By Andres Oppenheimer
While Mexico’s economy stagnates, drug violence reaches record highs and the country draws international criticism for its support of Bolivia’s recent fraudulent election, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador seems to be focusing his attention on the distant past.
Granted, every country has the right, even the duty, to commemorate its history and teach it to the next generations. But Lopez Obrador’s fixation with Mexico’s past is so obsessive that it’s rapidly becoming a national problem.
On Nov. 20, the president turned Mexico City upside down for a 5.3-mile parade with more than 2,500 horsemen and soldiers dressed in 1910 costumes in order to celebrate the 109th anniversary of the 1910-1917 Mexican Revolution.
The parade was organized, in part, by Mexico’s first lady, Beatriz Gonzalez Muller, who shares the president’s passion for history and is the coordinator for the National Historic and Cultural Memory.
It was only the latest example of Lopez Obrador’s obsession with history. A day earlier, on Nov. 19, he announced the imminent publication of his book, “The Moral Economy,” and said that its first chapter deals with crimes allegedly committed by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés five centuries ago.
Lopez Obrador charges that Cortés illegally proclaimed himself mayor of Veracruz, and that he misappropriated funds from Aztec emperor Montezuma’s treasure.
Two days later, a Mexican congressman from the president’s party demanded that Cortés’ remains be sent back to Spain.
Earlier this year, Lopez Obrador sent separate letters to Spanish King Felipe VI and Pope Francis asking them to publicly apologize to indigenous Mexicans for human-rights abuses during the conquest. That drew a sharp public rebuke from the Spanish government.
Lopez Obrador also has moved the presidential office from the relatively modern Los Pinos residence to Mexico’s old National Palace, whose construction was started by Cortés in 1522. There, Lopez Obrador has dedicated a new conference room that he calls “the forgotten ones,” to honor historic figures whose deeds he thinks have not been duly recognized in Mexico’s history.
One of his first actions upon taking office on Dec. 1, 2018, was to change the Mexican government’s logo. It had been a flag with a group image of historic figures, including independence and revolutionary heroes Miguel Hidalgo (1753-1811), Jose Maria Morelos (1765-1815) and Benito Juarez (1806-1872).
The problem with Lopez Obrador’s being captivated by the past is that it’s diverting Mexico’s energies from much more urgent endeavors.
The economy, which Lopez Obrador had promised would expand to 4% annual growth rates during his tenure, has slowed down to an expected 0.4% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Mexico’s violence has reached a record high, with 31,632 homicides during the first 10 months of this year. The recent murder of nine members of a U.S.-Mexican family — including six children — by drug cartel gunmen in northern Mexico was only the latest reminder that violence is escalating in the country.
And amid all of these domestic problems, Lopez Obrador raised eyebrows abroad by congratulating former Bolivian ruler Evo Morales after his fraudulent Oct. 20 electoral victory, and then granting him a hero’s welcome in Mexico. Lopez Obrador’s failure to criticize Morales’ authoritarian rule — he had stayed in power way beyond his two-term constitutional term limits — and accepting his electoral fraud amounts to supporting an unconstitutional ruler.
What’s just as worrisome is that Lopez Obrador seems to be paying scant attention to the issues that will decide Mexico’s future, such as improving education standards and investing in technology and innovation. In fact, he rarely talks about these issues.
Some might speculate that his obsession with history is a clever strategy to divert attention from Mexico’s problems. But my impression from having interviewed him once and reported about him for more than two decades is that he is genuinely fixated on the past.
The people he most respects and most often quotes are Mexican politicians who died before the invention of the telephone in the mid-19th century. Many of them might have been true heroes, but they might not have the best answers for today’s world of 5G technology, artificial intelligence and advanced robotics.
For Mexico’s sake, it’s time for Lopez Obrador to focus on the future.