Failed Project

Luis Rubio

It has always seemed to me a simplistic notion that everything that the Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador does is reduced to implementing the principles of the São Paulo Forum, a space he appears not having attended, nor having had direct participation in. Although there could be similarities between the Forum’s proposals and some of the policies that president López Obrador has undertaken, his most basic characteristic in the exercise of power has been the consistency between his actions and his statements, all written in his books prior to assuming the Presidency of Mexico.

The documents published by the São Paulo Forum reveal a very clear ideological profile, but its proposals for action are much vaguer than commonly thought. Born of the initiative of then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil in 1990, and supported by Fidel Castro, the Forum includes the entire gamma of Ibero-American leftist parties, from reformists to revolutionaries. Their statements tend to be very specific with respect to the particular circumstances of concrete nations and very general concerning the rest.

Of course, there is not the least doubt of the political ideology and objectives of the Forum’s members including strikes, proposals for the nationalization of private enterprises, rejection of “imported economic models” and support for the region’s leftist governments. Their statements are so broad and all-embacing that they easily lend themselves to all conspiracies theories that are attributed to the Forum, beginning with seeking to overthrow governments not to their liking.

Many of the diverse components of Mexico’s Morena party (López Obrador’s party) are undoubtedly sympathizers of the Forum’s ideas. The attendance of many of its  personalities to its  meetings strengthens the image that the party appropriates the Forum’s ideas as its own. It is very possible that the latter is true, but it is not obvious that this in fact is a relevant source of the ideas or proposals undertaken by president López Obrador. The president’s objectives and strategies can be delighted in or reviled, but they are always predictable because they comprise fixed concepts, mired in the 1960’s and published beforehand by himself. While many of his ideas are not benign or viable and are in many cases perversely destructive, the president certainly does not engage in conspiratorial thoughts, except when thinking about those he sees as enemies.

More than following others’ visions, president López Obrador is motivated by very explainable tenets in his biography and at least in economic matters, Carlos Camacho Alfaro explains them with great coherence in his “Seminario Político”: “In Mexico, a New Mexican Revolution is being carried out; the president of the Republic has been very explicit and specific in affirming this. It is about liquidating the Neoliberal Regime. As the Mexican Revolution liquidated the Porfirio Diaz legacy and its economic base of landowners, the Fourth Transformation (4-T) is liquidating the social and political bases of the Neoliberal State. In its place, this new revolution will be nationalistic, popular and humanist, with ‘novel spiritual bases’, the National Regeneration. This is a strategy, and it is being applied within the context of the great crisis caused by the Covid-19 Pandemic.”

The project is to recreate those things that in the mind of president López Obrador worked before the treacherous technocrats arrived to change everything with their loathsome reforms. Prior to that as the president recalled in his inaugural address, Mexico enjoyed high rates of growth, no violence and order during the era of stabilizing development (1954-1970). Like his predecessor (who’s political conception was not very different), López Obrador has devoted himself to attempting to recreate what appears to him as having been relevant during that period, especially his view that the Mexican presidency is to centralize power and to impose its will, particularly in economic affairs. There is a vivid political and vindictive component (to subdue the so called “Mafia of Power”) and an intense flavor of nostalgia: to recreate the idyllic time of his youth when Pemex gave away money in the state of Tabasco and everyone lived well (from the government purse).

Instead of a government plan, this is a fantasy that reminds us of the novels by Luis Spota’s, which describe the capriciousness of Mexican presidents in an environment of excessive power. But this is not a novel: it is an idea of  government, of time and of the world that is not real, and, above all, that is not longer current. Despite employing grandiose rhetorical flourishes -equating his Fourth Transformation to the changes attributed to Juárez and Madero- it is noteworthy that the president’s vision is less of grandeur than of a provincial understanding of a country without possibilities or a future, where the owner can have his way without limits or counterweights.

Mexico is not a small town lost in space. It is, rather, a great manufacturing and export power, something only possible because of the quality of its citizenry. Even though it is evident that Mexico has enormous flaws -education, insecurity, a bad health system, corruption, poverty, and regional inequality- the largest of these all is its government. The Mexican government -in the broadest sense of the term- is incompetent, bureaucratic, abusive and, more than anything else, ineffective. The great transformation would be to build one that works properly and not making it more failed than it already is.


* Luis Rubio is chairman of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations and of México Evalúa-CIDAC. A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @lrubiof