The Mexican president's overhaul of public life is riding roughshod over interests, including those of the poor, his own voters, and a 'defenseless' middle class.
MEXICO CITY — In a now familiar episode in Don Quixote, the 17th-century novel by Miguel de Cervantes, his delusional hero vows to fight some windmills he declares to be giants. Undeterred by his squire's observation that these are "not giants, but windmills," he shouts at them, "do not flee, you cowardly and vile creatures, for it's just one knight attacking you!".
What President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has pitched as the fourth transformation of Mexico — after independence from Spain, the liberal reforms that broke the church's dominance in the 1850s and the 1910-1917 revolution — is progressing in a similarly hasty and relentless manner, leaving victims by the wayside. Like Don Quixote, its progress is nothing but smooth but there is no doubt that deliberately provoking confrontation is part of the presidential plan. And its result is to pile up resentment, economic damage and potential disagreement.
The list of those affected is already shockingly long. The closure of public daycare centers is depriving children of a safe and creative place to spend the day while their mothers work. Their mothers will in turn find it much harder to work, which affects the family economy. Avocado exporters see their products rot away for the slow pace of U.S. customs, but the Mexican government does nothing about it. Residents of the border region have seen tens of thousands of Central American migrants arrive without any infrastructure to accommodate them or work opportunities.
The list goes on. It includes all those abruptly dismissed from government service, without compensation or alternative jobs. Those who have suffered pay cuts, losing acquired rights, with an overnight decision. Women subjected to domestic violence now deprived of safe houses where they can stay.
Street scene in Guanajuato, Mexico — Photo: Dennis Schrader
Newborns deprived of a successful future — because curable birth defects will not be detected because of the end of neonatal screening. Citizens who can no longer count on the protection of key counterweights in the economy or a Supreme Court fully independent of the executive. Energy sector contractors facing threats in spite of honoring their commitments, or all the children deprived of hopes of better schooling, because the president is pandering to abusive trade unions. Falling consumption levels that affect the poorest, and rising uncertainty that halts investments. Or the former civil servants who have had their integrity and reputations besmirched in ways the president could not conceive of.
Attacks may work in a political project, but not in the economy nor at this point in history.
The list is perhaps longer than what the president himself imagines. Many, indeed the vast majority, are part of his natural support base, and the most vulnerable are precisely those who need economic growth and its benefits in the form of revenues and jobs. The president is absolutely committed to boosting growth, but as the saying goes, you won't get from here to there along this path.
There is no progress when your every other step does harm. Attacks may work in a political project, but not in the economy nor at this point in history. For investors must be able to hope for returns to accept the risks of investing. There must be markets for their products, obstacles to business growth must be removed and the bureaucracy prevented from making obstacles up. It is no coincidence that all governments, bar a couple of telling examples like North Korea or Venezuela, literally devote themselves to attracting companies and investment with resources and careful strategies.
As losses multiply and the checks and balances regime becomes weaker every day, the economy, if not the entire country, is losing viability. We're on the wrong path.