MEXICO’S WELFARE PLAN STUNS THE UN
— DAVID RABY explains Mexico’s radical intitiative to provide assistance to the 750 million poorest citizens on the planet
MEXICO has just assumed the rotating presidency of the UN security council, and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (Amlo) took the unprecedented step of arranging to chair a session of the council himself.
Heads of state normally address the general assembly, but Amlo clearly saw this as an opportunity to take the stage at the key decision-making body of the organisation.
On November 9 he chaired a session on a theme chosen by Mexico: peace, security, exclusion, inequality and conflict. After brief statements by the secretary-general and an Ecuadorian woman representing indigenous peoples, Amlo quoted former US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (one of the founders of the UN) on the universal right to a life free from fear and poverty.
The greatest obstacle to justice, he declared, is corruption: and it is corruption when international tribunals protect corporations that plunder resources, when wealthy individuals and corporations use tax havens, when hedge funds speculate at the expense of people’s needs, all of this justified by neoliberal ideology.
It would be hypocritical to ignore that the greatest of the world’s problems is corruption, in all its forms: political, moral, economic, legal, fiscal and financial.
Never before has so much wealth been concentrated in so few hands, with the privatisation of goods and services which should belong to all.
The latest example of this was the maldistribution of Covid vaccines, with the failure of the UN Covax scheme which has only managed to distribute 6 per cent of the total vaccines. This, he declared, was further evidence that private ambition and the profit motive lead to barbarism.
Amlo then briefly explained Mexico’s social programmes in agroforestry and apprenticeships for young people, and his proposals to the US for aid to Central America.
It is time, he said, for the international community to wake up and take action against inequality and poverty.
To this end Mexico will present to the general assembly a World Fraternity and Welfare Plan to provide assistance to the 750 million poorest citizens on the planet.
A census should be conducted to identify those most at need, and aid should be distributed directly to the recipients by international agencies so as to avoid bureaucratic obstacles or corruption.
The plan should be financed by contributions of 4 per cent from the fortunes of the 1,000 wealthiest individuals, 4 per cent from the profits of the 1,000 biggest corporations, and 0.2 per cent of the GDP of each G20 country.
The immediate response from the other 14 members of the security council was predictable: favourable reactions from St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ireland, Niger, China and Russia, and indifference or deliberate avoidance of the subject from the US, France, Britain, India and others. But there was no overt hostility.
Whether such an ambitious and unprecedented plan has any real viability will depend on the broader response and on vigorous diplomatic action by Mexico.
On November 10 Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said over 40 countries in the general assembly had expressed interest in discussing how to develop the plan, as had a number of UN agencies and international bodies.
But the key issue will be for those with real clout to press the global elite to accept a form of international taxation and redistribution, and this would require a worldwide popular movement in support of the plan.
The president’s personal popularity among Mexicans both at home and abroad is beyond dispute: a recent poll gave him 69 per cent approval, and in New York hundreds, if not thousands of Mexicans gathered to give him a rapturous welcome.
Amlo has form in bold international initiatives, with the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Trump in 2020, the rescue of Evo Morales from imminent danger in the 2019 Bolivian coup, the strong stance in support of Cuba in July 2021, and recently negotiations with the Biden administration on migration and aid to Central America. But this plan is even more ambitious.
In the meantime, the Mexican president continues to take an uncompromising stand against corruption at home.
Just before his trip to the UN a scandal emerged involving a key official in the anti-corruption drive, Santiago Nieto, head of the financial intelligence unit of the Finance Ministry.
Nieto had contributed very effectively to exposing suspicious dealings and illicit enrichment by office-holders past and present, but a few days ago he was married at a wedding which was very expensive and ostentatious, and reports suggest that some of the guests were involved in money-laundering.
Amlo commented that the ostentation was in contradiction with his principles of public austerity, and Nieto was promptly dismissed and replaced.
Diplomacy remains high on the agenda, since on November 18 the president will take part in the Ninth North American Summit of Mexico, the US and Canada, when he will meet in Washington with Biden and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau.
Such meetings were held every two years but were interrupted for various reasons after 2015.
A major issue which continues to occupy Amlo’s agenda is the Electricity Reform, a project to reinforce public control of power generation and distribution and also exclusive national control of lithium.
This remains very contentious at home, but thus far criticism from Washington has been surprisingly muted: another indication of skilful diplomacy by Amlo and Marcelo Ebrard.
In the circumstances, the Mexican president can only be admired for his unflappable determination in confronting both internal and external adversaries.
His Global Fraternity and Welfare Plan will if nothing else, resonate with popular movements indignant at the failure of politicians at Cop26.
David Raby is a retired academic and independent researcher on Latin America.