President López Obrador has dismissed an opinion piece published by The Wall Street Journal that claims that Mexico is heading toward one-man rule under his leadership, charging that the newspaper lacks professionalism and doesn’t know the history of the country.
In an opinion article published Sunday under the headline “Mexico Slides Toward One-Man Rule,” Mary Anastasia O’Grady, a columnist and member of The Wall Street Journal editorial board, wrote that López Obrador is “working to consolidate as much power as possible” in the executive branch of government.
She cited a dinner this month at which the president asked Mexico’s business elite to support a government raffle to raise funds to cover the costs of maintaining the unwanted luxury jet of his predecessor and to purchase medical equipment as one example of López Obrador’s attempt to exert his influence.
O’Grady charged that the main problem with the raffle, and López Obrador’s appeal to businesspeople to support it – dinner attendees submitted written pledges to spend 1.5 billion pesos on tickets – is that “it looks like pay-to-play.”
“Presidential fundraising for pet projects has the whiff of illegality because the state dishes out valuable concessions and no-bid contracts and can let unpaid tax bills slide,” she wrote. “Yet when AMLO – the president is known by his initials – does it, no one dares stop him.”
O’Grady charged that many Mexicans “snickered about what was seen as a blatant act of extortion.”
After blaming López Obrador for the lack of GDP growth in 2019 and describing his views on economic fairness as akin to those of leftist United States presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, the columnist criticized the president’s decisions to cancel the previous government’s airport project and force the renegotiation of natural gas pipeline contracts.
O’Grady added that “his effort to cap salaries at the central bank may violate the Mexican constitution and is seen as a ploy to chase out qualified technocrats so he can replace them with political loyalists.”
“This smells bad,” she wrote. “Behind the scenes it’s even worse, as ‘the law’ is used to spread terror against opponents.”
The columnist charged that a “key tool” in the government’s campaign of “terror” is the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), an agency within the Finance Ministry (SHCP).
“The unit … is supposed to investigate suspicious financial activity and pass the information to the attorney general. In practice, critics say, it is being used to gain control of institutions that should be independent,” O’Grady wrote.
The UIF “has been employing its power selectively to pressure the president’s adversaries,” she claimed, adding that the unit has violated laws that state that SHCP officials must safeguard the confidentiality of ongoing investigations and respect the presumption of innocence.
“Yet the unit has a record of violating both norms, making public statements of condemnation and freezing the financial assets of the accused and their extended families even before charges are filed and without a judge’s ruling,” O’Grady wrote.
“Both maintained their innocence. But the freezing of assets meant possible financial ruin even if there was eventual exoneration. Neither was ever charged but both resigned. AMLO replaced them with his own handpicked appointees. Tick-tock, Mexico,” O’Grady wrote.
Speaking at his morning press conference on Monday, López Obrador acknowledged the opinion piece.
“The Wall Street Journal says that Mexico is now a country of just one man,” the president said with a wry smile on his face.
“Imagine the lack of professionalism – they don’t know the history of the country. When was Mexico a country of just one man? When Antonio López de Santa Anna and Porfirio Díaz [were president]. … Santa Anna was president of Mexico 11 times. … It was when [the United States] took more than half of our territory,” he said.
“They went too far in the comparison, right? … Porfirio Díaz [was in power] 34 years. … What do I have to do with Santa Anna? What do I have to do with Porfirio Díaz? … I’ve been [in power] 14 months, 15 months, I’ve got four years left. They’re exaggerating a little bit, aren’t they? [The newspaper] Reforma is better,” López Obrador said, citing a Mexico City broadsheet of which he is frequently critical.
In claiming that the president is moving to consolidate power in the executive branch of government, O’Grady makes similar arguments to those already made by opposition political parties, including López Obrador’s former party, as well as political analysts such as Denise Dresser and Shannon K. O’Neil.
Mexico News Daily