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The president spoke from Oaxaca on Monday. The president spoke from Oaxaca on Monday. Presidencia de la República

Three years in, Oaxaca, Michoacán and omicron: the week at the morning press conferences

The president spoke to a huge crowd in the zócalo on Wednesday night to celebrate 3 years in office

President López Obrador’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been rather novel. Unlike the denialist stance of former U.S. president Donald Trump, or his political likeness Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, AMLO has quoted the scientific evidence, meanwhile preferencing individual liberties over public safety. Lockdown measures were never strictly enforced in Mexico, borders never closed and a COVID-19 test is still not required of travelers entering the country.

Monday

The president was in Oaxaca city on Monday, which he called the “cultural heart of Mexico.” He’d toured three of the state’s infrastructure projects over the weekend.

Governor Alejandro Murat thanked him for investing in the state and making the people of Oaxaca “protagonists.”

The president congratulated the winners of Sunday’s Mexico City Marathon — Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes in the women’s contest and two Mexican runners in the men’s — before assuring that the new strain of COVID-19, omicron, was little to be concerned about.

Later in the conference, he showed unusual affection for a journalist. “[I want] to acknowledge you for the way you ask your questions, with respect. Despite representing a publication that is hostile to us … I want to thank you for that. Maybe I’m going to hurt [your reputation], but really that makes me want to hug you.” 

However, the love didn’t stretch to independent journalist Carmen Aristegui, whom the president accused of cooking up a story about land owned by his sons.

A Oaxacan treat unsurprisingly made the president’s morning menu: “My critics, who are a few, say that I wouldn’t exchange coming to Oaxaca and eating a tlayuda for any trip abroad, and maybe they’re right.” 

Tuesday

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum played host on Tuesday. She said that severe crimes had gone from an average of 169 per day in the city to 99, a 41% reduction.

Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval confirmed crimes of all categories were down. While in 2020 there were 1,130 homicides, so far in 2021 there had only been 770, he added.

Crime is down both in the capital and across the country, speakers reported on Tuesday.
Crime is down both in the capital and across the country, speakers reported on Tuesday. Presidencia de la República

COVID quarterback Hugo López-Gatell stepped up to the mark. Intensive care units were only at 13% of capacity and vaccines would protect against the new COVID-19 variant omicron, he said. The deputy health minister added that global risk from COVID-19 was due to poorer countries not being provided vaccines, before arguing against border closures.

The president said booster shots were being considered as a measure to tackle omicron, but later confirmed that a hands-off approach to handling the pandemic would continue: “Since the pandemic began … we’ve been against authoritarianism … here there was never and will never be a curfew,” he said.

“Why the rush?” a journalist queried as AMLO attempted to wrap up the conference.

The president confirmed he had a date for breakfast: Larry Fink, the head of New York investment firm BlackRock.

Wednesday

AMLO celebrated three years in office on Wednesday, and spoke to a large crowd in the Mexico City zócalo at dusk.

There were 250,000 in attendance at AMLO's rally on Wednesday, according to the Mexico City government.
There were 250,000 in attendance at AMLO’s rally on Wednesday, according to the Mexico City government. Presidencia de la República

“We continue forward because of the cultural strength of our people, who have always saved us from calamities, but also because of the formula we have been applying to govern honestly and put all our attention toward the well-being of the people.”

He detailed the government’s social plans, infrastructure projects and clarified red lines around ecology, such as the banning of fracking, genetically modified crops and of all concessions to mining companies.

On economics he said the peso was stable, that the government hadn’t taken on any debt, and he confirmed a 22% rise in the minimum wage for 2022.

AMLO assured the crowd that the country was on the right track: “The accusations that we are militarizing the country lack all logic and the most basic of good faith … in three years the mentality of the people has changed like never before, that this is the most important thing of all: the revolution of consciences, the change of mentality,” he said.

“Long live Mexico.”

Thursday

Tortilla economics returned to the conference on Thursday. The 22% minimum wage hike, said Labor Minister Luisa Alacalde, “will be enough in 2022 … to acquire 10 kilos of tortilla. If we compare it with 2018, you can now buy 3.5 kilograms more,” she said, before adding the increase would benefit 6.3 million minimum wage earners.

Why had the president’s speech in the zócalo complained about political “zigzagging,” a journalist asked.

For AMLO, it was a question of authenticity: “To be a politician was to take care of your image. I’ve talked about the gel haircut … fake laughter … the recommendation of all publicists was that you have to run to the center, that is, if you were on the left … you have to run to the center to look good to everyone. It was even said, politics is like the violin, in the case of campaigns. It is held on the left, but played from the right … That’s the shift to the center. Zigzagging, the loss of authenticity.”

Africa, the president said, was at high risk from new mutations of COVID-19.

“In Africa, out of every 100 [people] only six are vaccinated. The complaint of many leaders in Africa is of abandonment, because they do not have the vaccines.”

Friday

Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez.
Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez. Presidencia de la República

The president and his entourage were in Morelia, Michoacán, on Friday.

Governor Alfredo Ramírez, who said homicides had tripled under his predecessor, observed that peace was coming to the embattled town of Aguililla “little by little.”

Defense Minister Sandoval detailed the security situation in the state. Homicide, he said, was the eighth worst in the country and the fifth worst for October. It was on the increase: 1,832 in 2020 and 1,976 so far in 2021.

Michoacán, the president said, represents the best and worst of political history. He called Lázaro Cárdenas, who led the country in the 1930s and nationalized oil, the best president of the 20th century. “We have to reach the heights of General Cárdenas, General [Francisco José] Mujica, [José María] Morelos and  Melchor Ocampo, who said, ‘I break, but I don’t bend,'” before adding that to bend would be an act of submission.

The president derided the politics of former President Felipe Calderón, who was popularly know as the “Butcher of Michoacán.”

“We must guarantee peace without bravado, without the hot-blooded shooting, all that was a disaster … Felipe Calderón came dressed as a soldier to Michoacán to declare war, to foolishly beat the hornet’s nest, without a plan,” he said.

Not all politicians are the same, he insisted. “You can call me the fish, but I’m not a lizard,” the Tabascan signed off, making a reference to his nickname, El Peje, which is derived from pejelagarto, a fish found in Tabasco. Lagarto means lizard.

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