Thursday, June 20, 2024

Foreign agents, ‘looting’ and a luxury plane: the week at the mañaneras

The DEA’s self-professed infiltration of the Sinaloa Cartel, the alleged inefficacy of Mexico’s transparency agency, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the National Guard and the sale of the presidential plane to Tajikistan were just some of the issues discussed at President López Obrador’s morning press conferences this week.

As is his norm, AMLO spent over 10 hours speaking and listening at his five weekday mañaneras.

President López Obrador with
AMLO hosted Julian Assange’s father and brother, John and Gabriel Shipton on Thursday. (López Obrador/Twitter)

The social media-savvy president also made a point of keeping his friends and foes up-to-date with his latest meetings, posting photos of himself with the father and brother of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and the head of Santander bank, among other interlocutors.

Monday

“Today, April 17, in middle and high schools, we’re beginning the campaign against the use of drugs, against addictions,” Public Education Minister Leticia Ramírez announced early in the press conference.

“It’s a national preventative campaign, … a strategy [implemented in] classrooms,” she said, adding that the government was aiming to reach 11 million students across 62,000 schools.

Teachers will speak with students about the dangers of drugs for 10-15 minutes at least three times a week, Ramírez said, noting that the campaign is called “Si te drogas, te dañas,” or “If you take drugs you harm yourself.”

Javier May Rodríguez, head of the National Tourism Promotion Fund, subsequently made his regular mañanera appearance to provide an update on the construction of the Maya Train railroad.

Four viaducts being built along the 226-kilometer Section 1 of the railroad between Palenque, Chiapas, and Escárcega, Campeche are 83% complete and 12 bridges are 65% complete, he said.

May also said that work is being carried out to “improve” the Moral Reforma, El Tigre and Palenque archaeological sites, located in Tabasco, Campeche and Chiapas, respectively. He noted that another attraction in the area that will be accessible to Maya Train passengers is the Cañon del Usumacinta, a protected natural area in the Tabasco municipality of Tenosique.

Over an hour after his presser began, AMLO returned to center stage to respond to reporters’ questions, but not before praising deceased Canadian-American economist John Kenneth Galbraith for his views about how to combat the trafficking and use of drugs.

“He speaks about attending to the causes,” López Obrador said in a purported reference to Galbraith’s 1996 book The Good Society.

“That if you attend to the neediest, to the poor, that’s a more humane solution to the problem of violence,” the president continued, outlining a belief he espouses himself.

In response to his first question of the day, AMLO confirmed that the government would maintain its summer electricity subsidy in locations where high temperatures are the norm, including two northern states known for oppressive climatic conditions.

“We’re going to maintain the subsidy for Sonora and Baja California this summer [and] for the states where this subsidy applies due to high temperatures,” he said. “That can already be taken as a given.”

AMLO later accused the United States government of “arrogant” and “abusive interference” in Mexico when asked to offer an opinion on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s announcement that it had infiltrated the Sinaloa Cartel.

He said that DEA agents must have entered the country without authorization and pledged to raise the issue with the United States government.

“There can’t be foreign agents in our country, no. … How can they be spying! … Acts of espionage cannot be used,” López Obrador said.

A reporter asked whether he agreed with the assessment that the Sinaloa Cartel is the world’s largest distributor of illicit fentanyl.

DEA graphic showing the Sinaloa Cartel
A DEA chart depicting members of the Chapitos faction of the Sinaloa Cartel. (DEA)

“Yes, the Sinaloa Cartel and other cartels, and probably also cartels in the United States. And we’re doing what corresponds to us [to combat them],” López Obrador responded.

“But it’s not just the Sinaloa Cartel [and] the Jalisco [New Generation] Cartel. Are they the only ones that supply [fentanyl] to the United States? There is a lot of [fentanyl] use in the United States. Are there not cartels there?”

Tuesday

In his regular “Zero Impunity” report, Deputy Security Minister Luis Rodríguez Bucio offered brief details on some of the arrests made over the past two weeks.

Among those detained, he said, were members of the Cenobios fuel theft gang in Hidalgo, a former education official in the same state who is accused of embezzlement and a man who allegedly started a fire in Mexico City’s main wholesale market on April 6.

