President López Obrador drew fire this week from the National Electoral Institute (INE), which determined that he had improperly promoted his image on letters to recipients of government stimulus loans for small businesses.
After complaints from opposition political parties, the INE determined that the president had done so by signing loan letters with his name and title.
It was in direct violation of Article 134 of the Mexican constitution which specifies that government messages may not include names, images voices or symbols that personally promote any public servant, and that government communiqués are to be used solely for informational purposes.
The INE ordered that the letter, which has already been distributed to some 40,000 businesses that qualify for the 25,000-peso small business loans, be altered to remove the president’s name and signature for future loan recipients, and that the language be modified to clarify that the funds come from the federal government alone.
Mexico has approved 700,000 such loans, intended to help small business owners continue to pay salaries to employees during the coronavirus emergency.
The president said Friday morning his name would be removed from the letter.
“It was a letter explaining what [loan recipients] have to do and why we have confidence in them; I signed the letter and included my name. They [the electoral institute] didn’t like it so the decision was taken to remove my name so they can calm down.”
The institute is one of several arms-length government institutions over which the López Obrador administration has attempted to exert control.
Meanwhile, López Obrador is not the only politician seeking to use government communications about the coronavirus for political gain. The INE noted that it is investigating several other public servants who have similarly violated the stipulations of Article 134.
A photo of the newly-appointed mayor of Tapachula, Chiapas, and a message extolling her qualities were included on water bills sent to residents.
“Selected for her capabilities and for embodying the virtues required by the municipality of Tapachula, to be governed by a sensible and prudent woman who seeks the common good, where we all win and live in a safe, free and sovereign place,” read the description of Rosa Irene Urbina Castañeda on the back of the bill.
The tactic did not go unnoticed. “The change in priorities derived from the health emergency cannot translate into personalized promotion under the guise of support for those who need it,” cautioned Sofía Martínez De Castro León of the Electoral and Citizen Participation Institute in Chiapas. “This is a reminder to respect the rules and avoid violations of [the constitution].”