Mexico’s president a master of distraction (OPINION)


Andrés Oppenheimer is the editor and syndicated foreign affairs columnist with The Miami Herald, anchor of “Oppenheimer Presenta” on CNN En Español, and author of seven books, several of which have been published in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese.

Oppenheimer has called AMLO “a master of distraction”, and warns not to count him out.

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his leftist party, Morena, have suffered a string of political defeats lately, which have emboldened many critics who believe that the opposition will win the 2024 presidential elections.

But opposition parties may be falling into a dangerous trap, which could ruin their chances of winning.

Sunday, López Obrador lost a key vote in Congress when opposition parties united to deny him the two-thirds majority he needed to pass a constitutional reform that would have limited private investments in the electric energy industry.

Euphoric opposition legislators celebrated their victory by chanting the national anthem. López Obrador, in turn, called the vote an act of “treason.”

In fact, the president’s electric energy reform would have further scared off domestic and foreign investments and increased public spending in corruption-ridden and money-losing state companies.

A week earlier, on April 10, López Obrador suffered another blow when only 18% of Mexicans showed up to vote in a recall referendum that he had been promoting for the past three years. While he won 90% of the votes, that amounted to only 15 million Mexicans, which is half of the 30 million who had voted for him in 2018.

These setbacks came on the heels of the 2021 legislative elections, in which Morena, the government party, lost dozens of congressional seats. Morena still holds more than half of the seats in Congress but failed to win the two-thirds majority it needs to pass constitutional reforms.

Still, I’m not convinced that either López Obrador or his party are in serious trouble. The president, who has vowed not to run for reelection, but is widely expected to appoint his party’s nominee, remains popular among the poor. Thanks to massive state subsidies and his populist nationalist-leftist demagoguery, he still enjoys more than 50% of support in the polls.

More important, López Obrador is — much like former President Donald Trump was in the United States — a master of distraction, who constantly comes up with new ploys to divert public attention from his country’s biggest problems. And the opposition is consistently falling into his trap.

Mexico’s opposition parties have focused much of their energies lately fighting against López Obrador’s proposed reform for the electric energy industry, as well as against his recall referendum, which the government had tailored to guarantee the president’s victory.

Previously, López Obrador raised one outrageous idea after another, including a demand that Spain issue an official apology for its conquest of Mexico more than 500 years ago and that Austria returns to Mexico the headdress of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma, which is at the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna.

In other words, López Obrador is controlling Mexico’s political agenda at his will, and diverting public attention from really important issues that could threaten his popularity, such as Mexico’s dwindling economic growth, the rise in poverty, higher inflation, and violence.

While the president had promised to make Mexico’s economy grow by an average of 4% a year, in his first three years in office, it didn’t grow at all, according to U.N. figures.

This year, Mexico’s economy is expected to grow by only 2%, below Latin America’s average and way below what Mexico needs to provide jobs for the millions of youths who enter its job market every year, according to new International Monetary Fund estimates.

Mexico’s inflation reached 7.4% in March, its highest level in more than two decades. Poverty rose by more than 3.8 million during López Obrador’s first three years in power, according to official figures. And the number of homicides, which López Obrador had promised to significantly reduce, remains at more than 33,000 a year.

If Mexico’s opposition wants to defeat López Obrador’s populist party in 2024, it will have to unite — as it did in Sunday’s congressional vote — and avoid falling into the president’s diversion tactics.

Much like López Obrador did during his years as opposition leader when he relentlessly blamed Mexico’s governments for failing to achieve 4%-a-year economic growth rates, opposition parties should make the president drink his own medicine and focus their message on just one issue — Mexico’s failure to grow.

Otherwise, they will have a hard time winning the next presidential election.

Click here to read the complete original article by Andrés Oppenheimer on The Oppenheimer Report

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