Nine state governors have demanded the immediate resignation of the federal government’s coronavirus czar, charging that his strategy to combat the pandemic has failed.
An organization made up of 11 governors called the Federalist Alliance published an open letter Friday calling for Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell to step down.
The Federal Alliance (AF) is made up of the governors of Aguascalientes, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Colima, Durango, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí and Tamaulipas but Javier Corral of Chihuahua said that he wasn’t involved in the formulation of the letter and didn’t support it, while Juan Manuel Carreras of San Luis Potosí wasn’t among the signatories.
The letter charged that the response to the coronavirus crisis led by López-Gatell has had “terrible consequences” (46,688 deaths as of Friday) yet the deputy minister “continues boasting that there are beds available and that the hospitals haven’t been overwhelmed like in Italy or New York.”
The governors asserted that the crisis is worsening and that there is no end in sight.
The situation is the “responsibility of he who has led and decided the strategy,” they said, charging that López-Gatell has put politics before people’s lives and health.
The AF governors, none of whom represent Mexico’s ruling party, said that one of the errors of the deputy minister was to politicize the wearing of face masks. (López-Gatell has only recently begun to advocate forcefully for their use after questioning their efficacy earlier in the pandemic.)
“More than 35,000 people had to die for López-Gatell to half-heartedly accept their usefulness,” the letter said.
“That generated confusion among the population,” the governors said. They also accused the deputy minister of presenting “contradictory” and “incoherent” information about the coronavirus situation that contributed to Mexico’s high death toll.
In addition, the governors charged that the deputy minister has tried to shift responsibility for the management of the coronavirus crisis to state and municipal governments and asserted that “he never wanted to deal with this epidemic in a coordinated way.”
Some governors clashed with López-Gatell this week after he suggested that state leaders could face legal consequences if they didn’t follow the federal government’s advice abut how to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
In their letter, the AF governors claimed that the federal government’s “stoplight” system – used to determine the coronavirus risk level in each of Mexico’s 32 states – has “suffocated local economies,” asserting that GDP fell almost 20% in the second quarter because of the federal government’s failure to effectively managed the pandemic and its economic consequences.
“Mexico today is in the worst of [possible] scenarios. … Today we will become the third country with the most [Covid-19] deaths in the world below only Brazil and the United States, which have double and triple the population. It’s expected that this crisis will leave at least 10 million more poor people in Mexico,” the letter said.
“The governors of 40 million Mexicans demand … the immediate departure of Hugo López-Gatell,” the governors said.
They also demanded the appointment of a new expert to lead the government’s coronavirus response, asserting that someone with knowledge, intelligence, humility and a developed sense of responsibility is needed.
López-Gatell, who declared a week ago that he wouldn’t resign after the leaders of three political parties called for his dismissal, told a press conference Friday night that he respected the disgruntled governors and understood their feelings.
Despite their discontent with his management of the pandemic, the deputy minister said he hoped that the AF governors and the federal government would be able to continue working together.
López-Gatell said that the coronavirus pandemic has created an unusual and challenging situation that has repercussions on people’s economic and social lives.
In that context, it is natural for governors to have different views about how the pandemic should be managed, he said, noting that the decisions state leaders have to take to find the right balance between looking after people’s wellbeing and the health of the economy can cause them stress.
López-Gatell asserted that his role in the management of the pandemic is not political, saying that his “specific mandate” is to propose public health policies to the health minister, not implement them himself unilaterally.
“The law mandates me to propose public policies, outside that I have no place in politics.”