Tag Archives: administration

Through the looking-glass and what AMLO found there…

Children´s literary classics become so not only because of their appeal to young readers, but also because their themes, characters, dialogues and narratives can be constantly (re)discovered by very distinct audiences across time and space. We think of Dr. Seuss’ Lorax or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince as classics because they shed light on a rather complex set of issues. Leaning on Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, in what follows, I limn the contours of Mexican politics a year after Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) landslide electoral victory.

I intend to illuminate the struggle analysts, advocates and critics face when attempting to elucidate whether what’s happening in Mexican politics is having —or going to have— either positive or negative consequences. The reader should be aware that, if effective, this depiction of Mexico’s political chiaroscuro is bound to raise more questions than answers. For clarity, I first offer a brief synthesis of Lewis Carroll’s tale. I then draw parallels between AMLO’s governing style and three memorable characters of the story. Lastly, the conclusion reflects on how fiction might —or might not— overcome reality.     

In Carroll’s sequel to Adventures in Wonderland, Alice enters once again a fantastical world by climbing into a mirror. Inside this reflection, Alice unknowingly becomes part of a chess game. As the story unfolds, she moves across the board, meeting memorable characters like the Red Queen, Tweedledum & Tweedledee and Humpty Dumpty along the way. Although in this world everything seems to be reversed, Alice manages to win the game and wakes up questioning whether her recent adventure or her sudden wakefulness are real at all.

Walking through…

In spite of dominating polls throughout the 2018 campaign trail, López Obrador’s victory shook pundits, critics and enthusiasts alike. Some have even claimed that MORENA’s (AMLO’s party) tsunami represents the first real rotation of political elites in almost a century, and that, just like walking through glass, was something that ex ante seemed or was thought of as impossible. Backed by 30 million votes, AMLO walked through the mirror. A decades-long stentorian opposition leader turned president.

One year in…

A year after the election, and seven months in office, close observers will quickly recognize how contemporary Mexican politics resembles several of Alice’s encounters and dialogues on her quest to win the chess match. The first and perhaps most dramatic example concerns time. Sworn to kick-start Mexico’s fourth transformation, AMLO is poised to beat Time.

Hailing ‘an overhaul of the political system’ rather than just a shift in administration, the pace at which AMLO’s government is introducing reforms and modifications seems to signal that for him and his cabinet, days necessarily have more than just 24 hours. AMLO’s government has been a true and tested example that time’s relativity is not only a physical phenomenon, but also a political one.

Examples of this precocity for change can be found across a wide array of policy dimensions and arenas: re-structuring of the federal budget, a deep (re)accommodation of the bureaucratic apparatus, the creation of the Guardia Nacional, an airport cancellation, as well as significant efforts to formally (or informally) stop most of former president Peña Nieto’s so-called structural reforms.

This re-interpretation of time has had, of course, drastic consequences. On the one hand, it has evidenced a lack of refinement and detail in the design and execution of governmental action. On the other hand, it has pressured an otherwise lethargic and feeble state apparatus to operate beyond its current capabilities. Recurring cabinet resignations and a media overload of information are additional symptoms of this change spree.

The advice the Red Queen gives to Alice upon entering the chess game can be closely linked to this stretching of time and accelerated transformation since, as the queen suggests, “if you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast”. The risk, however, as she first points out, is that “it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place”.

AMLO’s “Red Queen politics”, just like its counter parts in biology and marketing, runs the risk of trying to re-invent the wheel, launching new programs, creating new institutes and organizations and redefining policies, just so that Mexico —its economy and democracy— can (in the best scenario) remain the same.

That AMLO’s tempo is distinct and that he strives to foster ubiquitous change should be by now clear to anyone who has followed the president’s mañaneras. Every weekday by 7 a.m. López Obrador has a press conference in which, aided by cabinet members, he sets the agenda and has constant exchanges with media. While the image of an open, hard-working president has definitely helped Obrador to keep surprisingly high approval rates, these morning meetings have been marred by AMLO constantly rejecting criticism by retorting that he has “other information”.

When thinking about Mexico’s president alternative facts —or more broadly when thinking about the peculiar relation populist leaders from across the ideological spectrum have to data— I cannot help but remember Humpty Dumpty’s remark that “when [he] uses a word, it means just what [he] chooses it to mean”. When confronted by Alice –or the media— as the extent to which this conceptual stretching can go on, Humpty Dumpty replies that “the question is, which is to be master -that’s all”.

For the past year López Obrador has been master not only of the political agenda but also of the narrative and the language used to discuss politics in Mexico. His popularity and a majoritarian support in Congress, have allowed him to challenge and redefine the spectrum of what’s considered good or bad politics. His is the only effective truth and so far, no one has managed to challenge that.

Wrapping up…

With two years until mid-term congressional elections and five years left in the presidency, AMLO’s chess game has got a long way ahead. As it stands, the recent victory of MORENA in the state of Puebla exemplifies that the opposition has yet to find its ground and catch up with the times. To understand current Mexican political tidings, and perhaps to lessen polarization while enhancing the ability to articulate a critical alternative, it is necessary to grasp that AMLO’s government through its distinct looking-glass, has redefined the political coordinates of time, space and even language.

In the upcoming months, the Mexican landscape will consequently be redefined by an interplay between the opposition’s ability to rediscover its voice and AMLO’s maneuvering to overcome the limitations interwoven in (t)his “new” reality. In the meantime, advocates and critics continue to resemble Tweedledum & Tweedledee, the one saying that “if it [is] so, it might be” while the other one retorts “but as it isn’t, it ain’t”.

*All of the quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass were taken from an online version of the text available at <https://bit.ly/1WF0SZH>.

