Mexican govt. audit results reveal... need for audit of auditors

¡Feliz jueves!  The audit results are finally back to tell us more about AMLO administration spending over the last few years. However, the juicy results have been called into question. Read below to find out more. Also, read about the arrest of El Chapo’s wife and AMLO’s refusal to condemn a candidate accused of rape. 

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Financial Times / Reuters

What happened? With much fanfare (from audit nerds), the preliminary audit of the 2019 government accounts was published last Saturday by the country’s Federal Audit Office (ASF) - it tells us more about how AMLO spent taxpayer’s money in his first year of government. It highlighted several irregularities with the government’s signature projects, including an apprenticeship scheme and a micro-loan program. But, what seemed to draw the most attention (and this was mainly because a journalist decided to ask the President about it) was the total cost of AMLO’s cancelation of the partially built airport in Mexico City. 

He said, she said. The President had previously declared that the scraping of the airport would cost 100 billion pesos; yet, the ASF said it would be more than 331 billion pesos ($16.5 bn). When asked about this, the President said the figure was exaggerated, and suggested that the ASF had some explaining to do. 

AMLO was right? Hours later, the ASF backtracked and basically admitted to not knowing basic algebra and ordered a review into its report after finding “inconsistencies”. It even went on to say that the cost of cancelling the airport had been too high, due to a flaw in methodology.

Was it AMLO? Critics said that this sort of backtracking has never never happened before, and that the President’s “suggestion” was more of a threat. However, transparency experts have highlighted that this is not the first time that the head of the ASF, David Colmenares, has been under scrutiny. 

Elected 3 years ago, when the President and his party were still part of the minority, Colmenares has been criticized for the type of audits he decides to pursue. Each year the ASF selects a number of ministries and agencies to be audited, as well as the type of audits to be performed (some are more thorough than others). Experts have criticised that he didn’t perform a forensic audit in the airport cancellation decision - which is known to be one of the most rigorous reviews of how money is spent. Actually, experts are very worried as the ASF under his watch has abandoned forensic audits. 

AMLO asks for an investigation: On Thursday morning, the President announced that he was going to send a letter to the president of the lower Chamber of Congress (in charge of the ASF) asking her to conduct an investigation. He said that he doesn’t believe they used a flawed methodology, but rather they were trying to damage his government’s image.

Less Credibility. As this was the real first review by the ASF into AMLO’s government spending, many have said the President is now less accountable for the remaining years of his presidency, as the ASF, for different reasons, has lost credibility across party lines.

👮 AG asks Congress to impeach Tamaulipas’ governor

Mexico’s Attorney General, Alejandro Gertz Manero asked the federal Congress to strip the governor of Tamaulipas, Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca (yes, his last name is Cow’s Head), of his immunity. He is accused of probable cause for money laundering and ties to organized crime.

The AG presumably acted after a complaint was filed last year by Alejandro Rojas, the substitute of Ricardo Monreal (Morena), the Senate’s Majority Leader. The complaint, mainly backed by newspaper articles, prompted an investigation in the AG’s office. The governor, a member of the opposition and possibly a presidential hopeful in 2024, criticized the AG and the President for seeking justice against him. To be fair, two former governors of the highly dangerous state are under arrest, so this wouldn’t surprise many. 

The lower Chamber of Congress will have up to 60 days to decide whether to impeach the Governor or not. If it does, the local Congress of Tamaulipas would then need to ratify the decision. Both decisions would need to be backed by 2/3 of each chamber. Even if the impeachment is approved by the Federal Chamber (where Morena and its allies hold near ⅔ majority), it is unlikely to pass in the local Congress, where the Governor’s party, PAN, holds 64% of the votes.  Reuters / El País

In many occasions, the President has declined to invite the AG to his “mañaneras” citing his office’s autonomy (the AG is not part of the executive branch). However, AMLO decided to ignore his past comments. The AG, inevitably, defended the case against the Governor (Guillermo O’Gam)

🙅 AMLO complaints about ‘media lynching’ against an alleged rapist and Morena’s candidate 

Félix Salgado Macedonio is the Morena candidate for governor in the state of Guerrero with five accusations of sexual violence and rape against him, dating back as far as 1998. Feminst groups, women within Morena, and others are calling for AMLO and Morena to abandon Félix. What should have been an easy lay up for AMLO has turned into a disgraceful debacle…. AMLO has decided to stand by Felix calling the accusations just another mainstream media led attempt to ruin his reputation. Morena party leader, Mario Delgado, says that they can’t stop Salgado from running unless he is convicted or sentenced (only 2% of sexual violence complaints are sentenced in Mexico). The only hope remains on the local electoral authorities, who have until March 4 to rule on the validity of Macedonio’s candidacy. The Guardian

💊 Arrest of El Chapo's wife draws mixed feelings

“Buchona - an ostentatious style of fashion and physical appearance for women often glorified in narco culture”. Possibly the most famous buchona ever was just arrested at the Dulles airport near Washington DC.  Emma Coronel, El Capo’s wife, is charged with being “aware” of her husband’s drug empire (lol even Sean Penn knew about it), understanding the workings of the drug empire, and assisting in El Chapo’s prison escapes. The arrest has received mixed emotions in Mexico. She is a mother of twin girls and well respected by many in Sinaloa, her instagram has over 500k followers. Yet, after "Black Thursday" (Oct 17 2019), where the Sinaloa Cartel stormed the capital of the state, Sinaloa, sympathy for drug cartels and its figures have  declined. Vice

🌈 Supreme Court to vote on gay marriage in Yucatán

Even though it postponed the vote for two weeks, the Supreme Court will vote on whether it will order the conservative state of Yucatan to legalize gay marriage. If they do, it would open the door to the remaining 11 states that currently do not allow gay marriage. Back in 2015, the Mexican top court said that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional, but it did not force states to amend their laws. In 2019, a local LGBT+ rights group presented a legal challenge against the local Congress. According to a poll, Yucatán is the 5th state with the largest opposition to gay marriage. As much as new laws are needed, it is yet to beseen if society’s attitude can also evolve. Reuters

Longer read

😈 How (the hell) is AMLO’s approval rating so high?

That is basically the question that The Economist asked last week in an article and a podcast.  It first tackled a long but fair list of failures, such as an excess in covid-19 deaths, high homicide rate, and abolishing Prospera (a cash-transfer program for the poor). Then the journalist tries to explore the relationship between the President and the Mexican population at large. His persona built over decades has helped him persuade people that he is like them and cares about them. A weak opposition tarnished by corruption scandals also places him as the better option. It seems, though, that The Economist, much like those who oppose AMLO, is (partially) at loss when it comes to explain his popularity - a symptom of a polarised society. The Economist

What else we’ve been reading:

The Biden administration has an opportunity to stem illegal gun trafficking to Mexico and beyond.  [The New York Times]

Mexican Lawmakers Pass Bill to Favor State Power Utility[The Wall Street Journal]

Supreme Court will vote on gay marriage in Yucatan [Reuters]

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Translation: We have to go back to using a machete and the tarpala (an interesting type of shovel). We have to do it manually.

Context: AMLO was criticising the use of glyphosate, a herbicide, and suggested to do the labor of cutting leaves manually.