Rodríguez also reported that a former director of the Altiplano maximum security federal prison was arrested on charges of torture. María Guadalupe “N” was head of the México state prison – from which notorious drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán escaped via a tunnel in 2015 – between 2011 and 2013, he said.

Luis Rodrìguez Bucio at a press conference
Deputy Security Minister Luis Rodríguez Bucio at the morning press conference on Tuesday. (Gob MX)

Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez later presented data that showed there were 2,603 homicides in March, a 14% increase compared to February. There was an average of 83 homicides per day across Mexico in the first three months of the year, Rodríguez said, highlighting that the figure was 7% lower than the 2022 average and 17% lower than the average in 2019, the current government’s first full year in office.

During his engagement with reporters, AMLO asserted that the National Institute of Transparency (INAI) “has not helped in any way to combat corruption” since it was created during the 2000-2006 presidency of Vicente Fox.

On the contrary, the institute has “legitimized thefts and hidden information,” he said, adding that it has cost the Mexican people 1 billion pesos a year since its creation.

“Hopefully the Congress does something so that the [transparency] function can be carried out by another institution … and the 1 billion pesos per year [can be] used to support the people who need it,” López Obrador said.

He also took aim at a prominent journalist who obtained audio in which Interior Minister Adán Augusto López is heard informing senators that López Obrador had told him that he was trying to push INAI toward a “period of impasse.”

Carlos Loret de Mola – an outspoken critic of the president – “hasn’t told us how he managed to get six apartments, super luxurious ones – among the most expensive in … [Mexico City],” AMLO said.

“How did he do it? And how did he manage to get a house, a mansion, in Valle de Bravo?”

The president later accused the United States Department of Defense of spying on his government.

“We’re going to safeguard the information of the Navy Ministry and Defense Ministry because we’re a target of espionage of the Pentagon,” he said. “And a lot of media outlets in Mexico are leaking information that the DEA gives them,” AMLO added.

Asked whether it wasn’t the Guacamaya hacking collective that stole information from the IT system of the Ministry of National Defense last year, the president responded, “Yes, that’s part of the same thing.”

He also accused U.S. government agencies of wanting to “interfere” in Mexico like they did during previous governments.

“They want to be in charge, violate our sovereignty, so they start leaking [information] supposedly to weaken us politically,” he said. “… It’s an interventionist plan, using the sold or rented press in our country as a tool,” López Obrador said.

Wednesday

“Good morning, cheer up. How’s life treating you?” AMLO asked reporters at the beginning of his third mañanera of the week.

In his press conference preamble, he congratulated Elena Reygadas of the Mexico City restaurant Rosetta on being named the world’s best female chef of 2023. “Born in Mexico City, Mexican pride,” López Obrador remarked.

Rogelio Ramírez de la O
Rogelio Ramírez de la O, Finance Minister, discussed the Iberdrola power plant purchase at the morning press conference. (Gob MX)

Finance Minister Rogelio Ramírez de la O replaced the president at the mañanera lectern and reported that the Finance Ministry will provide 45 billion pesos (about US $2.5 billion) to the National Infrastructure Fund to buy 13 power plants from Spanish company Iberdrola. The rest of the money for the government’s approximately US $6 billion purchase will come from loans that will be repaid over 10 years with the plants’ revenue, he said.

In her “Who’s Who in the Lies of the Week” segment, Ana García Vilchis asserted that a campaign against the health sector based on lies was launched after AMLO said last weekend that Mexico’s public health system would be better than that of Denmark.

“A legion of [opposition] politicians and journalists pounced on the president,” she said, explaining that they made claims such as “‘there’s no supply of medicines’ and ‘we’re worse off than before.'”

“… This is false, the supply of medicines and [medical] consumables is guaranteed for the health sector this year,” García said before presenting data that showed that over 98% of prescriptions had been filled in public hospitals so far in 2023.

“… What is the objective of the federal government led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador?  … To guarantee medical care and free medicine for people who don’t have social security. The campaigns of lies are opposed by data and facts,” she said.

