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lopez obrador The president dressed casually for Monday's conference in Oaxaca city.

Academic elite, finding deceit, a Oaxacan treat: the week at AMLO’s press conferences

Russian astronauts, Joe Biden and the president of Ireland all featured in the president's mañaneras

President López Obrador had spent the weekend in Oaxaca, a state for which he holds particular admiration. The 570 municipalities are more than double the number of any other state, meaning governance is more localized and land has been historically better shared. A third of the population is indigenous, around half of whom don’t speak Spanish.

The first and only indigenous president, Benito Juárez, was a Oaxaca native. Images of revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata are common on the streets of the state, which was central to the struggle (1910-1920) against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. However, the mustached Mexican rebel icon was actually from Morelos. Meanwhile, the infamous Díaz was Oaxacan born and bred.

Projects in the state include highways from Oaxaca city to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the coast and a trade route to connect the Atlantic to the Pacific across the isthmus.

Monday

Oaxaca city was the venue for the week’s first conference, a state with “one of the most cultured peoples in the world,” AMLO said. Governor Alejandro Murat confirmed it was the president’s 10th visit, “not to make any other states jealous.”

A journalist diverted attention toward Friday’s CELAC conference, when Latin American leaders convened in Mexico City. AMLO highlighted successful agreements on vaccine distribution and disaster relief before revealing a letter he’d sent to U.S. President Joe Biden. “The migratory phenomenon requires a completely new treatment … we mustn’t limit ourselves to the application of contention measures, especially ones of a coercive nature,” it read, and suggested replicating Mexico’s tree-planting employment program in Central America, creating apprenticeships and offering temporary work visas as a fix.

Later in the conference, AMLO spoke about welfare, and offered potential ammunition to his detractors. “In Oaxaca they are almost spoiled … there are families in Oaxaca that receive up to three or four welfare checks,” he said.

Breakfast time couldn’t arrive soon enough for the man from Tepetitán, Tabasco: “A hot chocolate with a tlayuda, yep, and some bread. And long live Oaxaca. And long live Mexico.”

Tuesday

Health headliner Hugo López-Gatell took his Tuesday place on the podium. Case numbers had been going down for eight weeks, he said.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard stepped forward. The Haiti immigration wave, he said, was based on a false premise: a migration program for Haitians already in the U.S. had attracted many to try to reach the country, even though they’d be ineligible. Individuals in Brazil and Chile, he said, were encouraging migrants northward in “a massive hoax.”

Russian astronauts send a happy birthday to Mexico from space.
Russian astronauts send a happy birthday to Mexico from space.

On the debate over abortion and the Supreme Court’s legalization, AMLO once again showed neat footwork. “I can’t express an opinion. I’m not washing my hands of it, I’m not Pontius Pilate [the Roman official who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion] … it’s better for all Mexicans that a president doesn’t take sides on an issue of this nature,” he said.

Later, a statement by President Biden was played to back up AMLO’s calls for a just tax system: “How can the richest in the country avoid paying taxes, how can the richest pay less tax than a teacher, a firefighter or a policeman? The truth is that this has worked very well for those at the top. The workers, those who have built this country, have been left out,” Biden said.

The country’s corrupt felt AMLO’s ire shortly after. During the construction of the now canceled Texcoco airport, he said, coyotes, meaning corrupt people, had abounded: “Who bought the land? Coyotes. Who was transporting the material? Coyotes. Who defined the price? Coyotes. Who sold the fuel to the carriers? Coyotes.”

On Friday, the president announced, he would meet with the families of the Ayotzinapa victims, in which 43 students disappeared in 2014.

Wednesday

The monthly security report topped the bill. Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez said federal crimes were down 23.5% on 2019; homicides were down 3.9% on 2020. Fifty municipalities had registered 42% of homicides, she added.

