By RAFAEL CABRERA
MEXICO CITY (AP) – In October 2018, three months after winning the presidential election in Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his team launched an army of some 18,000 volunteers on the streets with an unprecedented mission for someone not yet He had assumed the position: to collect the personal information of the citizens who would benefit from a social program once he began to govern.
This exercise was called the "Welfare Census" and the volunteers were named "servants of the nation", who are now part of the government and follow up on the delivery of financial aid. His work has been under the scrutiny of critics who consider everything to be part of a political support scheme for the president.RELATED
López Obrador has denied any irregularity or political operation of the servers to benefit his government or Morena, the party he founded and which led him to the presidency. One of the president's permanent promises is to fight corruption and eliminate any irregular practice as part of what he calls the "Fourth Transformation" of the country.
But on December 27, after an investigation, the electoral authorities concluded that a group of these “servers” had violated the law by promoting the president in the delivery of social programs, something prohibited by the Mexican Constitution.
The ruling of the electoral authorities exempted López Obrador and members of his cabinet from responsibility and only state and regional coordinators of the “servers” will be sanctioned.
The ruling, however, has not reassured critics of the president, who argue that the authorities did not investigate everything they owed. Camerino Márquez, of the opposition Democratic Revolution Party and the one who denounced the program to the electoral body, said he will appeal the ruling and ask for the investigation to be redone.
For some experts, irregularities were evident.
“From my point of view, when the personal data of citizens began to be collected, it was illegal, because in the transition period they were not yet government and then, when they were already government, they continued wearing vests and caps with the name of López Obrador , although it was a personalized promotion, ”María Amparo Casar, an analyst and executive president of the Mexican civil organization Against Corruption, told The Associated Press.
An analysis made by the AP from the lists of "servers" found that almost a quarter of the 18,000 are affiliated with a political party or were part of their electoral structure, especially Morena.
The review was done with statistical programs to cross the database of servers, delivered to the PA by the Ministry of Welfare of the federal government, with the registers of political party militants. The same was done with the list of general and box representatives for the 2018 presidential election, which was delivered by the National Electoral Institute (INE).
The law does not prohibit people who work for the government from being a party member, however, some analysts and experts in the application of social programs consider that there is a risk that people with a political affinity seek some benefit for their organization. or leaders
"There are many legal loopholes," Casar said.
The constitution indicates that when making official propaganda you cannot include names, images or symbols that lead to the promotion of any public servant.
Currently, the servers not only collect information, but also provide debit cards to the beneficiaries of social programs in which financial support is deposited. And according to some videos that are part of the investigation, and to which AP had access, when they arrive with the beneficiaries some servers tell them that they are there “on behalf of the president of the republic, licensed Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to deliver a support for his family ”.
Some of the beneficiaries are older adults who receive 1,275 pesos per month (about $ 67) and people with disabilities, who are given 2,250 bimonthly pesos (about $ 118).
In recent history, various federal and state governments have been singled out for using social programs for political and electoral purposes, something everyone has denied, including López Obrador himself.
The person in charge of the operation of the “servants of the nation” is Gabriel García Hernández, general coordinator of Integral Development Programs, an area that responds directly to the president.
Under the command of García Hernández there are 32 state delegates who in turn have a total of 266 regional delegates who supervise the work of the people who go to their homes.
"The state delegates, also known as 'superdelegates', control the 'servants of the nation' and obviously have political aspirations," said Camerino Márquez, representative of the PRD before the INE and who filed the complaint for the alleged promotion to favor of López Obrador. As an example, he recalled the case of Jaime Bonilla, who was a delegate of the state of Baja California, in the northwest of the country, and later became the candidate of Morena who won the election for governor.
Before working for the presidency, García Hernández served as Secretary of Organization of Morena and was in charge of the political operation of the party throughout the country.
The number of "servers of the nation" has varied since the beginning of its operation, but every month it oscillates around 18,000 officials. According to the analysis carried out by the AP, at least 4,328 are party militants – not just Morena – or were electoral representatives of the political group in power since July 1, 2018.
The crossing of information between the database and the standards was made by name, states and municipalities to be more precise.
The results showed that there are 2,275 party militants among the "servants of the nation": 865 of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); 782 of the PRD, in which López Obrador militated, and 710 of Morena. Except for the New Alliance minority party, militants from all other parties also appear in the registers.
For Casar an explanation that there are militants of several parties is that after the victory of López Obrador they decided to support him and join as servants, although they did not change their militancy in another political group.
1,662 servers were also found who were electoral representatives on the day of the presidential election. Of these, 1,344 guarded the boxes by Morena and the rest were registered by the other political parties.
In addition, there are 391 servers that are affiliated with one party and, at the same time, represented the same or another party on the day of the presidential election in 2018. The majority were Morena militants, followed by the PRI and PRD.
