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Corrupt Coalition

Illustrations by Ashley Castaneda ’23, an Illustration major at RISD

On September 8, 2022, Mexican deputies voted to pass a constitutional amendment granting the Ministry of National Defense control over the National Guard until 2028. Not only is the amendment corrupt by giving the executive branch unchecked power, but its method of passage raises suspicion around its legitimacy.

The current president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), was elected in 2018. Due to the amendment’s highly controversial proposition, AMLO’s party, MORENA, had been unable to garner the two-thirds majority in Congress necessary to pass it. When the day of the September vote arrived, however, representatives of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)—MORENA’s main opposition that ruled Mexico in a one-party state from 1929 to 2000—voted in favor of the president’s amendment. 

In alienating the other opposition parties in its current coalition and raising tensions within its own party, it is evident the PRI had little to gain from this maneuver. Rather, it was individual PRI politicians, not the PRI itself, that gained political capital from this vote. AMLO’s ability to garner support for a highly controversial amendment demonstrates that practices of manipulation and corruption reminiscent of the one-party state still dominate Mexican politics.

AMLO ran his 2018 presidential bid on anti-establishment rhetoric, pointing a finger at the PRI’s corruption. He consolidated his anti-neoliberal and populist campaign into one phrase: out with the “mafia of power”—the old-guard PRI politicians with long histories of nepotism, electoral fraud, and mishandling public funds. In June of that year, AMLO and his newfound party, MORENA, won the general election with an impressive 53 percent of the vote, while the PRI only scrounged up 16 percent. AMLO took this resounding victory as a mandate from the people to upend Mexico’s institutions, including those supervising domestic security. 

The September amendment’s transfer of power from civilian forces to the Ministry of National Defense called into question how effectively the National Guard has suppressed crime since its creation in 2019. Despite a platform of demilitarization during his campaign, AMLO launched the National Guard to curb crime rates, yet since his election in 2018, those rates have only increased. In this way, AMLO claims this new amendment will bring legitimacy and efficacy to the National Guard.

The United Nations has heavily criticized this change. In a September 9 press release, Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif raised concern over the lack of civilian oversight of the National Guard under the Ministry of Defense, which is in violation of Mexico’s Constitution. The PRI’s vote in favor of militarization thus undermines the rule of law and protection of human rights in Mexico.

Behind the PRI’s vote, allegations of corruption and political manipulation further taint its credibility. In the past four years, the PRI, as one of the government’s most critical opponents, has held its ground against MORENA’s policies. When the National Guard Constitutional Amendment was introduced, the president of the PRI, Alejandro Moreno Cárdenas, posted on Twitter, “I am voting against the militarization of the #NationalGuard. I am convinced that it must remain a C I V I L institution.” Yet merely five days later, alongside other PRI members, Cárdenas backtracked and voted in favor of the constitutional amendment. Since then, the Mexican media has highlighted Moreno Cárdenas’ alleged illicit enrichment—the use of public funds to increase one’s assets—in the state of Campeche. News sources claim that his vote might garner him ALMO’s favor and consequently impunity from prosecution. Moreno Cárdenas has been vocal in denying these claims, but allies of the PRI have already broken their coalition, destroying the only counterbalance to MORENA’s legislative supermajority. Claims that AMLO used Moreno Cárdenas’ illicit past to advance his agenda while simultaneously antagonizing the opposition highlight the persisting impacts of Mexico’s political corruption

When he launched his presidential bid, President AMLO hoped to change the political landscape of Mexico’s government. He self-proclaimed his presidency as Mexico’s “fourth transformation”—an ode to the three previous transformations in Mexican history: the Independence War (1810), the Reform War (1857), and the Revolutionary War (1910). His most recent maneuver to force the PRI to vote for a highly controversial constitutional amendment elucidates one thing: The underbelly of political processes in Mexico has not changed as much as he proclaims.