deliver good results to the people, but I have an opposition bloc that does not help at all. Before, the conservative legislators approved everything under a corrupt regime. Now, it is the opposite: Everything that benefits the people, they reject. But everything that is in favor of maintaining the privileges of the powerful few, they approve.”

López Obrador, of course, will not admit that he is violating the Mexican Constitution. But his unilateral decision is, for all intents and purposes, already unconstitutional. The Mexican Constitution says that the GN is a civil body that must be subordinate to the people — civilians — and that it must exist as a civil police force, not a military one.

Criticism of López Obrador’s announcement was swift — and naturally, most of those who pushed back were opposition members of the legislative branch, calling López Obrador “authoritarian and dictatorial.”

“His actions demonstrate an authoritarian, dictatorial president,” said Senator Damián Zepeda of the conservative National Action Party (PAN). “It shows a person who does not care about the rule of law. He doesn’t have enough votes for a constitutional amendment, so he says ‘Ah, well, I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway, through a presidential decree.’”

Senator Germán Martínez, for his part, said that he considers AMLO’s announcement as a “blow to the Mexican Constitution.”

“He is basically ignoring the Senate and the power it has to approve the public security strategy,” Martínez said. “The Senate must reclaim this power. The Senate must not give in to this blow to the Constitution.”

“Authoritarian” and “dictatorial.” López Obrador might disagree, and he might bristle at these words, but his actions have not dispelled concerns from civil society that his administration is plunging the country into authoritarian rule.

At his daily morning press conferences, AMLO regularly attacks journalists who dare disagree with him and his decisions. He has also lashed out repeatedly at nongovernmental organizations and civil society movements in Mexico that have investigated corruption, as well as groups who support women’s rights or defend human rights in the face of increased femicides, violence, cartel-related killings and overall insecurity in Mexico.

And of course, the growing militarization of the country: Since López Obrador began his term, Mexico has increasingly become militarized. The armed forces have overseen the covid-19 vaccine rollout, have been put in charge of the distribution of textbooks and social resources, the building of 2,700 branches of Banco de Bienestar and the creation of military barracks all across Mexico. It is estimated that the Mexican Army is now in charge of more than 27 civilian duties under the AMLO government.

López Obrador has also awarded Sedena with lucrative government contracts. Indeed, under AMLO, the armed forces have not only increased their presence on the streets, but have also embarked on a new mission: becoming successful entrepreneurs.

One of the worrying signs of a government transitioning to authoritarianism is increased military control.

A democracy is supposed to be a government of the people. But a Mexico under López Obrador, who has repeatedly shown disdain for democratic norms, might not fit that definition anymore.

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