Step by step…

Step by step…

Luis Rubio

The excuse is corruption; the reality is total control. Step by step, the president consolidates his position, subordinates Congress and, now, the Supreme Court of Justice, while intimidating the various relevant sectors of society. The message is clear: here I rule.

The strategy is transparent and moves forward at breakneck speed. There is no week in which there is no new element in the construction of the project, nor a bill that does not advance relentlessly, at least in the lower house of Congress. Some elements of the scaffolding might seem excessive or unnecessary, but the mandate is clear: EVERYTHING. Without exception.

The path established so far suggests that there are two central components of the control project: first, neutralize any source of check on presidential power, be it by eliminating it, saturating it with president’s employees or starving it to death. And, second, maintaining and nurturing popular support through the constant display of (alleged) corruption cases, incarcerating increasingly prominent individuals and the entire circus that the daily morning rants allow. The careful selection of candidates for the pillory serves the two objectives: it subordinates the institutions and terrifies vast sectors of politicians, businessmen and union leaders.

It is not a new strategy. Exactly the same was done in the late eighties, but with the exact opposite objective: Carlos Salinas jailed political, trade union and business leaders to consolidate his power and make possible the launch of a series of reforms with which he intended to transform the country and put it on track towards the 21st century. AMLO follows the same recipe but to reverse the reforms, submit vast sectors of society (in his words “to subordinate economic decisions to political ones”) and return to an era in which, in his imagination, the country lived well, quietly, with growth and with stability.

The problem is that the world and Mexico have changed so much in these decades that it is impossible to recreate the dream that guides the government today. Worse, as in the eighties, the incarceration of several symbolic people does not solve the problem of corruption because it does not attack its causes. This is further complicated when some corrupt individuals end up being “good” because the president purified them, while others will always be “bad” because they are not close to him or, due to their previous activity, the president sees them as enemies.

Circuses arrive for a season and then leave because people are amazed at first, but then they get bored. The same goes for political circuses: sooner or later they run out because they don´t contribute to improving everyday life.

The great fallacy of the control project that the president is diligently building is that it only leads to the paralysis of political and economic life. Without economic growth it is impossible to diminish poverty or reduce regional inequality and without attacking the causes of corruption, the latter only changes its shape or place but never disappears, which will inexorably damage the credibility of the government that promised to fight it.

The case of the revocation of the mandate that was approved this week is eloquent: it will change the dynamics of Mexican politics because it will lead to the president and the governors being permanently in campaign; instead of giving them space to develop their programs without the pressure of an election, they will always be in the daily circus, undermining the country’s long-term development. It’s obvious why the president wants this piece of legislation, for he wants to be on the ballot in 2021 or keep going. What is not so obvious is that, in the absence of a substantive economic improvement, things by then will have improved enough to the point where the population would be willing to reward the president with a favorable vote. As the saying goes, one must be cautious with what one wishes, for the president may end up being surprised by the electorate.

The big difference between the eighties and this era is that governments around the world effectively lost their ability to control the economic decisions on which growth depends. This is not good or bad, but the simple reality of the 21st century and the reason why all the countries of the world compete to attract investment. The projects that has stopped coming to Mexico due to the lack of certainty that emanates from the government are going to countries that instead of denying the evolution of the world, compete to take advantage of it so that their populations may prosper. The question is whether the AMLO will be willing to accept this circumstance.

Those from private life working with the government may think that they temper the president’s mood or moderate his agenda, but the reality is that they do nothing more than represent him and have become an integral part of his strategy and, therefore, of whatever comes next, particularly in the economic realm. There are ways out, but these require certainty for investors, which is incompatible with the extreme centralization of power. It’s that simple.

Nonetheless, the message is clear and is repeated every morning and only those who deceive themselves can ignore it: the rules of the game have already changed and will be measured by their results.