A Silenced Cabinet
Por Andrés Wainstein
The resignation of the Secretary of Finance evidenced the failures in an administration that does not understand how AMLO makes decisions.

 It is not the first time that a member of the cabinet presents its resignation to Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The scene has repeated itself several times. Nothing too big, these things happen all the time in politics. In any case, what is new is that Carlos Urzúa -the now-former Secretary of Finance- took the decision and made it public before consulting anybody.

Most of the President's inner circle found out he was leaving like the rest of the country: once the letter was posted on his social media accounts. Amid the bewilderment, a replacement had to be found urgently.

These were very delicate hours because the markets react quickly when a government lacks clear leadership in economic matters. This explains the tradition in many world leaders of announcing the resignation of a cabinet member in the exact moment their replacement is appointed.

Quick in his reflexes, AMLO bestowed the position on Undersecretary Arturo Herrera in a matter of hours. A student of Urzúa's, he might be able to guarantee a certain continuity and less uncertainty facing sudden changes. The Colegio de México economist, however, demanded a purge in the Secretary of Finance. The man who had seen firsthand the President's public outbursts was now setting his conditions. Those little paybacks that sometimes politics offer.

López Obrador's reaction avoided further harm to the market, but Urzúa's exit left a visible wound. His letter avoided every protocol in political correctness. He held back euphemisms often used to soften resignations, not always friendly. Urzúa did not leave to "spend more time with his family", nor he did for professional projects, not even for health concerns. There was none of that.

Urzúa, instead, argued that he was "cornered" into resignation by some "influential players" close to the President that were impossing uninformed Finance officials. He complained because his "based on evidence" economic approach was not seconded. "Extremist" postures were being favored. A sharp critique towards AMLO, who a few months ago, ceased acknowledging official reports and statistics.

But behind Urzúa's version of the events, a general discomfort is hiding in silence, one that has been taking shape inside the cabinet. The way AMLO makes decisions makes it impossible to anticipate any sort of crisis. It is only after "the bomb goes off" that serious matters are taken into deep and technical consideration.

Several members of the cabinet, some of them experienced from previous administrations, are complaining off-the-record about the lack of meetings with López Obrador. Areas where they can discuss deeper information, share ideas and discussions among officials who have different points of view to solve problems. There is none of that.

"It is impossible to meet him. His priorities are the morning press conferences and his tours around the country. We only have one cabinet meeting where there are seventy or a hundred people, and we go through a general overview of management issues. It is impossible to discuss anything. He does not delegate, but he does not open spaces in his schedule, either. That is why there is a notorious paralysis in many areas". A sordid scenario, described by a Palacio Nacional source.

In the whirlpool López Obrador has created inside his government, it seems like years since Germán Martínez resigned in the middle of a medicine and supplies shortage in the main Social Security hospitals. Back then, all complaints were aimed at the Finance Secretary. Wasn't there any margin for AMLO to study the differential so he could cut the differences?

There is, as well, another clear precedent. Gerardo Esquivel had been chosen as the Undersecretary of Expenses. During the shaping of the Economic Package, the economist corrected the President in several of his ideas. He explained that it made no sense to direct so many resources from the budget to only three or four projects because the rest of the public investment would be paralyzed. Plus, it would be impossible to spend all that money on projects which are difficult to kickstart. "This kid is very arrogant", AMLO complained to Urzúa. He ended up in Banxico, away from the Secretariat of Finance.

In the midst of this lack of coordination with his cabinet, a new group of young politicians has begun to take shape around López Obrador, like a Pretorian Guard of sorts. As LPO revealed, Carlos Torres, the junior economist who works as a Technical Secretary in the cabinet, is there. He has been singled out as the man who feeds the President with "alternative figures", and who steers AMLO before uncomfortable statistics and briefs.

Urzúa could not handle the skirmish with Torres anymore. The role that this young economist built as a middleman is now being questioned by several fractions. "In public, the President says that Benito Juárez formed the best cabinet in history. But he keeps paralyzing us internally". Will Herrera succeed in changing the formula? 

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