President López Obrador responded on Friday to a scathing editorial by the British newspaper The Economist, describing the article as “very propagandistic” and questioning its right to advise Mexicans to vote against his party.
Published under the headline “Voters should curb Mexico’s power-hungry president” in its May 29-June 4 edition, on which López Obrador appears on the cover beneath the headline “Mexico’s false messiah,” the editorial compares AMLO, as the president is commonly known, to “authoritarian populists” Viktor Orbán of Hungary, Narendra Modi of India and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.
Unlike those leaders, however, López Obrador has been able to escape the limelight, the newspaper said.
“This is partly because he lacks some of the vices of his populist peers. He does not deride gay people, bash Muslims or spur his supporters to torch the Amazon,” The Economist said. “To his credit, he speaks out loudly and often for Mexico’s have-nots, and he is not personally corrupt. Nonetheless, he is a danger to Mexican democracy.”
The editorial cited a long list of reasons why AMLO represents a threat to democratic government. Among them: he has held legally questionable referendums on infrastructure projects; he has entrusted a wide range of government tasks – and large sums of money – to the military; he has cut the budgets of watchdogs or stuffed them with supporters; he intends to replace the central bank governor with an economist who favors “a moral economy”; and he has threatened the National Electoral Institute.
“The next three years will determine the depth and duration of the damage he does to Mexico and its democracy. He is barred from seeking reelection but is trying illegally to extend the term of a friendly supreme-court judge [Chief Justice Arturo Zaldívar]. Critics fear he wants to set a precedent for himself. Mexico’s institutions are strong but may buckle under sustained assault by a zealot with popular support,” The Economist said.
It also criticized AMLO for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, for dividing the country into “the people” (his supporters) and “the elite,” for investing US $7 billion in “a diesel-burning boondoggle” (the Maya Train), for “all but banning” private investment in the energy sector, for not reducing “the stratospheric murder rate,” for failing to combat government corruption and for not spurring growth by creating an investor-friendly business environment.
“… He has done good things, such as bumping up pensions and subsidizing apprenticeships for the young. Though a leftist, he has kept spending and debt under control, so Mexico’s credit rating remains tolerably firm. But he suffers from what Moisés Naím, a Venezuelan journalist, calls ‘ideological necrophilia’— a love of ideas that have been tried and proved not to work,” The Economist said.
“… López Obrador is notorious for not listening to advice. His catchphrase in cabinet meetings is ‘Cállate!’ (Shut up). His disdain for expertise has made government less competent.”
Due to the risks AMLO poses, citizens participating in the June 6 municipal, state and federal elections “should support whichever opposition party is best placed to win, wherever they live,” the editorial said.
“The opposition parties should work together to restrain the president. … They should learn from him too. He is popular partly because they did a poor job of helping those left behind during the long boom that followed economic liberalization in the 1980s.”
The Economist also argued that the United States “needs to pay attention” to what is happening in Mexico.
“Donald Trump did not care about Mexican democracy. President Joe Biden should make clear that he does. He must be tactful: Mexicans are understandably allergic to being pushed around by their big neighbor. But America ought not to turn a blind eye to creeping authoritarianism in its backyard. As well as sending vaccines unconditionally, Mr. Biden should send quiet warnings,” the publication said.
Responding to an unrelated question at his regular news conference on Friday, López Obrador mentioned that an “English magazine” had published a “very propagandistic article against us.” He then proceeded to offer an explanation as to why The Economist and other foreign media outlets have been critical of him and his government.
“These foreign magazines and newspapers dedicated themselves to applauding the neoliberal policies [of past governments]; they’re in favor of privatizations, and they always kept quiet in the face of the corruption that reigned [in Mexico.] They only dedicated themselves to praising the corrupt politicians in Mexico because they’re conservatives,” López Obrador said, using one of his pet words to describe anyone who opposes him.
“Now they’re annoyed because the people are supporting a transformation. So they come out with this disrespectful, very rude and, of course, deceitful cover calling me ‘the false messiah,’” he said.
“The tropical messiah” is another nickname for the president, who is a native of the low-lying, sultry state of Tabasco.
López Obrador accused The Economist of “lacking ethics” in calling upon Mexicans not to vote for the ruling Morena party on June 6.
“… It’s like me going to the United Kingdom and asking the English to vote for my friend [Jeremy] Corbyn of the Labour Party. I can’t do that because that’s a decision for the English. So why don’t they respect [us] …,” he said.
“… All those who participated or kept quiet when Mexico was being looted are now annoyed because the people said ‘Enough,’” López Obrador reiterated.
Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard also responded, sending a strongly-worded letter to the newspaper’s editor that the Foreign Ministry published on its website Thursday.
He said the opinion of the newspaper and its call for Mexicans to vote against Morena was surprising “not because of the ideological position of … [The Economist] but because of your virulence and the fragility of your arguments.”
“… Not long ago, it was predicted that it would be difficult for López Obrador to reach power and that in the case that the Mexican electorate did choose him, he would lead the country to an inexorable economic failure, characterized by devaluation, hyperinflation, debt and a direct clash with the United States. None of that has happened,” Ebrard wrote.
“On the contrary, the government of President López Obrador has kept his promise to prioritize and refocus spending toward [Mexico’s] poorest, as he always promised to do. At the same time, he has maintained fiscal discipline and healthy public finances,” the foreign minister wrote.
“… The failure of the elites to understand López Obrador seems to repeat itself in your pages today. … Maybe the most striking [thing], as absurd as it is, is the suggestion that President López Obrador has in some way undermined Mexican democracy when what he has done is precisely the opposite. A lot of your readers will remember that Mexico was until not so long ago an authoritarian country, without press freedom or free elections, that transitioned to democracy thanks to the push of many Mexicans, among whom López Obrador stands out,” Ebrard wrote.
“… We’re living in turbulent times, and without a doubt, there is still a lot to do to defeat the pandemic, achieve the definitive liftoff of the economy and comply with the promise to close the gross social gap, but the assessment of Mexicans is that we’re on the right path and we’re achieving it. Paraphrasing an article in your magazine some years ago, maybe it’s time for the exasperated elites to understand that they are not understanding,” he concluded.
Mexico News Daily