A narcissist leader who thinks the global coronavirus pandemic is a conspiracy against him. A head of state stubbornly refusing to accept any criticism or take actions other world leaders have embraced to protect their populations. A president slow to recognize the gravity of the situation and quick to downplay it so things can go back to being all about his transformation of his country.
Americans should be very worried about what’s happening as the coronavirus spreads in Mexico, where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — AMLO — behaves at times like his counterpart in the White House.
In the best of circumstances, COVID-19 would amount to a significant tragedy for our southern neighbor, with its fragile healthcare system and a vulnerable economy. Now AMLO’s mismanagement is threatening to turn a public health crisis into a far greater calamity. And a cataclysm in Mexico, America’s largest trading partner, with deep ties to California, will have serious knock-on effects in the U.S.
Much like Trump, López Obrador is contemptuous of technocratic expertise, and he would prefer to keep politicking for his vanity project, the soufflé of nostalgic nationalism and populism known as the “Fourth Transformation,” rather than respond to a public health crisis.
As late as March 29, AMLO was still traveling the country, caught on video walking up to a pickup truck carrying the mother of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the notorious drug cartel leader now in a U.S. prison, and shaking her hand through an open window. Then in April he defied calls to embrace aggressive fiscal support for the economy, citing an aversion to debt and the impropriety of past government bailouts to ailing industries. COVID-19, he said on a Sunday prime time address that supplemented his endless weekday press conferences, was just a “transitory crisis” in a nation whose strengths outweigh its weaknesses.
It’s hard to share his optimism. There is growing distrust (including on the part of Mexico City’s overwhelmed government) in official federal statistics about the disease that show some 31,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,000 deaths. Mexico has the lowest testing rate among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, and is slowly reevaluating the cause of death of people who’ve recently died from “atypical pneumonia.”
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