The president of Mexico presented a decalogue to get out of the coronavirus crisis. It’s ten vague and almost mystical points. The country does not need good wishes; it requires a clear and concrete political, economic, and social plan. By Diego Fonseca for The New York Times
When Mexico was waiting for a plan, it had a pulpit. When it needed a statesman, it had a messiah with a decalogue.
The President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, seems more and more determined to create a world for himself without any dialectic relationship with national dramas.
The country is continuously adding sick and dead people while the president publishes as an official message to get rid of the coronavirus ten points of generalities, morality, banal pseudo-ecology, and comical new age song. Either there are no clear strategies in the Mexican government or cynicism is rampant. Neither of the two options is good.
What’s wrong with the presidential decalogue? Everything.
What would be the right thing to do?
Without exhausting options, here we go:
1. Let’s stay informed of the health provisions. Keeping society well informed is the responsibility of the authorities, not the people. And the better that information is, the easier it is to convince citizens. But the Mexican government has not been consistent in its messages and actions. The contradiction has been the norm, and its highest symbolic figure -AMLO- has gone from disdain to mockery, defiance, sarcasm, and misplaced propaganda.
What should Mexico do? Clarity and brevity, instead of the Mañaneras and the conferences of Hugo López-Gatell, the spokesman in the crisis, where monologues, rhetoric, and little credible information abound. You don’t have to invent the black thread: you can learn from New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern: precise and focused messages and plenty of time open to specific questions from the professional press, without propagandists or sycophants.
2. Let us act with optimism. Optimistic is the one who trusts because he knows where he stands. But trust is obtained with a clear plan. Mexico does not have such a program. There is no reason for optimism: nobody knows how the two million jobs promised by AMLO will appear or how the economy will react without a deep and prolonged program of a stimulus.
Instead of betting on vague optimism, he can do something that has already been proven: German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the citizens to tell them that there is no magic solution and to draw up a precise and credible road map. The confidence gained allows for cautious optimism.
3. Let’s turn our backs on selfishness and individualism and be supportive and humane. “If I take care of myself, I take care of you” is the unspoken social agreement that has worked best in the world’s quarantines: not to take risks or provoke them. But when a government announces the opening of the economy while the country is still on red alert, there is no solidarity: it decides the presidential will beyond the specialized council.
What to do? Citizens accept restrictions if they understand that it is for the common good; their confidence grows if they perceive that the authorities know what to do. It does not help, as it has happened in Mexico when politicians despise the solidarity effort and contradict the specialists.
4. Let us not get caught up in the material. Let us move away from consumerism. The return to life in society has an economic reason that contradicts the presidential desire: reactivating requires consumption. An economy generates goods and services. It does not live on a self-righteous ommmmmm alien to the president of the second-most populous nation in Latin America.
Instead, the Mexican government must pursue tax equity and inclusion and find ways to require companies to pay better wages. There are dozens of examples in the pipeline. Among its neighbors, the United States and even unstable Argentina have launched direct aid to families. The European Union provided multi-million dollar incentives for governments and businesses. On the other hand, Mexico maintained its adjustment plan and launched a “timid” fiscal program.
5. The best medicine is prevention. The World Health Organization has already made it known that the Mexican government is not acting well. It performs few tests, confines late, scales down early, and Lopez-Gatell decimated its initial credibility with repeated failed announcements of spikes in contagion.
What to do? The nations that conduct the earliest and most tests best control the pandemic; reopening should not be anticipated without contingency plans; a consistent message helps convey the urgency. Nothing needs to be invented: Taiwan and South Korea are successful examples and showcase the new risks.
6. Let us defend the right to enjoy the sky, the sun, the fresh air, the flora, and fauna. In the fantastic film From the Garden, a limited gardener, Chauncey Gardiner, confuses the powerful with his references to growth: everyone sees metaphors of the economy when he only talks about plants. In Mexico, the president becomes the national gardener: AMLO’s Decalogue is false environmentalism. He does not believe what he is asking for.
Mr. President, if you call for enjoying nature, do not despise renewable energies or deepen the exploitation of oil, do not ride a lavish train through ecological reserves, or build a refinery and a mega airport without considering their environmental impact.
7. Let’s eat well. Let’s opt for the natural, fresh, and nutritious. Mexico is the second nation in the world in adult obesity and has one of the highest rates of child obesity. A large portion of these people with a high-risk profile for coronavirus-do does not have the resources to pay for fresh, natural, more expensive, and less accessible products.
8. Let’s exercise. Okay, healthy life is necessary, but first, you need to have an experience. Ergo, it is not reasonable to tempt people back to the streets with an active and aggressive virus in overcrowded cities.
What do you do if you follow the plan? Safe spaces will be necessary, but no one in the National Palace should have noticed the security crisis, the risks to women, and the contamination levels in their central cities. If you want Mexicans to exercise in public in a country painted red, Mr. President, you must invest better in public safety and health.
9. Let us eliminate racist, classist, sexist, and discriminatory attitudes in general. When women protested the femicides, the Mexican government responded with disinterest. When the official body to combat discrimination scheduled a debate on racism with a controversial comedian, the meeting was canceled after criticism from the president’s wife. When AMLO should have backed the organization, he said he did not know of its existence and dropped the director he had appointed.
Mr. President, double standards are dangerous. Discrimination is not combated by denying entity to the responsible organism. Worse, today you are the power, part of an elite: you discriminate -privilege- when you disregard social criticism.
10. You seek a path of spirituality, an idea, a utopia, a dream, a purpose in life. Yes, it is necessary to work for a yearning. Here is one: the citizens of Mexico – and many countries – can choose an ideal, a utopia, a dream, and a purpose: to have good, serious, capable, busy and professional governments.
This is the doctor’s recipe for democracy: to organize a civil society capable of producing leaderships that replace a country’s decadent political class. Namasté.
By Diego Fonseca for The New York Times
Diego Fonseca is a regular contributor to The New York Times and director of the Institute for Socratic Dialogue in Barcelona. Voyeur, his new profile book, will be published in August in Spain