In every crisis, the government has only one priority: reducing chaos and uncertainty. For this, professional communication manuals have been developed, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the United States government, FEMA. It says that, during a disaster, information is as important as clean water or food. Knowing basic things like where to get medical help, whether or not you can get out or when help will arrive can mean the difference between life and death.
After a natural disaster – like a terrible storm Otis which just hit Acapulco – the authorities must use communication to create the necessary conditions so that law enforcement can enter to save lives, provide security and start recovery. Any message that does not have the purpose of helping the affected people and protecting their life, health, integrity and property should not be broadcast. Political speculation and opinion must be completely abandoned, as it only contributes to chaos. Media relations must be professional and efficient. Communication should help strengthen society’s trust in its authorities.
That’s what best practices say. But in Mexico, in the last five years, the government has completely moved away from those principles. Since the crisis due to the lack of fuel in the country, through the explosion of Tlahuelilpan, the “Culiacanazo” and, of course, the pandemic of covid-19, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has followed his own “manual” to manage the crisis with three central actions: i) avoid the crisis as much as possible; ii) if the crisis is visible to everyone, minimize its severity; and, iii) avoiding, at all costs, responsibility and accountability for their decisions.
The goal of this strategy is only one: to preserve the image of the president in order to maintain the greatest possible political control over society. To do this, it replaced the communication of the State with the propaganda of the political movement. The president adapts the facts to a demagogic story in which he, on the one hand, always remains an infallible, blameless and irreproachable leader, a man with good intentions who only does good things. decision. On the other hand, those who demand results from him, criticize him, or show social evidence that contradicts the story remain in the camp of “enemies of the people”, people “without moral authority” who deserve to be disqualified. and will be aggressively attacked by him and his followers.
Since the beginning of the Acapulco tragedy, government communication has been subject to the same political propaganda strategy.
First, the president and his government denied the crisis, by not activating civil protection protocols in time, despite the fact that there was information that the typhoon Otis It gained incredible strength. The only communication released by the president was a tweet in which he asked people, in a suggestive tone, to “stay in safe places.” Whether due to lack, speed of events or a political decision, the government did not activate any warning system.
Second, the president downplayed the crisis, by insensitively asserting that “no one died” from the storm, before having the balance that would allow him to make that statement. He also minimized the crisis by continuing his normal political routine since the day after the tragedy, sending a signal to society that the possibility of a million citizens suffering a humanitarian crisis is unnecessary that he would suspend his morning show or his political tours. It is expected that this behavior will continue until it is comfortable for his image to be seen in Acapulco without demonstrations against him.
Third, he avoids accountability for his actions and omissions. Instead of investing his time and energy in improving his response to the disaster, the president has dedicated himself to filling the public conversation with repeated messages attacking his opponents and his critics. , as well as the media reporting the absence of primary authorities. By disqualifying the media, it seeks to impose its own version of events, or at least confuse society with the noise of its propaganda so that it cannot clearly assess the consequences of government action.
When the president implemented this “deny-minimize-avoid” strategy during the pandemic, he had the support of a destructive and unscrupulous spokesperson. Now, it seems he has chosen to hand that job over to Claudia Sheinbaum, his party’s presidential candidate. Echoing the servile role that Hugo López-Gatell had at the time, Sheinbaum came out to say in a recorded message that the president “acted correctly, in accordance with the protocols in case of a disaster and, moreover, with great sensitivity to social. ” It is clear that, before or now, the president refuses to follow emergency communication protocols, so this statement is wrong and demagogic.
Like the pandemic, the president now intends to prohibit society from organizing to overcome the emergency. During the health crisis, it prohibited local governments, private hospitals and companies from importing vaccines and special drugs to treat the disease. This way he can maintain control over the population, leaving the government alone to “help” the people. In this case, it repeated the strategy, by trying to prevent companies, civil organizations and citizens from organizing to bring aid to Acapulco. Only the military, together with members of the government’s electoral organization networks, can distribute aid to the victims. Think about what kind of countries those where aid in a disaster is distributed only by the military with the help of commissioners of a political party.
We must understand that the propaganda strategy and the restrictions on social organization are a clear example of the president’s desire to strengthen the political control of the government by the citizens. In other words, the State expands its power at the expense of the rights (of information, protection) and freedoms (of expression and association) of citizens. If they can’t help or help each other, they become powerless and stop seeing themselves as agents with the ability to make demands. They become victims, helpless victims, beneficiaries who can only throw up their hands and wait for the “generosity” of the powerful to give them help.
It is clear that the government’s priority is not to solve the crisis, but to keep the society confused, divided and disorganized. A society in this situation cannot respond to the tragedy adequately, cannot create an understanding of what happened to it, and thus, cannot organize to demand results or accountability.
It is very likely that Acapulco will join Tlahuelilpan, Culiacanazo and the Covid-19 pandemic as another crisis in this six-year term where the poor performance of the government will not affect the image of the president or the intention to vote. his party. Every point of approval that Andrés Manuel López Obrador maintains in the polls, and every point that his candidate maintains in the electoral elections, will be paid for in the avoidable suffering of many people. A society with other civic values strongly rejects this situation. Unfortunately for Acapulco, we are not that society. ~