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Mexico’s president is getting a little sloppy in the rush to finish projects before his term ends

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president is rushing to complete major legislative and construction projects he has promised before his term ends in September, and experts say the rush is making officials a little sloppy. It is pointed out that there are.

This week, lawmakers from the ruling Morena party mistakenly submitted the wrong bill on pension reform to a parliamentary vote, then sheepishly admitted their mistake and rescheduled the vote. They claimed on Thursday that aides had confused one document for another, but the bill was almost approved before the opposition realized the mistake.

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“In the legislative process, as in life and in all activities, human mistakes occur without deliberate intent or malicious intent,” said Sen. Ignacio Mia, president of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s political party. Stated. Senate.

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Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador holds his regular morning press conference on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, at the National Palace in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

The atmosphere of haste extends to infrastructure, with the president’s beloved rail project suffering glaring construction errors in recent months. Cranes have fallen off bridges and piles have sunk into caves that are supposed to be protected. With the June 2nd presidential election approaching, the president wants to finish his administration’s projects quickly.

“This haste is because López Obrador wants to put everything in place to ensure his policies, so that no matter who wins[the election]At least there will be no going back.’ It’s easy,” said political analyst José Antonio Crespo.

But pension reform has been a particular lightning rod for criticism. If workers don’t start collecting their pensions by age 70, they are effectively seizing their unclaimed pension funds.

Mr. López Obrador said he would like to put the seized funds toward workers whose pensions are too low, but that they can always be returned later if workers or their dependents show up to collect them.

“Even if time has passed, you can ask for the return of the funds,” López Obrador said Thursday.

But the bill that was mistakenly introduced for a vote late Wednesday was actually supposed to remove some of those protections. For example, an employee who did not receive his pension by age 70 or 75 because he was still working could have his pension garnished.

And since pension withdrawals are already very bureaucratic and restrictive, dependents in Mexico often have to go to court to access a deceased worker’s pension funds, making it easier to apply The idea of ​​getting your money back has been met with derision.

“We oppose this because they are going to loot everyone’s accounts,” said opposition senator Rubén Moreira, a member of the former ruling PRI party. “Firstly, because the money in personal accounts is the personal property of many people. Secondly, this does not solve the pension problem.”

The tension involves President López Obrador’s disdain for private or individual welfare programs. The president frequently criticizes “individualism” and “aspirations,” terms roughly equivalent to “to rise through the ranks” or “to raise oneself in one’s own way.” He prefers large government-run programs.

Mexico’s woefully underfunded pension program was converted in 1997 into an individual account similar to the United States’ 401K program, with both workers and their employers contributing to individual retirement investment accounts.

López Obrador has long criticized the changes, saying the government itself should guarantee everyone a pension equal to 100% of their last salary. Of course, the Mexican government doesn’t have enough money to do that, so raids on “unclaimed” personal accounts are proposed.

Orlando Corona, a social security expert at the Mexican Association of Financial Managers, said, “When you get these unclaimed personal accounts…if workers and their beneficiaries don’t move to make a claim, they have no rights or rights.” It may have an impact.”

Corona said it would take a massive public relations and advertising campaign to remind workers of the importance of demanding money, something the president’s plan does not consider.

Just as López Obrador has tried to push through infrastructure projects by exempting them from the normal permitting and environmental review processes, he has also been pushing bills through Congress with little time for lawmakers to actually read them. He has a history of rushing through passages.

The party passed legislation in the Senate on Wednesday that would prohibit judges from blocking government projects, even if citizens file an appeal against them.

López Obrador’s most important project is the railway line. Mexico largely abandoned state-run passenger rail service in the 1990s, but the president is building a rail line to revive it. The problem is that those projects are either environmentally problematic or too large to be completed during the term.

López Obrador vowed to complete them before he leaves office on September 30, boasting that they are being built in “record time.” He spends most weekends traveling to various construction sites to personally supervise work.

However, in both legislation and construction, it seems difficult to do a careful job in a hurry. “I don’t recommend it, but that’s what they do,” Crespo said.

On Tuesday, an 800-ton gantry crane – a giant machine used to position prefabricated concrete bridges – crashed to the ground on an elevated commuter rail line that connects Mexico City to neighboring Toluca. No one was injured, but the accident delayed construction and frightened nearby residents.

In January, another crane dropped a huge prefabricated concrete span onto the road below, nearly killing two men who were repairing a truck.

In March, a train car derailed on a tourist rail line known as the Maya Train, a longtime project of the president, due to loose rail fittings. The project plans to take tourists and local residents around the Yucatan Peninsula.

Although no one was injured in the accident, the oversight was alarming given the eventual high-speed rail line.

The rail switch involved in the accident was designed to be operated automatically. Automated systems aren’t yet in place, but the president wanted to get some of the lineup up and running anyway.

Therefore, a switch that diverts a train car to another track must be manually loosened, moved, and returned to its original position. Looks like someone didn’t retighten the fitting again.

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Regarding the same project, the government admitted that steel and cement piles to support the elevated section of the line were driven directly into the roof of a vulnerable limestone cave.

A network of caves, sunken lakes and underground rivers along Mexico’s Caribbean coast is environmentally sensitive and has been found to contain some of North America’s oldest human remains.

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