Lie detector Ana Elizabeth García Vilchis took her spot to defend truth. The control tower at the new Felipe Ángeles airport, she said, was not dangerously tilted, but was victim of the “visual effect” of some photos. Her second topic didn’t address a supposed lie, but took a social justice angle: young adults who neither work nor study should no longer be termed ninis, she insisted. García branched into academia next: the conquest was not a “diffusion of cultures,” without attributing the claim, but an “ethnocide.”

On vaccinations for under-18s, a topic often raised at the morning news conferences, AMLO had an announcement: “More than a million children in the country are going to be vaccinated. Children with disabilities, with some difficulties or diseases.”

Talk of the COVID-19 pandemic led the president to the times of the conquest, when disease had devastated the local population: “… when the conquistadors arrived, what is Mexico today had 16 million inhabitants and three centuries later Mexico barely had eight million … the textbooks still say they came to civilize us,” he said.

But, as the conference concluded, AMLO sought peace: “Long live Spain, and long live Mexico,” he said.

Thursday

The year 2021 has been one of ceremony: 200 years since independence, 500 years since the fall of Tenochtitlán, and controversially — doubtfully — 700 years since the ancient city’s foundation. AMLO lined up a couple more. On September 27 the Army of the Three Guarantees’ entrance into Mexico City would be remembered for when Vicente Guerrero and Agustín de Iturbide’s troops joined forces in the independence struggle.

Irish President Michael Higgins
Irish President Michael Higgins joined the conference via video link.

Unconfirmed heads of state would be in attendance, and an exhibition about “the greatness of Mexico” would be inaugurated the same day. On September 28 the president would make an announcement to recognize the rights of the Yaqui people, an indigenous group mainly in Sonora.

Two Russian astronauts appeared by video from the International Space Station to wish Mexico a happy 200th birthday: “The Mexican Aztecs were famous for their deep knowledge of the starry sky. They built space observatories and observed the stars … Long live Mexico, long live freedom!” offered Pyotr Dubrov in his native tongue.

AMLO once again showed himself to be a veritable panamericano: “We have to try to unify all American peoples … just as the Europeans did … with the European Union … we have to do it in America: an economic, commercial bloc,” he said, but revealed himself to be cooler on the United Kingdom joining the North American trade agreement (USMCA): “I’m in favor of the agreement being maintained,” he said.

Politics, the president confirmed, was thirsty work: “Now it’s time for a coffee with milk, and bread,” he announced, shortly before striding away to attend to the nation.

Friday

More birthday congratulations: Ireland’s charismatic president Michael D. Higgins, 80, appeared by video to pass along some warm words. “Since my first visit to Mexico, some years ago, I was amazed with how much our nations have in common … colonization, migration, poverty and struggle.”

He highlighted Guillén de Lampart, a Wexford-born man celebrated on the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City, who made “the first declaration of independence in Latin America in Mexico City in 1642, and was later executed for heresy,” in Higgins’ words. He also pointed to Irish-blooded Juan O’Donojú — once O’Donnohue — the last viceroy of New Spain who ratified Mexican independence, and Saint Patrick’s Battalion that fought alongside Mexicans against the United States in its mid-19th century invasion.

Later in the conference, a journalist raised a controversial corruption case in the academic community, in which scientists had allegedly filtered government money to a civil society group and spent it, in part, on “chauffeurs, cellphones … food in luxury restaurants and foreign travel,” the Attorney General’s Office alleged.

“Now they feel persecuted,” the president said. “Is the battle against corruption going to be selective?”

He read a rather vulgar tweet by Aldo Aldrete, whom he (incorrectly) identified as one of the accused: “Start with the pseudo-writer, pseudo-investigator whore … The vulture, that idiot who does not even know how to write a sentence without spelling errors [AMLO’s wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller]  … and thanks to the crazy idiot, the imbecile [AMLO] whose shoes are cleaned by [Attorney General] Gertz.”

One noted newspaper columnist later predicted that the president would soon be displaying insults left on the walls of public washrooms.

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