Governing by Presidential Decree Should Scare the You-Know-What out of Hispanics

Years ago, I was working in Mexico City and enjoying lunch in one of those wonderful "Zona Rosa" restaurants.  I was catching up with a couple of Mexican friends who happened to be PAN-istas, or members of the conservative party.  (Back then, the PRI was still governing the country, and PAN never thought that they'd elect a president.  They did in 2000 and 2006.)

It turned out that President López-Portillo was delivering his "informe," or the Mexican version of the State of the Union speech, that day.

Let me add some context.  Mexico was reeling from a February devaluation and more currency collapses in August.  It got so bad that a Mexican delegation was sent to Washington, D.C. for an emergency meeting with President Reagan and then-Treasury Secretary Regan.  It was a very bad summer for Mexicans, and capital flight was the order of the day.

López-Portillo's informe was a boring speech, full of numbers and "I did this" and "I did that." 

At one point, López-Portillo dropped the bomb.  He expropriated the Mexican private banking system.  He was trying to blame the bankers for the devaluations that his own irresponsible policies had caused.

My two friends screamed at the TV and called him a "dictator."  They also said a couple of Spanish words that I can't repeat in a PG blog.

I said: Can he do that?

My friend replied: Yes, that's what's wrong with Mexico.  The president can do whatever he wants.

I said: What about Congress?  What about the courts?

My friend looked at me and said: This is Mexico, not the U.S. 

I never forgot that moment.  I was witness to an irresponsible power-grab by a man desperately trying to change the subject.

I can add to that story what is happening in Venezuela with Hugo Chávez.  Or what my parents saw in Cuba -- who can forget Fidel Castro saying, "Elections, for what?"

Every Hispanic in the U.S. has roots in Latin America.  We are either political refugees like my family or people looking for a better economic opportunities.

What do we have in common?  We are from countries with no rule of law.

Let me caution my Hispanic friends who are cheering amnesty by presidential decree.

First of all, it is not a change in the law, because the next president can cancel what President Obama just did.

Second, it is a bad habit to let presidents get away with violating the U.S. Constitution.  What will they do next?

Silvio Canto, Jr. can be reached at

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