AMLO later launched an attack on Supreme Court justices in light of their ruling that the transfer of control over the National Guard from the civilian Security Ministry to the Defense Ministry was unconstitutional.

“Eight [of 11] justices of the Supreme Court … acted in a partisan way yesterday, not with legal criteria but political [bias],” he said.

They defended “the old practices of the authoritarian and corrupt regime, characterized by injustice, collusion and the subordination of authorities to organized crime and white collar crime, ” López Obrador charged.

“In other words … the justices … with the exception of three … acted in the style of the government of Felipe Calderón and his security minister, Genaro García Luna, who was convicted in the United States for drug trafficking and criminal association. That’s what they defended yesterday, that model,” he said.

members of the Mexican Supreme Court
Eight of the Supreme Court’s 11 justices voted to rule the transfer of the National Guard to the Defense Ministry as unconstitutional, saying that the security force was inherently civilian in nature. (SCJN)

López Obrador said he intended to send a constitutional bill to put the National Guard back under military control on September 1, 2024, because the makeup of Congress will change on that date following elections on June 2.

“I’ll send the bill that day because I think there will be the majority required to carry out the constitutional reform,” AMLO said, indicating that he believes the Morena party and its allies will have a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress.

Turning to another issue, the president said he didn’t expect the extradition of Ovidio Guzmán – one of El Chapo’s sons – to the United States to happen quickly despite the U.S. Department of Justice’s unsealing of charges against 28 high-ranking Sinaloa Cartel members last week.

Such processes “take time,” he said. “I don’t know if you remember that … he resorted to the argument or the excuse … that he who was detained wasn’t him, that he wasn’t … Ovidio,” López Obrador said, referring to a bizarre claim made at an extradition hearing in March.

“… It has to be proven that it’s Ovidio, so it takes time,” he said.

Before wrapping up his presser, AMLO complained that there was no information about what happened to the DEA’s former top official in Mexico, Nicholas Palmeri, who was withdrawn last year due to improper contact with lawyers for drug traffickers.

“I’d like to ask, what happened to the man? Did they open a [legal] process [against him]? López Obrador said before bemoaning that investigations in the United States related to the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal had been shelved.

Thursday

“We’re a little late because we participated in a forum about climate change,” AMLO said at the top of his presser.

Screenshot of climate and energy conference
AMLO participated in a Major Economies’ Forum meeting on energy and climate on Thursday. (Screenshot/Twitter)

“President Biden convened us, and other leaders – presidents, prime ministers – participated. … We just finished our presentation,” López Obrador said before opening up his mañanera to reporters’ questions.

In response to a question about the security situation in Guerrero, the president acknowledged that violence and crime is a particular problem in the state’s Tierra Caliente region.

“The National Guard and the Defense Ministry are working there. … The strategy of the National Guard has a lot to do with territorial occupation of regions of the country where there is no presence of authorities – only municipal police and state police in some cases,” he said.

“That’s why it’s important to continue building National Guard barracks. We’ve already finished 280 … but we’re going to get to 500,” López Obrador said.

He later expressed his opposition to self-defense forces known as autodefensas, which have formed in some parts of the country to tackle crime.

They haven’t achieved any positive results, AMLO said. “A lot of them were encouraged by [organized] crime itself. … The state has the obligation to guarantee security to all citizens and that obligation is being met.”

One reporter asked López Obrador about the presidential plane, which he has been trying to sell for years.

“There is a possibility it will be sold, I can’t say more,” he said of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner purchased in 2012 and delivered in 2016.

If it is sold, AMLO added, the money will used to build two hospitals: one in the Montaña region of Guerrero – “the poorest area of the country” – and another in Tuxtepec, Oaxaca.

“Whether the plane is sold or not we’re going to build these hospitals, but I’d like the money to go to those two hospitals,” he said.

Late in his press conference, López Obrador offered one of his familiar didactic discourses.

“There is an enormous debt with the people of Mexico because they’ve been excluded, marginalized, mistreated, impoverished and humiliated by a minority. Our people, our nation, has been looted since long ago and the biggest looting in all of history was that carried out in the neoliberal or neo-Porfirian period from 1983 to 2018 – 36 years. That’s when social inequality deepened like never before,” he said.

