America Watches as Mexico’s President Moves Toward Authoritarianism

President Biden has reserved a seat for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at next month’s democracy summit even as the leader works to weaken his country’s electoral system.

AP/Fernando Llano, file
The Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, speaks during the North America Summit, at the National Palace at Mexico City, January 10, 2023. AP/Fernando Llano, file

Even as Mexicans are out in the streets protesting against their president’s increasingly authoritarian hold on power, President Biden is planning to give Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador a seat at next month’s democracy summit.

Mr. Lopez Obrador’s latest attempt at undermining institutions that threaten his political future includes reducing the size of Mexico’s independent electoral system. Mexicans fear that confining the National Election Institute endangers next year’s free and secure elections.

Mr. Biden is scheduled to host a virtual Summit of Democracy next month. Mexico appears in the list of participants even as the summit aims to demonstrate “how transparent, accountable governance remains the best way to deliver lasting prosperity, peace, and justice,” according to the White House press briefing

The American assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, Brian Nichols, condemned AMLO’s actions. “In Mexico today we see a great debate on electoral reforms that test the independence of electoral and judicial institutions,” Mr. Nichols wrote on  his Twitter account. “The US supports independent electoral institutions that have the resources to strengthen democratic processes and the rule of law.”

Yet, political analysts fear that as drugs, migrants, and border security — all critical issues for Mr. Biden — partially depend on Mr. Lopez Obrador, America will not reprimand AMLO for authoritarian policies. There has not been much American pushback on Mexico’s threats to democracy, a former Mexican diplomat who is president of a consulting firm, Rozental & Asociados, Andres Rozental, tells the Sun.

It’s important for the White House to publicly condemn AMLO’s actions, which are “destroying the institutions that we painfully set up for the last 30 years,” Mr. Rozental says. “It would help if the American administration did more.”

On Sunday, half a million Mexicans gathered in Mexico City’s main plaza, the Zocalo, after the senate approved the electoral system bill. It is expected to be signed into law in upcoming days. The plaza was flooded with people wearing shirts and carrying flags of white and pink — the colors of the National Electoral Institute — and signs that said: “Don’t Touch My Vote!”

The National Electoral Institute is an independent authority that has been tasked with ensuring free and fair elections in Mexico since 2014. Before the 2000 election victory of President Fox,  Mexico was under a one-party rule for more than a century — longer than the Communist Party’s hold over the Soviet Union.

“During this one-party rule period, the government manipulated the electoral lists,” a researcher at Human Rights Watch, Tyler Mattiace, says. “The National Electoral Institute created a new updated and reliable registry. The government can’t touch it.”

According to the National Electoral Institute, Mr. Lopez Obrador’s changes could eliminate 85 percent of the staff, by removing 300 offices that prepare, organize, and celebrate elections. The new bill would also not allow the institution to cancel political parties that break the law during the campaign. It would also make it more difficult for candidates to use public funds for campaigning.

Since he came to power in 2018, Mr. Lopez Obrador has shown little interest in playing by the established rules. He attacked journalists and professors who did not align with his views, lashed out at non-governmental agencies that investigated corruption, and questioned independent public agencies such as the Antitrust Commission and the National Commission on Human Rights. 

In addition, Mr. Lopez Obrador is burying Mexico’s capacity to become the high-tech manufacturing capital in the region. The country’s proximity to America, its low wages, and an educated, industrial workforce could become an attractive alternative for industries that shift away from manufacturing in Communist China. Yet, Mr. Lopez Obrador seems intent on making life harder for foreign investors. 

On Friday, AMLO said he would deny a request by Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, to build a new facility in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. Yet, after much public pressure, Mexican media report that the two officials on Monday reached an agreement for Tesla to open operations in Mexico.

During his time in office, Mr. Lopez Obrador “has done everything to discourage investment, both domestically and foreign,” Mr. Rozental says. “He has systematically made it much more difficult for Mexico to become attractive to investments.” 

The president of the Mexican Business Council, Antonio del Valle, said that the lack of policies on energy and infrastructure in Mexico is “scaring away millions of dollars” of foreign direct investment. Mexico has the capacity to receive more than $70 billion, double the $35 billion that it received in 2022, Mr. del Valle said.

Mr. Lopez Obrador’s actions go against the 2020 American- Mexican-Canadian agreement known as USMCA, under which Mr. Lopez Obrador agreed to open its oil, gas, and electricity markets to foreign and domestic competitors. Yet, AMLO wants to “go back to the 1970s, when there were monopolies, no foreign or domestic investments,” Mr. Rozental says.

Through regulatory agencies that he now controls, AMLO is “making it difficult” for foreign investors to gain permits, Mr. Rozental says. “This goes against the USMCA agreement.”

The New York Sun

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