While millions of Mexicans enjoyed a three-day weekend last Saturday, Sunday and Monday, President López Obrador had little time for a break.
On the first day of the puente – as long weekends are known in Mexico – AMLO delivered an hour-long speech in front of a huge crowd of supporters to mark the 85th anniversary of the nationalization of Mexico’s oil industry.
On Sunday he met with a group of 12 United States lawmakers in the National Palace, located opposite Mexico City’s central square, where Saturday’s event took place, while he was back in front of reporters early Monday morning to begin another week of government press conferences, colloquially known as mañaneras.
On a public holiday to mark the 217th anniversary of the birth of former president Benito Juárez, López Obrador gave his first press conference of the week in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of the southern state of Chiapas.
“The federal government is investing like never before in Chiapas, … both in infrastructure and welfare programs,” AMLO said at the start of his presser, adding that residents of the state along with inhabitants of Oaxaca and Guerrero are the nation’s biggest beneficiaries of the latter.
“Billions of pesos are being allocated in benefit of the people,” he said.
Governor Rutilio Escandón, who represents the ruling Morena party, agreed that welfare and social programs are bringing “big benefits” to his state – one of Mexico’s poorest – and noted that the Maya Train railroad, which is scheduled to begin operations in December, would soon link Chiapas to other states in “south-southeastern” Mexico.
“Here in Chiapas we look at the rise of the south with great pleasure,” he said, adding that the region’s ascent was made possible by “the fourth transformation” – the federal government’s self-anointed nickname as well as a byword for the change it claims to be bringing to Mexico.
López Obrador, who has made investing in Mexico’s south and southeast a priority for his government, declared that now is “the time of the southeast,” which he described as “a region that was abandoned for a long time but is now rising again.”
In his subsequent engagement with reporters, the Tabasco-born leader cited his favorite past president when answering a question about Saturday’s rally.
“The truth is that a transformation can’t be carried out … if you don’t have the support of the people. … As Juárez said: ‘Con el pueblo todo, sin el pueblo nada,'” López Obrador said, indicating that anything – or literally everything – is possible with the support of the people but nothing can be achieved without it.
Asked about a group of people who burned an effigy of Supreme Court Chief Justice Norma Piña during the rally to express their dissatisfaction with Mexico’s judicial branch of government, the president said he disapproved.
“These kinds of actions shouldn’t be carried out, it’s not the best thing to do. I believe there are ways of protesting without reaching those extremes,” he said.
In response to another query, AMLO said that migration, development cooperation and security were among the issues discussed at his meeting with U.S. lawmakers last Sunday.
“The meeting was very good, very respectful and we reached agreements to continue working together with respect for our sovereignties,” he said.
López Obrador later said he didn’t envision any major problems for Mexican financial institutions or the Mexican economy in light of the collapse of two banks in the United States.
“The situation in Mexico is special. Of course there can be unexpected events, external factors … but the Mexican economy is solid,” he said, adding that Mexican banks obtained “record profits” of 240 billion pesos last year.
“… There is macroeconomic stability in the country and no crisis in sight. The Mexican economy grew more than the United States and Chinese economies last year. So we have very good economic indicators,” AMLO said.
On the actual anniversary of Benito Juárez’s birth, López Obrador was in the city of Oaxaca, capital of the state where the former president was born in 1806.
“Later we’ll be in Gueletao,” AMLO said, referring to the small town where Júarez was born. “As we do every year we’re going to hold a ceremony there to remember Benito Juárez.”
Governor Salomón Jara, another representative of the ruling Morena party, welcomed the president to Oaxaca and praised him and his government for completing infrastructure projects in the state including the paving of roads to 240 municipal seats.
“As you mentioned, in 2009 we toured the 570 municipalities of Oaxaca and we took note of all the municipalities that didn’t have [paved] roads to their municipal seats. [It was] half of the municipalities of Oaxaca – a disgrace of the previous governments, the neoliberal governments that never looked toward Oaxaca, toward the south and southeast,” he said.
The official in charge of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Interoceanic Corridor (CIIT) later gave an update on that infrastructure project, which includes the modernization of a railroad between Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, and Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.
“The rehabilitation of the tracks” is just over 79% complete, Raymundo Morales said, adding that the rail project would be finished in August.
López Obrador noted that 10 industrial parks are also part of the CIIT project.
“Companies will set up [in the parks], there will be work. This is the future for the isthmus, for the new generations,” he said. “So that they set up these plants, we’re going to … offer tax subsidies.”