The AP asked the Ministry of Welfare for information on the operation of the "servants of the nation" but they referred it to García Hernández.
When an interview with García Hernández was requested through the press area of the presidency, the answer was that it was not possible. "I'm sorry, but Gabriel doesn't give interviews," said Ana Duarte, a social communication officer.
The press area of the Morena party reported that it could not give interviews on the subject, since it is the responsibility of the federal government.
The PRD filed a complaint in August with the Complaints and Complaints Commission of the INE. As part of the tests, there were photographs of the servers wearing vests or caps with the embroidered name of López Obrador. He also delivered videos of the promoters telling citizens that the programs reached them thanks to the president.
The AP had access to 65 videos and more than 1,000 photographs that are part of the file analyzes the INE.
“Good morning, we come from the President of the Republic, Mr. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to deliver support for his family … May we enter his house? We are ‘servers of the nation’. ”
On August 16, the INE commission ordered precautionary measures to the Ministry of Welfare and the General Coordination of Comprehensive Development Programs so that these behaviors of the servers were immediately suspended and, mainly, ceased to "indicate, suggest or mention that these programs and their benefits ”were thanks to the president.
As part of this order, López Obrador was summoned to appear on September 27 before the INE. However, he declined to attend and instead sent a letter.
“I have never resorted to or participated in electoral fraud, on the contrary, I have suffered them and I have spent many years fighting them,” the document reads. "I express to you that by conviction we will never ever allow the federal budget to be used by officials for the benefit of any candidate or party as in previous governments," he added.
Regarding the participation of militants or former representatives of the box as servants, INE counselor Claudia Zavala, president of the Complaints and Complaints Commission, said that citizens can hold both positions while their work as public officials is in accordance with the law and there is no irregular handling of the personal information they collect in favor of a political party.
For some who have observed and analyzed the issue, however, the figure of "servants of the nation" was created for electoral purposes to ultimately favor the president.
Social Incide, a Mexican organization dedicated to the analysis and evaluation of social programs, believes that the "servants of the nation" did not go through a recruitment process that transparent their capacity beyond having been part of the electoral structure of Morena.
“You need to have people with experience, knowledge and technical skills in social policy. However, it does not exist or so far the profiles of the ‘servers of the nation’, or the criteria by which they were selected, are not made public. And this can affect the gathering of information and the delivery of support to the beneficiaries, as well as giving rise to favoritism, corruption and misuse of public resources, ”said Sergio Martínez, of Incide Social.
According to a transparency response from the Ministry of Welfare, state or regional delegates are responsible for interviewing and hiring servers without any recruitment process with more filters.
In the opinion of the researcher, the distribution of the 266 regional coordinations "seems to have electoral purposes", since they mostly correspond to the 300 electoral districts of the country. “This can have negative implications such as personalized promotion in favor not only of the president but also of state and regional coordinators, many of them with political aspirations, because they have held key positions in Morena's party structure or have been or aspire to be candidates. ”
As part of the 2018 budget, the Mexican Congress approved just over 150 million pesos (about 7.6 million dollars) for the operation of the presidential transition trust. Almost 90% of that money went to pay 18,021 officials who participated in the transition period as "servants of the nation." Each server was made a payment of 7,354 pesos (about $ 367).
The payment for all servers was made through a subsidiary of Grupo Salinas of the businessman Ricardo Salinas Pliego, owner of the second largest television station in Mexico, TV Azteca. The same consortium, through Banco Azteca, is responsible for issuing bank cards for the beneficiaries of federal social programs. The Mexican government chose this banking institution without bidding in the middle, arguing that it has wide coverage nationwide.
When the new government began, on December 1, 2018, the “servants of the nation” who participated in the transition were hired by the Ministry of Welfare directly, without a call in between. At least 16,252 servers who were in the transition entered the government as servers, that is, almost 90%. Already as officials, they earn 9,266 pesos (about 487 dollars).
María Enriqueta Cepeda and Diego Posadas, of Incide Social, explained that there are gaps in information about the operation of the servers.
“An important aspect of the census is the rush with which it tried to do. From the transition period it was said that it would be three months, after six … There is no clear information on the progress. And there is no access, so far, to any of the products that leave the census, ”said Cepeda.
"Beyond the political profile they have, it is not known if the servers are trained and that can have an impact on the quality of the information that is collected," Posadas added.
The AP made transparency requests to the Ministry of Welfare to learn about the process of gathering information from citizens, what is the privacy notice to protect personal data and request copies of vests and supplies invoices for servers, but of Repeatedly it was answered that there was no information in this regard.
Social Impact and the PRD agree on the lack of transparency about the Welfare Census and the "servants of the nation". Each one, independently, has asked Morena or the López Obrador government for invoices or documents and has persistently given the same answer: it is nonexistent.