While the US has become a central focus during the coronavirus pandemic due to leading the world in number of cases and casualties, America’s southern neighbor is also struggling. Similar to the initial American response, Mexico is holding off on testing for COVID-19.

Leading the World in Cases, but Not Testing

In fact, the Mexican state averages one test per 100,000 people, according to John Hopkins University. That number pales in comparison to the US – which is hardly the gold standard – which has a testing rate of 168 per 100,000, as the Guardian reported.

As the world approaches the six-month anniversary of the global pandemic, testing supplies are not exactly elusive as manufacturers have risen to the occasion. Mexico’s refusal to embrace widespread testing is the result of the miserly fiscal policies of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly referred to as “Amlo.”

Saving Money at the Expense of Public Health

Amlo himself was only tested before he journeyed to Washington for a meeting with American President Donald Trump. Various members of his cabinet and other top Mexican officials have contracted the disease. On Sunday, it was announced that Mexico’s Dr. Jesus Grajeda, health minister for Chihuahua, died after a two-week battle against COVID-19, as Reuters reported.

Mexico ranks sixth in the world for number of cases, boasting 390,516 as of Monday morning, according to data compiled by Worldometers. In terms of fatalities, it is No. 4 with 43,680 behind only the US, Brazil, and the UK.

Amlo Refuses to Change Course

Yet despite these facts that suggest Amlo’s approach is not working, the Mexican leader maintains course.

“The WHO has said ‘test, test, test’ – but not even healthcare workers have access to tests,” said Rafael Soto, a nurse and spokesman for medical personnel protesting for healthcare improvements. “Many co-workers have died without ever having been tested.”

A lack of testing appears to be a decision made with the sole intention of reducing the government’s expenditures.

“It’s a strategy based on the idea of maximum savings – and it’s not producing results,” said Malaquías López-Cervantes, a public health professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). 

Amlo’s Penny-Pinching Record

In truth, Amlo’s eccentric fiscal policies were his hallmark long before he assumed office. Now, in the time of COVID-19, Amlo’s stubbornness to loosen the state’s purse strings has contributed to dismal testing rates and minimal economic relief, according to reporting from the Los Angeles Times.

“His entire political career he has spoken out against [economic bailouts],” said Genaro Lozano, a political scientist at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City. “One of the reasons he got to the presidency had to do with the fact that people were very angry about the use of public money for frivolities.”

Although a liberal politician, Amlo’s monetary ideals are decidedly conservative. During his presidential campaign, he argued “you can’t have a rich government and a poor people.”

To that end, Amlo walks his talk; when he cut government spending, he reduced his own salary by 60%, the Guardian reported. Some of those budget cuts came at the expensive of the state’s healthcare system, a decision that appears questionable in hindsight.

Amlo is Self-Sabotaging His Presidency

Furthermore, Amlo’s political future will likely be determined this year and may very well already be set in stone. Amlo is only halfway through the second year of a 6-year term, but his economic policies have eaten away his approval ratings.

Since taking office, Amlo’s approval rating has slid from 83% to 56% in June, the Yucatan Times reported. The negative economic effects of Amlo’s fiscal policies have begun to catch up with his ratings, particularly as the Mexican economy shed 700,000 in April and May, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Mexican economy is down 10.5% for the year, the International Monetary Fund reported, contributing to Amlo’s 63% economic disapproval rating, according to Bloomberg.

Amlo continues to refuse to design an economic stimulus, not to save his polling numbers nor to rescue the Mexican economy. The maximum he is wiling to do is to transfer $25.6 billion from other areas of the government for social programs and infrastructure projects, according to Reuters. However, this will cause other aspects of Mexico City to suffer as Peter is robbed to pay Paul.

Leading Mexican Official: Testing is a ‘Waste of Time’

The central bank did announce a $31 billion stimulus, however the action will primarily help stabilise the financial system, not the unemployed Mexican worker. It is not enough to undo the damage from COVID-19 and two years of Amlo’s heavy spending cuts. 

Until COVID-19 is cured or suffocated out of existence through social distancing, lockdowns, and masks, the Mexican economy will continue to crumble as will Amlo’s presidency. Gangs and cartels have also capitalized on the economic downturn, putting Mexico on course for its most violent year ever, BBC News reported.

Corruption and crime coincide with the COVID-19 crisis, and amid it all, Amlo’s coronavirus tsar, Hugo López-Gatell called testing “a waste of time, effort and resources.”

Mexico City was in disrepair when Amlo assumed office and although he may have honest morals, his economic policies have gutted any hope of Mexico bettering itself in the near future. For Amlo, the leader who promised the creation of two million jobs somehow without government spending, any spending from the public coffers is inherently evil. Fighting a pandemic with that mentality is next to impossible.