Authorities used tear gas to disperse a large group of disgruntled mayors who attempted to break into the National Palace on Tuesday morning as they demanded more funding in the 2020 federal budget.
The office of President López Obrador said in a statement that a “moderate amount of natural defensive aerosol” was used to disperse the mayors and that no lives were placed at risk.
According to the government, the mayors, accompanied by National Action Party (PAN) lawmaker Juan Carlos Romero Hicks, arrived at the palace in downtown Mexico City early to seek a meeting with federal authorities.
An official from the president’s office spoke with them and offered to arrange a meeting with officials of the Interior Secretariat.
But the mayors refused the offer, the government said, and attempted to force their way in to the National Palace via its main door. López Obrador was inside at the time speaking to reporters at his regular morning news conference.
The government claimed that the mayors’ actions posed a risk to the lives of workers restoring a section of the façade of the National Palace as well as those of pedestrians. It also said that they attacked security personnel.
The circumstances justified the use of tear gas, the president’s office said.
While opposition party lawmakers condemned the use of tear gas, the newspaper Reforma questioned why authorities intervened on Tuesday but did nothing to stop vandals last month.
Masked protesters vandalized the main door and façade of the palace during last month’s march to commemorate the anniversary of the disappearance of 43 teaching students in Guerrero.
López Obrador said on Wednesday that the use of gas was “regrettable” but claimed that the situation could have become more serious if authorities hadn’t intervened.
“They [the mayors] were very aggressive and that’s why the decision [to use gas] was taken . . . It’s possible that it avoided a more serious situation,” he said.
“. . . It’s very regrettable [but] they wanted to enter by force, they didn’t behave, they didn’t behave in the right way . . .” the president added.
López Obrador claimed that the PAN was behind the protest in which mayors from the Institutional Revolutionary Party and the Democratic Revolutionary Party also participated.
“It was a provocation of PAN mayors,” he said, adding that if they want to have access to more funds, the government is willing to provide advice about how to generate savings in their budgets.
“If they want more budget . . . we’ll help them, [we’ll give them] a formula to make savings: reduce the salaries of high-ranking public officials. How much do mayors earn? How much do councilors earn?” López Obrador said.
“. . . I’ll [also] take the opportunity to tell the mayors, because perhaps they don’t know, that here [the National Palace] is not the place to complain, it’s at the Chamber of Deputies,” he added.
In addition, the president called on the mayors “to set a good example” and not act in the way they did on Tuesday.
“. . . Look at what Gandhi, Mandela and Luther King did. Opt for non-violence, calm down, subdue yourselves . . .”