Latin America’s two biggest economies are in their first 100 days under new management. During the presidential campaigns in Brazil and Mexico, democracy’s champions worried most about Brazil, given Jair Bolsonaro’s nostalgia for military rule. Yet today it is Mexico’s democracy that is under greater threat: President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, is systematically concentrating power in an already strong executive.
From the start, AMLO has undermined democratic norms and checks and balances. Despite controlling a constitutional majority in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies and sizable majority in its Senate, he has often chosen to work outside the formal legislative process. Instead he has relied on dubious public “referendums,” sampling small and politically skewed groups to set agricultural policy, boost pensions, authorize infrastructure projects and create scholarships.
He has attacked and stacked the courts. He quickly moved to cut judges’ salaries and take control of court officials’ evaluations and promotions. His first nominations to the highest bench include the wife of a favored contractor and party loyalists.