Saturday, June 15, 2024

Freeing the damned and trying the mighty: the week at the mañaneras

On Sunday, the country will return to the polls. The referendum will ask whether five past presidents should be investigated for corruption; those leaders were only stripped of their immunity to prosecution in 2019.

The exercise has split opinion: what President López Obrador (or AMLO) has promoted as participatory democracy, sections of the international press have labeled a “sham trial.”

Whether enough voters turn out is looking touch and go: 40% participation is the minimum needed to make the result binding.

Sixty-seven years young and as eager as ever, the president discussed the following topics at his morning press conferences this week.


Becoming well accustomed to the sea breeze, the president was at the port of Veracruz for Monday’s conference. Governor Cuitláhuac García gave thanks for the 60-billion-peso (US $3 billion) federal contribution in 2020, which was equal to half the state’s budget.
Meanwhile, crime in the state, said Navy Minister José Rafael Ojeda Durán, had dropped 59% since 2019.

Questioned on violence, the president added up the weekend’s homicide numbers from state to state — over 200 — and announced 50 billion pesos ($2.5 billion) for the National Guard over the next two years. Fuel theft, he said, had been reduced from 80,000 barrels per day in November 2018 to 5,000, worth over 158 billion pesos (about US $7.89 billion).

A journalist reminded AMLO of his weekend comments: at a conference for foreign dignitaries at Chapultepec Castle he’d called for a “truly autonomous” supranational organization that would “not [be] anybody’s lackey,” as opposed to the Washington D.C.-headquartered Organization of American States (OAS).

“I believe that we must seek a new relationship between all the countries of America … with respect for the sovereignty of each country,” the president said, before reiterating his call for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba.


Olympians got the nod on Tuesday. The mixed archery pair and women’s synchronized swimmers had all taken bronze. But there were consolations for the women’s softball team, a sport close to the president’s heart, who missed out on a medal after a tight contest with Canada. “We send them all a hug,” AMLO said.

Monday's conference was held in Veracruz.
Monday’s conference was held in Veracruz.

Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell assured reporters that the third wave of the pandemic was distinct from the previous two. Mortality, he said, was 77% lower than in the first wave and 87% lower than in the second. All people over 18 would have a first dose by the end of October, the president stated; he later confirmed that his son Jesús Ernesto had contracted Covid-19 but was well.

The subject turned to Sunday’s referendum on whether Mexico’s ex-presidents should be investigated for corruption.

“Predictions are that it won’t reach the voting percentage,” posited a journalist, referring to the 40% turnout needed to legitimize the results.

“We trust in the people; we have to have faith in the people … the people are very aware … this is one of the most aware countries in the world,” the president replied.

Cuba returned to the table. Two ships were set to sail from Veracruz to the Caribbean island nation, carrying medical equipment. Could the aid lead to U.S. sanctions against Mexico, asked a journalist.

“No, because we are an independent country, free, sovereign, and we will behave as such,” AMLO affirmed.


Blood pressures rose for the fake news patrol on Wednesday. To set the scene, the government’s fake news czarina, Ana Elizabeth García Vilchis, offered some reassuring pronouncements: “Here, neither opinions nor criticisms are questioned. Here, freedom of expression is respected,” she said.

The first disavowed claim related to the Felipe Ángeles airport: an article had stated that the construction budget had been cut by 90%. “This information is false,” García said.

The Economist was next in her path: the English newspaper’s July 15 headline called Sunday’s referendum “a show trial of his [AMLO’s] predecessors.”

“It mocks the president and in a deceitful way makes it look like the referendum and the question … are decisions of the president,” she said.

Enter Julio Hernández López, author of an article that was given a dressing down precisely a week before. His story alleged that property speculation was threatening an area’s classification as a Natural Protected Area in San Luis Potosí.

negative mentions in the media.
A graph indicates the administration’s positive (in green) vs. negative mentions in the media.

Hernández questioned García’s credentials: “Last week I was accused of lying on three occasions … and without journalistic authority … I call on Elizabeth García Vilchis — as real journalists do when they make mistakes — to … apologize.”

In response, AMLO questioned the journalist’s credentials as an environmentalist.

It was to be another busy weekend ahead for the president, and he mapped it all out for the press.

“We’re going to have the conference in Culiacán [Sinaloa] on Friday … I’m going to supervise the roads [being built] … I’m going this weekend to Sinaloa, Durango, Nayarit. And on Monday, the security meeting will take place in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco.”


First on Thursday, Interior Minister Olga Sánchez announced a planned reform for prisoners awaiting trial, who she said made up 43% of the prison population.

Any federal prisoner that has been tortured, for any crime, will be eligible for release, she explained. Additionally, any federal prisoners awaiting trial that are over 75, or are over 65 and with severe health problems, will be able to leave prison and live under house arrest.

The president confirmed that the prisoners in question would be released by September 15. However, he conceded that the reform only scratched the surface: “Look,” he said, “under state jurisdiction without sentence: 82,189 [prisoners]; under federal jurisdiction: 12,358.”

A journalist from W Radio dropped in to ask the president if his weekend trip to Sinaloa was connected to the family of jailed drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. AMLO linked the question to a recent headline by the Spanish newspaper El País and offered his disdain. “A prejudicial way of doing journalism … that’s conjecture,” he said.

Before the conference ended, a recording of a prisoner was played by a journalist: “My name is Pablo Green Salamanca,” it announced. “… I am a victim of the political system … I have committed no crime … I trust you that you have the will to do justice and that innocent people like me will not remain in prison while innocent.”


The conference was broadcast from Culiacán, Sinaloa, on Friday where Governor Quirino Ordaz Coppel of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) offered kind words to the president. The defense minister gave a security report, which signaled an increase in femicides in the state, making it the third worst in the country.

Later in the conference, AMLO expressed his admiration for the army.

“Let us not forget the origin of our army …  from a revolutionary movement … It is the fruit of our people … The rank generals are the sons of peasants; they are the sons of workers, they are the sons of merchants, they are the sons of soldiers,” he said.

He also stood by the decision to release the son of “El Chapo” after he was detained in Culiacán in October 2019. “I have a clear conscience because, when I asked for a report … more than 200 innocent people were going to lose their lives, according to the estimate … and I said: ‘No.'”

Shortly thereafter, the conference came to a close. However, there was little time for the president to catch his breath: the weekend would take him to three states in as many days.

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