AMLO's Disconcerting Push For Total Control In Mexico

President López Obrador is bending Congress and the judiciary to his will, and scaring away investors in the process.

AMLO at a military parade in Mexico City in September
AMLO at a military parade in Mexico City in September
Luis Rubio


MEXICO CITY — Corruption is the pretext, but what's happening is really a power grab. Step by step, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is consolidating his position and bending Congress — and now the Supreme Court — to his will while browbeating relevant sectors of society. The message is clear: I'm the one in charge here.

His strategy is transparent and advancing briskly. There isn't a week that goes by without another element of this project, often in the form of legislative initiatives, falling into place. Certain components of the project's legislative scaffolding may seem superfluous, but their overarching purpose is clear: control of everything — absolutely everything.

The path set out so far suggests that there are two central components to this project. The first is to neutralize all counterweights, either by removing them or filling them with presidential nominees, or just killing them off with inertia. The second is that popular support must be maintained and fed through constant revelations of (supposed) cases of corruption, prominent imprisonments and as much circus and spectacle as the president's morning press conferences will allow.

The careful selection of eminences to be sent to the gallows serves two objectives: bending the institutions and terrorizing vast segments of the political, business and trade union class.

Governments worldwide have lost the ability to control economic decisions on which growth depends.

The strategy isn't new. President Carlos Salinas de Gortari did exactly the same in the late 1980s, with opposite objectives. He jailed politicians, union bosses and businessmen to consolidate his power and enable the launch of reforms he was proposing to transform the country and prepare it for the 21st century. AMLO is following that recipe but for the purpose of rolling back those reforms. He is submitting large sectors of society to his will and returning to a time when, he imagines, the country lived well, was quiet and enjoyed growth and stability.

The problem is that Mexico — and the world beyond it — have changed in these decades, and it is impossible to recreate the dream that inspires AMLO's government. Worse is the fact that, like in the 1980s, arresting certain emblematic individuals does not solve the problem of corruption, because it does not tackle its causes. This becomes more complicated when some of the cronies end up becoming "good guys' should the president "absolve" them, while others will always be bad guys because they are not close to him or because the president sees them as enemies.​

Anti-AMLO protests in Mexico City on Oct. 16 — Photo: Berenice Fregoso/ZUMA

Circuses arrive for a season then leave, because people are initially amazed but soon get bored. The same goes for political circuses: If they do nothing to improve everyday life, then sooner or later they run out of steam.

The great fallacy of the project assiduously pursued by AMLO is that it merely provokes paralysis in political and economic life. Without economic growth, it is impossible to diminish poverty or reduce regional inequalities, and without attacking the causes of corruption, it will merely morph in shape and location but never disappear. And that will inexorably harm the credibility of the government that has vowed to fight it.

The revocation of mandates (allowing public votes to sack elected officials), recently approved in parliamentary commissions, is a telling example. This instrument will change the dynamics of Mexican politics as it keeps the president and state governors in a permanent state of campaigning. Instead of having space to develop programs without electoral pressures, they will be in a constant circus, which undermines the country's long-term development.

There are solutions, but these require reassuring investors.

It's obvious why the president wanted this bit of legislation: He wants to be on the ticket in 2021 — before his six-year term ends, in 2024 — so that hey keep going. Whether people actually reward him with a vote remains to be seen, especially if the economy does not substantially improve. As they say here, be careful with what you wish as you might get it up the a**e.

The great difference between the 1980s and now is that governments worldwide have lost the ability to control economic decisions on which growth depends. This is neither good nor bad. It's just a simple, 21st century reality, and the reason why all countries seek to attract investment.

All the projects that have stopped coming to Mexico because of the uncertainty this government exudes, are going elsewhere. They are heading to countries that instead of denying global realities compete to exploit them so that their populations will prosper. One wonders whether or not this government could accept this condition.

Some in the government may think they can temper the president's spirits or moderate his conduct. But in reality all they do is represent him and become an integral part of the presidential strategy, with all its consequences for the economy. There are solutions, but these require reassuring investors, and that, quite simply, goes against AMLO's centralization drive.

His message is clear and repeated to the press every morning. Only those who would deceive themselves can ignore it. The rules of the game have changed, and will duly yield their results.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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