Corruption Runs Deep in AMLO’s Mexico

Mexico's President López Obrador urged the country's most successful entrepreneurs to buy lottery tickets to raffle off the presidential plane

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López Obrador, President of Mexico. (Photo: EFE)

 

It was all very revealing: on February 12, President López Obrador invited the 100 most prosperous businessmen in Mexico to dinner. There is no record of any of the guests, the reason for the dinner, if anyone to attend, nor of anyone showing any discontent during the event.

The dinner was not to announce a great structural reform, nor to convince them to invest, or, for that matter, the government to facilitate their task.  Nor was it to hear their opinions about the very serious violence the country is suffering, which has already resulted in 35,000 malicious murders in 2019 alone (the vast majority of them unpunished), nor to ask for their help to face the bleak economic panorama of 2020, which will probably repeat negative GDP growth in 2019 or very close to zero (in this respect, will the country survive two consecutive years of negative GDP growth per capita and what will be the political and social consequences?)

No. He gathered them together to force them (but “voluntarily”) to buy most of the six million tickets for his new project: to raffle off the presidential plane, “suggesting” to each of the businessmen to “donate” amounts of $1, $2.5, $5, and $10 million. The funds obtained, according to López Obrador, would be used to buy equipment and medicines, and thus alleviate the serious crisis in the public health system that the president himself provoked by distracting medical resources to instead give scholarships, aid, and subsidies to his electoral clientele.

Beyond the comic buffoonery of the presidential plane, it is worth noting the new and enormous power of the Mexican president. Recent legal reforms in fiscal matters, which penalize, for example, errors in issuing invoices or paying taxes, with penalties such as imprisonment without bail, expropriation of property, and the freezing and confiscation of bank accounts, along with the lack of due process of law, make it very challenging and risky for any business owner to refuse López Obrador’s request. Anyone who does so would be risking their freedom, wealth, the integrity of their family, and the viability of their businesses. Would anyone say no to the President given these risks?

With this request, President López Obrador has not only betrayed his promise to separate politics and business but has also enabled a return to the traditional Mexican “crony capitalism.” It is gravely revealing that López Obrador has implicitly built a legal order in Mexico to suit himself, one to threaten, extort, coerce, and steal in just one year and with the complicity of his majority party in Congress. Besides the suspicious passivity of weak opposition, he has made extortion, assault, and presidential looting legal.

We are not only talking about the 100 richest businessmen in the country: in fact, almost none of the 120 million Mexicans are safe from the new presidential power (except perhaps his accomplices, unconditional and flattering) as long as they are functional. Thus, López Obrador has made Mexico a country of slaves, subservient to him out of precaution and fear. The fact that none of the businessmen have even slightly protested the president’s treatment given speaks to the order of servitude and indignity that López Obrador has instituted.

For some reason, the matter reminds me of that meeting of Adolf Hitler, in February 1933, with the 24 main German businessmen (the owners of Opel, Telefunken, Krupp, Bayer, Siemens) to ask them for money “for the good of the country” and they gave in, donating huge amounts of money, only managing to encourage Hitler to embark on new and dangerous adventures, such as the annexation of Austria thereafter. And we know how that ended.

Finally, the issue reveals something perhaps equally or more disturbing: López Obrador and his officials are acting against the law by raffling off an airplane that does not belong to them (it still legally belongs to Boeing Aeronautics), paid for with funds from the Mexican taxpayer, and by initiating the raffle with funds illegally stolen by the Attorney General’s Office from the public housing institute INFONAVIT, whose resources belong to businessmen and workers. They are thus committing misappropriation of public resources and engaging in very serious administrative responsibilities.

Even in a minimally functional country, such behavior would have already generated legal proceedings or, at least, there would be the possibility that the law would intervene at some point. In a normal country, López Obrador and his closest collaborators should end up in prison. But with unconditional supporters at the head of the Attorney General’s Office and (apparently) the Supreme Court of Justice, such a contingency is highly unlikely. Mexico is, therefore, today a country of slaves, without fair laws and guaranteed presidential impunity.

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