“[Alexander von] Humboldt, who arrived to Mexico at the beginning of the 19th century, … writes that there were few countries on earth, at that time, with as much inequality as Mexico. That’s why [priest and independence hero José María] Morelos said that indigence and opulence had to moderated, … that’s why the priest [Miguel] Hidalgo dared to abolish slavery and paid for it with his life. So [there has been] a lot of inequality in the country and it worsened, deepened, in the neoliberal period, especially in the six-year period [1988-94] of [former president Carlos] Salinas,” López Obrador said.

“… The formula that has had success in [my] resolution to take our beloved Mexico and its people forward has been to not allow corruption, looting,” the president said, returning to what he claims to be his administration’s raison d’être.  

Friday

AMLO presided over his Friday mañanera in Veracruz, where later in the day he gave an address to mark the 109th anniversary of the “Heroic Defense of the Port of Veracruz” as United States forces invaded.

“We’re very happy to be here in the port of Veracruz. … A lot of progress has been made in the state of Veracruz, both in programs for the wellbeing of the people and in public works,” he said.

“All this is reflected in the fact that there is economic growth, employment and wellbeing in the state of Veracruz.

Members of the Mexican military
A commemorative military event was held on Friday in remembrance of the U.S. invasion of Veracruz in 1914. (Gob MX)

Governor Cuitláhuac García said that foreign investment has increased in Veracruz and cited the construction of Constellation Brands’ new brewery as one of the major projects in the state. Veracruz’s improved economic situation and “police action” have both contributed to an improved security situation in the Gulf coast state, he said.

Responding to his first question of the day, López Obrador said he was happy to have sold the “ostentatious” presidential plane to the government of Tajikistan, a US $92 million deal he announced in a social media post on Thursday night.

“[Former president Felipe] Calderón bought this plane but he didn’t use it. He left it to [Enrique] Peña Nieto. … It cost a lot of money because it’s very luxurious,” said AMLO, who refused to use the aircraft.

AMLO and cabinet members inside the Boeing 787
AMLO and members of his cabinet inside the plane used by former president Enrique Peña Nieto, which was sold to the government of Tajikistan this week. (López Obrador/Twitter)

“Just look at its interior,” he said as images were displayed on a screen behind him.

“… [The plane] is for 240 passengers but they adapted it for 80 so that the seats are wider. … It has an apartment inside – look,” López Obrador said. “… They dared to give it the name José María Morelos y Pavón … when Morelos fought for equality.”

The president later claimed that the Supreme Court justices “regretted” their decision to invalidate the military’s control over the National Guard because they gave the government more than eight months to return responsibility for the security force to the civilian Security Ministry (SSPC).

The government can’t comply with the ruling this year because it doesn’t take effect until Jan 1. 2024, López Obrador said after reiterating his intent to send a constitutional bill to Congress in September next year to return the National Guard to military control.

He also said that Chief Justice Norma Piña and other justices approached the government to negotiate the date by which control over the National Guard must be returned to the SSPC.

“No, I said to the interior minister and the security minister! No negotiation! This has to do with dignity, we don’t make deals in the dark,” said a visibly angry AMLO.

“… I said don’t even answer the telephone,” he added before revealing that Security Minister Rosa Rodríguez in fact had breakfast with Piña on Thursday.

“… It cannot be that a corrupt elite makes decisions on an issue as delicate as people’s safety,” López Obrador said, referring to the justices that voted to invalidate the military’s control of the National Guard.

“Top-down politics is over, the people are in charge now, and we’re here to rule by obeying the people, always. So, there are no negotiations like those … [of] before,” he said.

AMLO ended his presser on a lighter note, smiling as he declared it was time for un lechero con canilla (milk coffee and a typical Veracruz bread) as well as a few picadas, a local tortilla-based speciality similar to sopes or memelas.

“Are you going to let me have breakfast or not?” he inquired as reporters clamored for the mañanera to continue.

By Mexico News Daily chief staff writer Peter Davies ([email protected])

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