Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Diplomacy, deployments and dolls: the week at the mañaneras

The arrival of United States President Joe Biden in Mexico City on Sunday signaled the beginning of another busy week for President López Obrador, who is now in his final full calendar year as head of state.

AMLO held bilateral talks with Biden on Monday and trilateral talks with the U.S. president and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday. With some diplomatic energy still in reserve, the 69-year-old president sat down with Trudeau to discuss the joint Mexico-Canada agenda on Wednesday.

Monday

After Monday’s mañanera opened with a report on gasoline and food prices by consumer protection agency chief Ricardo Sheffield, Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard took center stage and acknowledged President Biden’s arrival at AIFA, the army-built airport just north of Mexico City.

AMLO characterized U.S. President Biden as a “nice person” who was “happy the whole time.” (@lopezobrador Twitter)

López Obrador, he said, accompanied Biden to his hotel (in the presidential vehicle known as “The Beast”) and had a “good conversation” with the U.S. president along the way.

“That’s precisely one of the objectives of these summits, [to cultivate] personal relationships, to appreciate and understand the priorities of one’s counterpart, seek out points of agreement, and it was a good occasion for that purpose,” Ebrard said.

Taking the floor to respond to reporters’ questions, AMLO said he had a “good encounter” with the U.S. leader.

“President Biden is a nice person. He was happy the whole time. We spoke about the issues that we’re going to deal with at today’s bilateral meeting: the immigration issue, issues related to the economic integration of North America…” he said.

Later in his presser, the president sent a message to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, an outspoken critic of Biden’s immigration policies and the United States government’s alleged failure to enforce laws aimed at stemming the flow of migrants into the U.S.

“Maybe the gentleman is Christian and if he’s read the Bible he should know that strangers must be respected and migrants must be treated with affection,” AMLO said of the governor, a practicing Catholic.

“… And if he’s Christian he should also know that one mustn’t lie, one must speak truthfully and not use these matters … for political and electoral purposes. … How many migrants are there in Texas? To start, Texas belonged to our country. … As the Los Tigres del Norte ballad says: ‘I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.’ Texas belonged to Mexico, to Coahuila.”

López Obrador also fielded a question about last Saturday’s fatal metro accident in Mexico City.

“The causes are being looked at … and the truth about what happened will be revealed without hiding anything at all,” he said.

Tuesday and Wednesday

With his focus squarely on meetings with the U.S. president and Canadian Prime Minister, AMLO took the rare step of not holding morning press conferences on two consecutive weekdays.

However, he didn’t eschew his predilection for speaking at length, offering an almost half-hour response to one reporter’s question at a joint press conference with Biden and Trudeau on Wednesday.

The “Three Amigos” at a joint press conference on Wednesday (@WhiteHouse Twitter)

That prompted the Bloomberg news agency to publish an article under the headline, “Mexican president’s 28-minute monologue had Biden, Trudeau, staring at feet.”

Thursday

“We missed each other, didn’t we?” López Obrador quipped to reporters upon his return to the National Palace for his first mañanera since Monday.

He then declared the bilateral and trilateral meetings of the previous days a raging success before going on to laud the strength of the Mexican peso.

“You already know that our peso has strengthened in a way not seen for half a century or more than half a century. Since we’ve been in the government our peso has appreciated, it’s the currency that has appreciated the most with respect to the dollar,” AMLO said.

Elaborating on the talks with U.S. and Canadian officials, Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard said the goal of a new committee of 12 people from the three North American countries – of which he will be one – will be to substitute 25% of imports from Asia with locally-produced goods.

“We have an enormous job ahead of us, but … we have to do it,” he said.

Later in the press conference, López Obrador told reporters that some people “are using accidents in the [Mexico City] metro” – including that which occurred last Saturday – to “attack” the capital’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum.

However, the mayor – a presidential aspirant and close ally of López Obrador – “has all our support,” the Tabasco-born president said, “because we consider her a professional, honest woman with a lot of capacity to govern.”

Sheinbaum herself made her way to the lectern and announced that over 6,000 National Guard members would be deployed to provide security in metro stations across Mexico City after what she described as a series of unusual episodes in the busy subway system.

In response to a reporter’s question near the end of his presser, López Obrador declared that metro passengers are already safe and will be even safer once the National Guard begins patrolling the system.

“Why look after the users of the metro? … Because … the majority of those who use the metro are going to work, … there are millions of them and we have to look after them and we have to improve the service. It’s being done and [even] more will be done,” he said.

Friday

Abandoning the custom of setting his own agenda in the first portion of his presser, López Obrador dedicated the entirety of his last mañanera for the week to responding to reporters’ questions.

“What do you know? We’re going to devote the mañanera to answering all the questions,” AMLO said, adding that the prerequisite for probing the president was not having posed a question during the past 15 days.

The first question he received was on the relaunch of the Va por México opposition alliance, which confirmed Thursday that it would field a common candidate at the 2024 presidential election.

“I think it’s good, they have the right [to contest the election as a coalition],” López Obrador said before describing the PAN-PRI-PRD alliance as a “conservative, reactionary bloc.”

“Of course they’re going to seek, as they have been doing, to stop the process of transformation that millions of Mexicans are carrying out,” he added, referring to his Morena party-led government and its supporters.

“… They want the regime of corruption, injustices and privileges to return. And we want the transformation to advance so that the principal protagonists in the history of our time are the Mexican people, so that there is authentic democracy, a government of the people, for the people and with the people.”

During a lengthy response to another question, López Obrador declared that the federal Electoral Tribunal had banned the “Amlito” doll, a buck-toothed caricature of AMLO that first became popular during his 2006 presidential campaign.

The “Amlito” cartoon will be banned from use in Morena electoral campaigns (@LaChiquisYareli Twitter)

“But only in electoral campaigns,” interjected AMLO’s communications chief, referring to a ruling against its use by political candidates affiliated with the president. “It’s not [completely] prohibited,” Jesús Ramírez added.

Toward the end of his presser, López Obrador outlined tentative plans to visit South America later this year.

“I’ve traveled a lot, I’ve been in the United States four times … and then I was in Central America – Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Cuba. So I still have to go to the Southern Cone [region of South America and] Colombia, I have to go to Argentina. I have to go to Brazil but I’m not going to Brazil until President Lula comes [to Mexico],” he said.

“And [I have to go to] Chile, I’m invited and it’s very probable that I’ll go for the 11th of September, which is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of [former Chilean] president [Salvador] Allende,” AMLO said, adding that he would likely visit other South American nations on the same trip.

Just as he talked up his relationships with his fellow North American leaders earlier in the week, López Obrador declared that he and his government get on well with the political office holders in South America, where leftists are in power in several countries including Brazil, Colombia and Chile.

“We get on very well with all of them, even the president of Ecuador, who has a business background but is a very good person – the President [Guillermo] Lasso, [and] the president of Paraguay, I think his last name is Abdo, who is also from a center-right movement, but the communication [with him] is very good,” he said.

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