The president also outlined a range of other advantages of manufacturing in Mexico.
“We have natural resources, electricity, water and the most important thing – a trained responsible workforce,” said López Obrador, who has promoted development in the country’s southeast due to the abundance of water there.
“… And we have another advantage: the average age in Mexico is 29, we have a young workforce and in the United States, Canada and Europe they have a serious problem because their population is older,” he said.
“They’re comparative advantages; that’s why I’m sure that Mexico is already on its way to becoming an [economic] powerhouse. It’s going to take a little bit of time but the foundations for this are being laid.”
Among other remarks, López Obrador asserted that a new U.S. State Department report that detailed “significant human rights issues” in Mexico is full of lies, and claimed that the case against former U.S. president Donald Trump involving his payment of hush money to a porn star is politically motivated.
“They’re going to arrest him … so that he doesn’t appear on the electoral ballot for the 2024 presidential election,” he said.
“I say this because I suffered from the fabrication of a crime because they didn’t want me to be a candidate [at the 2006 presidential election], and that’s completely anti-democratic,” López Obrador said, referring to an accusation related to a property expropriation that he faced while mayor of Mexico City in the early 2000s.
Back at the National Palace in Mexico City after two days in the south, AMLO began his presser with a lesson on ways to prevent crime.
“Attention to the causes, attending to young people, is very important,” he said.
“… It’s very important that people have job opportunities, that their incomes, their salaries, are enough. Combating social inequality is very important. Strengthening cultural, moral and spiritual values is very important. Avoiding family breakdown is very important,” López Obrador said.
He declared that the government’s security strategy – colloquially known as “abrazos, no balazos,” or hugs, not bullets – is working and that the national crime rate is going down.
“This is very good because if there is peace, … if there is no violence, one lives without fear, one lives in freedom. We’re making progress, we’re implementing our strategy of attending to the causes,” AMLO said.
Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez later reported that a total of 6,352 federal crimes – among which are firearms, financial and migration offenses – were reported in February, a 29.9% decline compared to December 2018, the government’s first month in office.
A comparison between the same two months found that homicides declined 21.1% in February to 2,282 – an average of 81.5 per day.
Rodríguez was relieved by media monitor Ana García Vilchis, who sought to clear up misconceptions about who smuggles fentanyl into the United States.
“An NPR/Ipsos poll from September 2022 found that 39% of Americans and 60% of Republicans believe that the majority of fentanyl that enters the United States [from Mexico] is brought in by unauthorized migrants who cross the border illegally. This is false,” she said.
“In reality, fentanyl is mainly smuggled across the border by United States citizens for users who are almost completely United States citizens,” García said while presenting U.S. data that showed that 86% of arrests in 2021 for the trafficking of the synthetic opioid were of American citizens.
López Obrador once again took aim at the United States government when he returned to the helm of his mañanera to respond to reporters’ questions.
“Of course we’re against the blockade of Cuba,” he said in response to a journalist who accused the United States government of hypocrisy by pointing out human rights violations committed by other governments while ignoring its own.
“We consider it a flagrant violation of human rights. … No people are authorized to subjugate another people. … We’ll always be with [the people of Cuba], we’re brothers, Latin Americans, and we won’t allow this perverse strategy to continue,” said López Obrador, who has previously advocated an end to the U.S. embargo.
In subsequent remarks, the president acknowledged that a body believed to be that of a man accused of murdering two priests in Chihuahua last June had been found in Sinaloa.
“It will be known today” whether the body is that of José Noriel “El Chueco” Portillo Gil, López Obrador said.
“It was confirmed that the person they found dead in Choix, Sinaloa, is José Noriel Portillo Gil,” López Obrador said toward the end of his Thursday press conference.
“It has now been confirmed by studies. I just got the information,” he told reporters.
Earlier in his mañanera, AMLO gave what he described as a “scoop” to a reporter from a Sonora-based news outlet, although dozens of other journalists were in the room.
“The deadline for the regularization of [illegally imported] foreign cars is going to be extended, three more months,” the president said, referring to an amnesty program that was set to conclude this month.
“… We’re doing this because having records [of so-called autos chocolates] helps us on the issue of security,” he said. “There are crimes committed in these vehicles and we can’t identify their real owners because they’re not registered.”
While responding to a question about the plight of beekeepers on the Yucatán Peninsula, AMLO spotted an opportunity to take aim at Vulcan Materials Company, a United States construction aggregates firm that denounced an “illegal” takeover and occupation of its Quintana Roo marine terminal by federal and state security forces last week.
