Mexico rail collapse deals blow to López Obrador's likely successors

Mexico rail collapse deals blow to López Obrador’s likely successors

The dramatic collapse of a railroad viaduct in Mexico City, which killed at least 24 people, has dealt a heavy blow to two of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s top aides, who are widely seen as the main candidates to succeed him.

Monday night’s accident raised concerns about the city’s infrastructure, particularly Linea 12, the metro line where the collapse occurred, and a flagship project by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard when he was mayor from 2006 to 2012. The name of Ebrard is strongly associated with Linea 12.

Her problems have also become a headache for the city’s current mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, who has come under fire for other accidents in the metro since taking office two and a half years ago.

Since opening in 2012, Linea 12 has had a troubled history, suffering disruptions and closures due to technical flaws, as well as corruption allegations on its construction.

At a Tuesday morning press conference with Lopez Obrador, reporters called on Ebrard and Sheinbaum to explain how the subway line could have been so unhealthy, citing complaints and warnings from the public before the disaster.

Both politicians said a full investigation should be carried out and urged people to wait for the findings.

“Anyone who acts with integrity need not fear anything,” said Ebrard, who has always rejected the idea that there had been wrongdoing in the Linea 12 building, which he opened in late October 2012, a month before. the end of his term as mayor.

When asked if he was concerned about being blamed for the crash, Ebrard noted that the completed project was not “finally handed over” to the government in Mexico City until July 2013, several months after he left.

Sheinbaum, at a subsequent press conference, suggested that a structural problem likely caused the collapse and drew attention to the fact that Linea 12 has a ‘story’.

“The question here is who is responsible,” she said, when asked if the metro chief should be fired.

Political experts see Ebrard and Sheinbaum as the main rivals to succeed Lopez Obrador at the end of his term at the end of 2024, although neither have publicly stated that they will be candidates. Lopez Obrador is not constitutionally authorized to run.

A spokesperson for Ebrard said he was not thinking about 2024 and that his priority was for the victims to be taken care of and for an independent investigation to be carried out to establish what triggered the collapse.

Sheinbaum’s office declined to comment.

High in the polls as he nears half his tenure, Lopez Obrador has sought to cut lucrative contracts for big companies, but also urged aides to tighten their belts, fueling criticism that he has undermined public services.

Blame game

Perhaps the most powerful figure in the administration after the president, Ebrard is seen as a political moderate to the right of Lopez Obrador. Sheinbaum is seen as closer to the president, who often seeks to emphasize his connection to her.

The accident happened a few weeks before the national elections on June 6 which will determine who will control the lower house of Congress. Lopez Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) is strongly favored to win.

While it is not known whether the accident would have a major electoral impact, it could erode confidence in MORENA in the capital region, said Federico Berrueto, chief executive of polling firm GCE.

Mexico City has been dominated by Lopez Obrador’s political apparatus since his first mayoral election in 2000.

The problems will get worse for the government if the metro crash becomes seen as an example of its incompetence, Berrueto said.

A GCE telephone survey of 401 residents of the city after the crash showed that some 22% of them spontaneously said the primary responsibility lay with Ebrard, while 4.5% chose Sheinbaum.

Another 17% blamed either the current metro chief, the city government, or those in charge of maintenance. Just over one in four people singled out the companies that built the line, while the federal government was singled out by 3.3%.

Ramon Pedraza, a 53-year-old man who lives near the station where the track descended, criticized Ebrard, accusing him of cutting corners to finish Linea 12. Ebrard has consistently rejected such accusations.

If the blame falls on the government, it could create problems for Ebrard and Sheinbaum, said Fernando Belaunzaran, an opposition politician from Mexico City and a former colleague of the party of the two.

“If the problem was structural, it affects Marcelo. If the problem was maintenance, it affects Sheinbaum,” he said. “The struggle for succession will be about trying to delimit responsibility.”