Three years after having triumphed and three years after leaving power, the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador is literally halfway there, now it will seek that that expression does not become a kind of epitaph. The ambitious Fourth Transformation promised upon taking office, that is to say nothing more and nothing less than a regime change, runs the risk of being left in an incomplete or truncated version as a result of a frustrating mix of factors: the unpredictable and devastating epidemic of the Covid -19, the many resistance encountered by other political and economic actors, and, of course, the errors and limitations of conception and implementation themselves.
That said, in my opinion the intentions raised by López Obrador were correct. The Government of Enrique Peña Nieto ended in discredit before the indignation caused by corruption, frivolity, waste, the plunder of the State in favor of an enriched elite, disinterest in the majority, social injustice, poverty and insecurity . The victory of the leftist candidate was the result of growing discontent that, fortunately, found a democratic way out at the polls.
What is the balance between intentions and actual accomplishments midway? From the outset, it should be said that any substantive evaluation would have to put aside, for a moment, the belligerent and radical narratives that flood the public space because they are loaded with disqualifications, propaganda and exaggerations that, obviously, hinder the purpose of extracting a fairly reasonable balance. In this space I have insisted that beyond the verbal rigidity of the president, partial author of this climate of polarization, in reality his management has been surprisingly responsible for someone trying to change the regime. Its public finance policy has been conservative, even contrary to the behavior that would be attributed to a populist government: balance in public accounts, aversion to government indebtedness, reduction of the bureaucracy, control of inflation. In the same way, he has maintained a responsible and cautious relationship with the United States, also unusual for a leader who makes nationalism and national pride a political flag. Against those who accuse him of being a proto Chávez or a Fidel Castro, it should be said that López Obrador has not resorted to expropriations, nor has he opted for the way so helped by the social democratic governments of substantially increasing taxes on the richest. And for those who are usually accused of sending institutions to the devil, which they attack in their daily sessions before the press, in practice they have repeatedly submitted to their decisions.
In essence, López Obrador is a man of radical discourse and responsible government acts. Someone who, beyond his fiery speech, seeks changes in the system based on the rules and limits of the system itself. And far from a socialist paradigm, let alone communist, his ideology would seem to be closer to the presidentialist PRI of the 50s and 60s, a supposed golden period marked by stabilizing development, when the Mexican State supposedly possessed social conscience and promoted the welfare of the poor.
What has the government done in that direction? The most important thing is the redistributive effort to the most unprotected groups through direct transfers that do not go through intermediaries. Just over 15 billion dollars annually. Insufficient as a trigger for the formation of an internal market, as was the intention of the president, but a huge relief for a population that, although it had not been evicted by previous governments, was perceived essentially as the political clientele of the intermediation networks.
To the credit of Q4, we should mention the strengthening of public finances through the fight against tax evasion; the improvement of the purchasing power of minimum wages; modifications to the laws to promote union democracy; the intention to reactivate the forgotten southeast of the country through ambitious investment projects, even though some of them are controversial. They are not the only successes, of course, but they are the most remarkable in a text of this size.
Then it would be necessary to mention initiatives driven in the right direction but with harmful side effects due to haste or errors in the instrumentation. This is the case of the fight against Huachicol (illegal extraction of fuels), or the intention to end the leonine contracts and strengthen the role of the State in the energy sector, or worse still, the project to clean up the muddy universe of the purchase of medicines destined for the public sector. All these actions have caused supply difficulties, investments of questionable profitability and sometimes counterproductive effects. The Executive’s aversion to recognizing errors or problems (so as not to give “ammunition” to its adversaries), would have prevented limiting these damages, which certainly go beyond “collateral damage.”
However, it seems to me that the government has tried, with all its limitations, to create a pendulum momentum in the opposite direction to the excesses and abuses with which previous administrations had been operating. It may seem anecdotal that the president travels in a commercial airplane and tourist class, but that and many other actions against the indiscriminate use of public patrimony, set a precedent for easy enrichment and luxury spending in future governments. An appearance of two hours a day may be an excess, but at least it will make it difficult for the next president who wants to entrench himself as Enrique Peña Nieto did.
In short, it does not seem to me that there is a regime change underway as the president and his own adversaries would like to believe. There is no before and after in Mexico. The political class changes chairs, but the protagonists remain the same, in the same way that the economic elite consists of the same surnames, perhaps even with a little more wealth after the crisis due to the pandemic. What has happened is that some unprotected sectors receive attention that they did not have before and there is a serious attempt, perhaps poorly implemented, to modify the abuses of the bureaucracy and some predatory businessmen on public goods.
Perhaps the greatest virtue of this Administration lies less in the deeds and works achieved and more in the symbols, something that is fundamental in politics. AMLO continues to represent a hope for majorities who have many reasons to feel aggrieved. For a country with the inequality that we suffer and the crisis in which we find ourselves, López Obrador, including verbal bellicosity, is paradoxically a factor of political stability. At the end of this path, perhaps that could be the main contribution that his administration leaves. It certainly will not have changed the lives of the poor, but it will have shown that they can place, without violence, a man who looked for them in the National Palace. And it is not small thing.