By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla
Mexico City, Sep 1 (efe-epa).- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday hailed his administration’s performance amid the coronavirus crisis, saying his unique governing formula has paid dividends.
“We’re facing the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic with a formula that’s different, peculiar, heterodox, unique in the world,” the leftist head of state said in his second state-of-the-union address from the National Palace.
Even though the country has been hard hit by the pandemic, with 600,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 65,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19, and Mexico’s economy plunged by 18.7 percent in the second quarter, Lopez Obrador continued to put the focus on his anti-corruption battle and his commitment to using government funds wisely.
The president said his administration has distributed micro-loans to small businesses and avoided incurring massive debt through the injection of capital into large corporations.
“Even with this debacle, the damage from the economic crisis has been less than what is occurring in other countries like Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom,” Lopez Obrador said.
Referring to his administration’s health response, he noted that his recipe has included hiring 47,000 general physicians, equipping nearly 1,000 hospitals to receive Covid-19 patients and reaching agreement with Argentina on the production of a vaccine in Latin America.
In the speech, he reiterated that he is carrying out an ambitious “Fourth Transformation” of the country’s public life (after the War of Independence, the mid-19th-century liberal reforms and the 1910-1920 Mexican Revolution). Lopez Obrador’s vision is focused on eradicating corruption and sharply reducing income inequality.
The president estimated Tuesday that his administration’s anti-corruption fight has already saved the country 560 billion pesos (roughly $25.8 billion).
“According to official calculations, we’ve been able to save around 560 billion pesos during our administration from not allowing corruption and making our administration austere. Not to boast, but in the worst moment we had the best government,” Lopez Obrador, who was elected in July 2018 on an anti-corruption platform and took office in December of that year, said.
“Robbery is over” at the highest level of government, the leftist head of state said, though adding that work still remains “to completely root out official banditry.”
The amount saved, he said, also has helped ensure that the coronavirus pandemic in Mexico has not “led to famine nor food scarcity nor robberies.”
“This government will not be remembered for corruption. Our main legacy will be purifying public life in Mexico, and we’re making progress,” Lopez Obrador said. “There’s no more extravagance in government.”
Since taking office on Dec. 1, 2018, Lopez Obrador has slashed his own salary and that of other senior administration officials, eliminated some benefits for public officials and put the presidential airplane and some official vehicles up for sale.
He also commended his administration for combating corruption without “political retaliation,” saying his predecessors will only be prosecuted if the Mexican people decide on that step in a popular referendum and adding that he personally would vote against such a move because he is focused on the future.
During the pandemic, the president has expanded his government austerity plan by cutting administrative spending by 75 percent, although many experts say he should provide more financial incentives to businesses to rescue an economy that plunged nearly 19 percent in the second quarter compared to April-June 2019.
But the president rejected government bailouts of corporations as “immoral” and stressed that the priority must be to provide social assistance to “those most in need.”
Lopez Obrador also called for maximum transparency in the legal proceedings against the former chief executive officer of Mexican state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Emilio Lozoya, who was extradited from Spain in July to face charges of accepting $10.5 million in bribes from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.
Odebrecht and its petrochemical unit Braskem reached a settlement in December 2016 with the United States’ Department of Justice in which they pleaded guilty to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world in exchange for contracts.
The head of state, however, made no mention of a recent controversy over a video in which his brother, Pio Lopez Obrador, can be seen receiving money in envelopes in 2015 from one of the current president’s former advisers.