A few weeks ago, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced that the Mexican vaccine against Covid-19 already has a name, it will be called “Homeland”. It looks nice. However, when asked about the progress of research, its funding, production and distribution, he only offered inaccuracies. The advertisement was the name of a vaccine that does not exist.
Difference between speech and reality
Welcome to AMLO’s Mexico, where the gap between rhetoric and reality is the norm. Examples abound. January was the worst month since the start of the pandemic with 32,729 deaths from Covid-19, but later this month the government announced the virus was under control.
2020 is set to be the most violent year in Mexican history with 40,863 intentional homicides, but AMLO says his government has been successful in containing the violence. Mexico’s GDP fell 8.5% last year, the highest since the Great Depression of 1929, but the government believes the economic crisis will be overcome this year.
And as if that weren’t enough, the president says there is no more corruption in his government, but circulating videos of his brother receiving grants from politicians close to his party, the Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (MORENA ).
The gap between official discourse and reality is original and goes back to the nickname AMLO gave its government when it took office: the country’s “fourth transformation”. The first three would have been the War of Independence (1810-1821), the War of Reform (1858-1861) and the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). This is a gross manipulation of the country’s history, but it reflects how far the government’s rhetoric is from the current reality in Mexico.
Indeed, the AMLO government does not assume itself for what it is: one of the three public powers that make up the Mexican state, no more and no less. On the contrary, he imagines himself (at least discursively) as a re-edition of the bloody upheavals that have marked the country and left a trace of the dead.
Names matter. In this case, the “fourth transformation” reveals two serious facts. The first, already mentioned, is the dissonance between public discourse and reality. The second is the undemocratic will of AMLO, which apparently aspires to a total and overwhelming victory over its adversaries.
In this “transformation”, as in the other three, the opposition parties would not be legitimate representatives of the political diversity of the country, but a historical enemy to be defeated.
The democracy that we Mexicans built at the end of the 20th century promised otherwise. In fact, one of the main objectives of the democratic transition (1977-1996) was to incorporate into institutional politics parties and actors who did not share the credo of the Hegemonic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), such as the Communist Party. .
Let’s not forget where we’ve come from: Mexico for much of the last century has been an authoritarian one-party “almost” party with an “imperial presidency,” as historian Enrique Krauze called it, at its peak.
A key element in dismantling the authoritarian PRI regime was the creation of an institutional framework that would prevent the concentration of formal and informal powers within the executive. It aimed to prevent a new president from trying to turn the country from top to bottom every six years.
This is why López Obrador is so uncomfortable with the country’s democratic institutions like the National Electoral Institute (INE), and by extension with his advisers. Because it is one thing to come to power through the ballot box and another to govern in the midst of a mess of balances and institutional balances. A nuisance, democracy, when you have to obey its rules! And the AMLO government is no exception when it comes to its difficult adaptation to a fully democratic regime.
Latin American populisms on the left and on the right still see democracy as an obstacle. And yes it is. He is there to moderate radical ambitions, to slow down the promulgation of laws, to set a time and material limit on the powerful, and to prevent the absolute takeover of the state by a single group. To put it clearly: democracy exists to make life difficult for politicians with autocratic pretensions. And Mexican democracy is doing it, to some extent.
The transformation promised by AMLO is, for the moment, only discursive. The truth is, it’s not at all easy. This is a lean government whose main campaign promises – less violence and more economic growth – are now beyond its material reach.
Perhaps this is why AMLO is now more than ever desperately clinging to a patriotism full of hope and full of symbolism, but without substance. So much ado about nothing.
www.latinoamerica21.com, a plural means of communication engaged in the dissemination of critical and true information on Latin America.
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