Mexico cuts budget for all, from athletes to archaeologists

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican Olympic Committee said Wednesday it will no longer be able to offer food, lodging and medical services at its main sports training complex, the latest casualty in a round of deep budget cuts by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Seldom has a leftist been so obsessively austerity-minded as Lopez Obrador. In his first seven months in office, he has cut government posts and salaries, and drastically reduced spending on perks and benefits.

He also has cut his own salary and plans to sell off the presidential jet, saying: "We cannot have a rich government with the people poor."

Lopez Obrador describes his financial plan as "republican austerity."

But his cuts have begun to seriously hit everyone from athletes to archaeologists, who worry they won't have enough money to carry out essential tasks. Critics say his government is spending the same amount of money, just reallocating it to different things.

The Mexican Olympic Committee said it lacks the $4.7 million needed to run the Olympic sports center in Mexico City with full services. The complex has track and pool facilities, as well as a gymnasium and velodrome. This year, government funding for sports is about 25% below 2018 levels.

Also this week, researchers and archaeologists at the National Institute of Anthropology and History said about 200 employees have been laid off since the start of the year, and more layoffs are feared.

"We have gone from republican austerity to Franciscan poverty," said Joel Santos, head of the researchers' union at the institute. Never well-paid, many experts are employed on temporary contracts.

Across the government, Lopez Obrador's administration has eliminated consultancy and management positions, and thousands more public servants have resigned.

Economist Valeria Moy says the government has plenty of fat to trim, but notes that this year's federal budget of $5.8 trillion pesos ($304 billion) is about the same size as the 2018 budget. Lopez Obrador took office in December, allowing him to craft the 2019 budget.

"There is money," said Moy, "it's just being redirected" to the president's social and infrastructure projects, some of which appear to be "almost whims" that lack sound research to determine their viability or potential negative impacts.

Environmentalists and investors are concerned about several of the president's top infrastructure projects, such as a train through the Yucatan Peninsula that has commenced construction without studies to show its impact on local wildlife such as jaguars. Another pet project, the multibillion-dollar Dos Bocas oil refinery in Lopez Obrador's home state of Tabasco, is being undertaken by the heavily indebted state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos.

"It's what the president decides, what the president wants — and that's what's done," said Moy.

Finance Minister Carlos Urzua resigned last week citing similar concerns, saying the administration has taken public policy decisions "without sufficient sustenance."

Everyone from scientists to doctors and police warn that the president is cutting to the bone.

Many blame the May air pollution emergency in the capital on over-ambitious budget cuts, because the Environmental Ministry lacked the tools and manpower to detect and combat brush fires that carpeted much of the country in heavy smog.

The country's Science and Technology Consultative Forum, a sort of umbrella group of science academies and businesses groups, has warned that the cuts threaten research into everything from chronic diseases to climate change to agriculture.

"All of these activities could be seriously compromised if the austerity measures are applied indiscriminately," the forum said in a statement earlier this year. "If that happens, it would be an irredeemable setback in Mexico's effort to achieve robust national development, and would make us even more dependent on what occurs beyond our borders."