The company, he said, has committed “ecocide” on the Quintana Roo coast by destroying mangroves across a “large area” and even damaging archaeological sites.
“… It took gravel from Playa del Carmen … and the coast of the Caribbean, from the most beautiful tourism area of Mexico and one of the most beautiful in the world,” López Obrador said.
“They used land … to extract gravel and took that material to the United States to use in the construction of highways. All this because of the complicity there was with [past] pseudo-environmentalist authorities … who gave them the permits,” he said.
The president indicated that he believed that the security forces and personnel from the building materials company Cemex had done nothing wrong by entering Vulcan’s facility because judges had “authorized” its use by Cemex.
In a presser dedicated entirely to responding to reporters’ questions, AMLO repeated his assertion that his government doesn’t spy on citizens and said he suspected that the Guacamaya hacking group – which last year leaked thousands of Defense Ministry documents – is made up of “international agencies linked to the conservative group headed by [businessman and government critic] Claudio X. González.”
He also took a shot at the three-party opposition alliance known as Va por México when a reporter asked him whether it would be weakened by the removal of former interior minister Miguel Osorio Chong as Senate leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.
“I don’t get involved in that,” López said before adding: “Look, the conservative bloc has no future because they’re divorced from the people.
AMLO showed off his grade school poetry skills at the beginning of his last presser of the week after announcing he would spend another weekend inspecting progress on the construction of the Maya Train railroad.
“As you already know an order dada [given] but not supervisada [supervised] is good for nada [nothing],” he quipped.
With a pass to probe the president pending from the previous day, one reporter inquired about a meeting on Thursday with billionaire businessman Larry Fink, CEO of investment company BlackRock.
“In general there is a good environment for investment,” López Obrador began.
“Mexico is among the countries … with the most advantages for foreign investment because it has a trade agreement that allows what is produced in Mexico to be exported to the United States and Canada [tariff-free]. That’s why a lot of investment is arriving and the forecast is that Mexico is going to grow a lot more than other countries,” he said.
“There are unbeatable conditions; Mexico is becoming an economic powerhouse with a social dimension. Business people agree with that and that’s what Larry Fink expressed yesterday. … We spoke about projects for Mexico and they’re determined to keep investing in the country,” AMLO said of BlackRock, which has investments worth US $102 billion in Latin America, according to the company’s website.
He was later asked about U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s acceptance this week that drug cartels control parts of Mexico.
“That’s false, it’s not true,” López Obrador said after claiming that a Republican – Senator Lindsey Graham – effectively put the words in Blinken’s mouth.
“About a year ago a commander of the armed forces of the United States said the same thing and he was informed that it wasn’t true,” he added.
The president also took umbrage at Blinken’s remark that he is “very concerned” about the situation with Vulcan in Quintana Roo.
“Maybe [Blinken] doesn’t have all the information and … it would be good for him to know about this company, Vulcan, which, in cahoots with former Mexican authorities, destroyed our territory,” López Obrador said.
Remaining on the attack, AMLO accused National Electoral Institute (INE) chief Lorenzo Córdova of traveling to the United States to partake in “right-wing, fascist political tourism.”
He said he wasn’t surprised that Córdova, whose tenure at the helm of the INE ends in early April, attended a meeting in Washington with the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro.
“It’s not news that he met with Almagro,” he said after describing Córdova as “a representative of Mexico’s oligarchy” and an “anti-democratic character.”
“They’re the same, they’re like other internationalists in Washington, … [like] those in the State Department dedicated to supporting the right-wing movements of Latin America and the world,” AMLO said.
Among other remarks, the president said that the “serious” security situation in Guanajuato is related to the use of drugs in that state – Mexico’s most violent – and declared that Thursday was a “bad day” with 80 homicides across the country, a figure that is in fact below the daily average last year, during which over 30,000 murders were recorded.
Before calling an end to another week of mañaneras, López Obrador took a moment to call out the Reforma newspaper’s publication on Twitter of a video that showed the terminal of the Felipe Ángeles International Airport – one of the president’s signature infrastructure projects – largely empty on the first anniversary of its opening earlier this week.
“It has flights and planes are arriving and it’s [doing] fine, but they dedicate themselves to this. I think they went there at about four in the morning,” he said.
By Mexico News Daily chief staff writer Peter Davies ([email protected])