Opinion | Biden’s Other Mexico Problem

Opinion | Biden’s Other Mexico Problem


Secretary of State

Antony Blinken

flew to Mexico last week for a closed-door meeting with President Andrés Manuel

López Obrador.

A State Department release said the two discussed fentanyl production and trafficking, migration and “shared economic interests.” Mr. Blinken “noted his continued appreciation for collaboration with Mexico” on these and other issues.

Such diplo-speak from Foggy Bottom is designed, no doubt, with the Biden administration’s immigration woes in mind. In real life, though, it’s hard to think of a time in the last three decades when the U.S. interests in a stable and growing Mexico were in greater danger.

Last week AMLO—as the Mexican president is known—got another step closer to militarizing Mexico’s civilian government, a project that he has been working on since he took office in December 2018. He may fall short but the latest developments are chilling.

In his first full year in office, AMLO created a new National Guard, put it under military command until March 2024, and dispatched a good part of it to Mexico’s Guatemalan border.

U.S. law forbids the use of its armed forces in domestic law enforcement. Yet President Trump celebrated AMLO’s expansion of military power. The American president believed migration and drug flows could be contained if only Mexico put more little green men down on the Suchiate River.

Three and a half years later, an endless stream of poor and huddled masses continues to flow to the U.S. southern border and cartels roam Mexico with impunity. The promise of an effective deployment of the National Guard, under military command, never materialized. Yet AMLO now seeks to extend this “temporary” arrangement until March 2028.

Institutions in a democracy—including the military—require transparency and accountability to check corruption. But AMLO prefers to characterize the rule of law, decentralization, pluralism and institutional independence as mere trappings of an elite that stands in the way of his messianic mission. This is manifest in his efforts to control the judiciary and restore the monopolies of the state-owned oil and electricity companies. He has reduced federal transfers for local and state law enforcement.

The military is now in charge of key infrastructure projects like the Mayan train on the Yucatán and the international airport serving Mexico City as well as formerly civil-service functions like customs and air-traffic control. These are plum assignments, which, under a national-security exception, allow military brass to skip environmental reviews, auditing and disciplines for procurements.

The corrupting nature of such privilege is obvious and could harm the country’s last line of defense in dealing with foreign adversaries.

AMLO’s disregard for the rule of law is hurting the outlook for Mexico, as the State Department said in its 2022 “investment climate” statement, noting that “uncertainty about contract enforcement, insecurity, informality, and corruption continue to hinder sustained Mexican economic growth.” The same report noted that investors in Mexico “are increasingly concerned the administration is undermining confidence in the ‘rules of the game,’ particularly in the energy sector, by weakening the political autonomy” of independent regulatory agencies.

Both the Bank of Mexico and the International Monetary Fund have downgraded their estimates for Mexican growth to below 3% this year, an anemic rate for a developing country.

Also troubling is recent support from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in the lower house, which stepped up to help the president last week by voting in favor of a transitory constitutional amendment to give the military control over the National Guard for almost six more years.

Until now the PRI had been caucusing with the National Action Party and other smaller parties to contain AMLO’s ambitions. If that coalition is breaking apart, it’s more bad news for Mexican democracy.

It’s an open question whether the shift in PRI voting had anything to do with the attorney general’s investigation of PRI president

Alejandro Moreno,

a former governor of the state of Campeche who also has been accused of corruption by members of his own party.

One PRI-ista told me that many in his party voted for the amendment because they see it as the best hope of providing security to a nation ravaged by organized crime and violence, and to do it before election year 2024. Given the immense power of the cartels financed by American narcotics demand, the idea has popular support.

Yet the risks of militarizing the country while an authoritarian wannabe resides in the presidential palace seem to outweigh the advantages. It isn’t clear why lawmakers didn’t instead propose a change in the guard’s chain of command so that it would become answerable to civilian codes of justice and auditing.

The amendment now goes to the Senate, where it is hoped that PRI dissidents will kill it—and Mexican democracy will hang on.

Write to O’[email protected]

Journal Editorial Report: Martha’s Vineyard says no one told them this was coming. Image: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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