Exploring the Twilight Zone: An account of Mexican politics after the election

A couple of weeks ago at the University of Oxford, when asked for his opinion on the recently elected Mexican government, Luis Almagro, Secretary General to the Organization of American States, said that assessing an administration that has yet to take office would be irresponsible. Since I am not the head of a key international and regional organization, in my second entry to the Presidential Power blog —my first as a regular contributor— I will risk offering an irresponsible but yet informed account of the events that have shaped the Mexican political landscape over the past few months.

For those who have not followed the Mexican scene closely —and even for those who have— it might come as a surprise that even after more than three months of election day, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is still president-elect. With five more weeks until he is sworn in, many in Mexico can closely relate to Vladimir and Estragon from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. An overview of Mexican media outlets reveals that public sentiment is split: On the one hand, there are those who say that throughout this waiting period nothing of significance has happened and those who would argue that there have been substantial changes. On the other hand, there is also no consensus on how best to assess either of the two previously described scenarios.

To help you explore the Mexican twilight zone, in what follows I will first address the most salient issues across 5 different arenas: economy, security, domestic politics, international relations and social policy. In the second section, I succinctly explore the upcoming challenges for AMLO and list a few things to look out for in the next couple of months. Lastly, I briefly conclude by reflecting on Enrique Peña Nieto’s (EPN) epilogue.

A Quick Recap by Arena

  1. The Economy — AMLO and his team have placed three key topics on the economic agenda: a) Mexico City’s airport, b) the Tren Maya project and c) Revenue and Wages. Interestingly enough, the two big-scale infrastructure projects will be decided by two separate (semi-formal) referenda. Income-wise, on the one hand, the new government announced that taxes will not be raised, and on the other hand, AMLO agreed to increase to the minimum wage with COPARMEX and CCE—the two largest patronal organizations. That is, come December 1st , the government’s budget is unlikely to significantly increase and Mexican workers are now expecting a long overdue pay raise.
  2. Security — As with the previous arena, López Obrador along with the next Secretary of the Interior, Olga Sánchez Cordero, have outlined at least three items for the security agenda: a) Legalizing marihuana, b) the Foros de Pacificación and the c) continued militarization of police forces. While the MORENA plurality in Congress awaits the results of the Foros in order to take further steps in terms of public safety, most surprisingly, after meeting with military officials, AMLO announced that for now, the armed forces will continue to police key areas of the country and that ultimately, Mexico needs a Guardia Civil.
  3. Domestic Politics — This is perhaps the most complex arena given the sheer amount of relevant matters raised by MORENA’s victorious candidate. While he tours the country in order to thank voters, AMLO has a) continued to announce the appointment of (future) cabinet members, b) met with several governors who, appalled by the president’s popular support, have quickly found their (lost since 2000) political discipline. The president-elect has also announced c) austerity measures, d) the reallocation of ministries, and has said that he will e) cancel EPN’s education reform while f) leaving the one regulating the energy sector
  4. International Relations — Two issues stand out regarding the international sphere. The first one being the fact that after the elections, a) members of AMLO’s team were included in the negotiation rounds of the free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. With support from the new administration, it is highly unlikely then that Mexico will ask for further/significant changes to the agreement. Divergence, however, characterized the second more recent and salient issue, in which, b) on the one hand, EPN used state forces in an attempt to block the Caravana Migrante and on the other hand, López Obrador declared that once he is sworn in, there will be employment for citizens and migrants alike.
  5. Social Policy — In the face of restricted public resources and the promise not to raise taxes, AMLO has announced a redesign and a restructured budget for social programs. While transfers for young and elderly people have been repeatedly advertised, it is still unclear what the incoming government will do, for example, in terms of health (IMSS, ISSSTE and Seguro Popular) and pensions. The expectation is that progressively redistributive policies along with the increase in wages allow Mexico to overcome its alarming levels of poverty and inequality.

What now? Challenges and Expectations

For Andres Manuel, the most excruciating challenge comes exactly from the expectations he has generated. In a recent poll, AMLO’s approval rating reached an outstanding 71%. The survey also revealed, as Figure 1 shows, that around 74% of Mexicans believe that once he is in office, complex topics such as corruption, security, health and poverty will improve. It seems that anything but exceptional is bound to disappoint. The Tabasqueño’s leadership and charisma will surely be put to the test.I have elsewhere talked about the challenge of transforming MORENA into a somewhat disciplined and coherent party. Recent quarrels between fellow Congressmen and the disagreements between MORENA’s leadership and some of the party’s governors, show that achieving internal cohesion is definitely one pending task of the organization.

A lot has been said at rallies and public plazas, but in the midst of le passage à l’acte, there are two vital pieces of legislation to look out for: 1) The (probably) new Ley Orgánica de la Administración Pública Federal (LOAPF) and 2) the Presupuesto de Egresos de la Federación (PEF). The former will define the architecture of the federal administration and shape the responsibilities of the bureaucracy, the latter will set the ‘production possibility frontier’ for the incoming administration. Together, these documents will reveal the true priorities of AMLO’s government and are highly likely to be heavily discussed in the first few months of 2019.

Concluding Remarks…

I hope that a) I have not been so irresponsible in presenting this brief account of the Mexican political scenario, b) that I have not left out key topics or issues and c) that you find that the points that were raised are actually well documented. As a close to my second entry, I would like to highlight that for the past several months —some would say even a year— current president Peña Nieto has been missing in action.

In spite of presenting his last annual Informe and talking at the United Nations, EPN has been unable to set the agenda. When he does manage to make headlines is because he either took a selfie with a phone covered with an AMLO-supporting case or even more damming, when he’s criticized for being Trump’s attack dog in the southern border. Now a lame duck, I can imagine that EPN, as many Mexicans, can’t wait for his show to be over.