Wednesday, November 30, 2022

AMLO isolates and his old friend stands in: the week at the morning press conferences

Oratory is one of President López Obrador’s most valuable skills, in both defense and attack. But there is no talking one’s way around violence statistics in Mexico. The New Year’s celebrations were short lived as the country entered 2022: in the first seven days of the year there were 475 homicides.

Monday

The president wasn’t quite feeling his sprightly self on Monday. “I woke up feeling a bit hoarse … I’m going to do a [COVID-19] test a little later, but I think it’s just flu,” he said.

However, travel wasn’t off the agenda. He said he hoped to visit Central America in the near future, particularly to meet Xiomara Castro, Honduras’ new female president, before repeating his delight at Gabriel Boric’s recent victory in Chile.

On Nicaragua, where President Daniel Ortega retained power in a sham election, the president kept his distance. “We don’t want arguments with anyone. Mexico has always sought conciliation … we are not protagonists who want to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries,” he said.

“It’s the decision of the people of Nicaragua,” he added later.

The restrooms at the new Felipe Ángeles airport had been subjected to ridicule in the press: they are to be decorated with images of Mexican wrestlers, mariachi musicians and Frida Kahlo’s ghoulish Katrinas. “When they visit the toilets, which have been questioned without anyone seeing them, they will say, ‘This is not seen anywhere in the world or in any airport in the world,’” the president proclaimed.

Tuesday

A shock on Tuesday: no AMLO. “As you are aware, the president was diagnosed positive for COVID. He’s fortunately fine, without serious symptoms, just mild symptoms. He is having the rest that is clinically required,” said Interior Minister Adán Augusto López Hernández, who filled in for the chief.

Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell wished the president a speedy recovery and said that the omicron variant was becoming the dominant strain of COVID-19. He added that it was similar to a common cold and less damaging to the lungs than previous variants.

Later in the conference, the president appeared via video link from an office in work attire. He said he’d continue working, that hospitalization was unlikely, and that López Hernández — a longtime friend — would continue presenting the morning conferences in his absence.

The president takes his temperature after testing positive for COVID, while participating virtually in a morning press conference.
The president takes his temperature after testing positive for COVID, while participating virtually in a morning press conference.

However, the 68-year-old said he had little to fear. “Remember that the most important thing is to not be defeated … we have the Creator and science as protection, and the will to live, to transform Mexico.”

Wednesday

Government media monitor Elizabeth García Vilchis took to the podium on Wednesday, as is her weekly habit. She dismissed a report that the historic post office in the center of Mexico City had been painted with vinyl paint and complained that newspapers had exaggerated inflation rates.

López Hernández took the reins again with the president still confined. He welcomed Education Minister Delfina Gómez and Puebla Governor Miguel Barbosa via video link from Puebla to show the vaccination of teachers. Video updates from Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum in Mexico City and from Chiapas and Sonora followed.

López Hernández confirmed that financial heavyweight Citigroup was considering selling Banamex, the third largest bank in Mexico, which it acquired in 2001. He said he didn’t have information about whether Banco Azteca owner Ricardo Salinas was looking to buy Banamex for 44 billion pesos (US $2.2 billion), but added that the government wasn’t looking to buy.

The minister announced that inflation rates were in decline, having hit historic highs, and refused to divulge the cost of rerouting the Maya Train between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. “I think we have to avoid speculation.” he said.

Thursday

There were books galore at Thursday’s conference. Education Minister Gómez announced that almost two million books were destined for the shelves of the country’s libraries. “It is our intention that no one is left without the joy of having a book in their hands … A child, a teacher, a pencil and a book can change the world, as Malala [Yousafzai], the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said.”

One of the books, Mexico: Greatness and Diversity, was presented by the head of the National Institute of Anthropology and History, Diego Prieto. He said the book didn’t amount to an “official story,” i.e. a political narrative from the government.

One more book was presented by another person with a grand job title: The History of the People of Mexico was exhibited by Eduardo Villegas, who is the coordinator of the Historic and Cultural Memory of Mexico. The book “has an emphasis on the conquest to the present day, and it aims to highlight the resistances and struggles of our people,” he said.

López Hernández, heading a third conference, provided some not so subtle hints to the National Electoral Institute (INE), which has claimed it hasn’t enough money in its budget to hold the president’s referendum on whether he should finish his term in office. “The INE has 830 million pesos [US $40.5 million] in addition to its normal budget, which could be allocated to [the referendum] …  it’s a savings exercise that we present in a respectful way,” the minister insisted.

Work Minister Luisa María Alcalde Luján presents on union elections.
Labor Minister Alcalde reports on Pemex elections.

Friday

Labor Minister Luisa María Alcalde Luján, kicked off Friday’s conference to give details on what she described as the Pemex union’s first fair election: “For the first time [they] are electing through a personal, free, direct and secret vote,” she said.

Deputized for a fourth conference, López Hernández was asked whether he was getting comfortable in the president’s shoes. The interior minister said he wasn’t thinking about the top job. “I don’t sweat from heat that’s far away,” he responded, meaning that he steers clear of abstract preoccupations. He added that the president’s symptoms were improving and that he could attend a celebration on Sunday for the birth of Tabascan poet and writer Carlos Pellicer.

A journalist asked López about the abuse of migrants in detention centers. “There is a whole public policy designed to assist and to accompany migrants as they pass through the country,” he assured.

López said he smelled greed — and got biblical about it — in the INE’s insistence that the cost of the referendum would be the responsibility of the government. “The root of all evils is the love of money,” he proclaimed.

Mexico News Daily

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