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President López Obrador at his Tuesday press conference. Presidencia de la República

Slicing up the American pie: the week at the morning press conferences

Migration featured heavily in the build-up to the president's trip to Central America and the Caribbean

President López Obrador checked up on his flagship Maya Train project last weekend. A rail enthusiast, AMLO has previously related that he used to travel to his home state Tabasco on a now defunct passenger line from Mexico City to Palenque, Chiapas. He has even noted the contributions to Mexican rail by a politician he otherwise despises, the dictator Porfirio Díaz, who ruled Mexico for 31 years at the turn of the 20th century.

Monday

The president lined up the troops to attest to the ecological and social benefits of the Maya Train project. Environment Minister María Luisa Albores said relatively few trees were endangered by construction, compared to the many being planted nearby through the Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life) reforestation program. The head of the National Tourism Promotion Fund (Fonatur), Javier May, assured the project represents “development with justice,” providing investment in education, health and housing in its wake.

Later in the conference, López Obrador said it was U.S. funded groups that were blocking the progress of the project. “We continue to demand that the U.S. government no longer intervenes by supporting those civil society groups … that is interference, it’s a lack of respect for our sovereignty,” he said.

The president rediscovered his charm when he was asked about his Friday call with U.S. President Joe Biden. “The conversation with President Biden was very good. He’s very respectful, he’s a good person,” he said, adding that they’d made progress on immigration policies, such as investment in Central America and temporary work visas for migrants.

Environment Minister María Luisa Albores highlights benefits of the Maya Train on Monday.
Environment Minister María Luisa Albores highlights benefits of the Maya Train on Monday. Presidencia de la República

However, on Texas Governor Greg Abbott, his mood swung again. Abbott provocatively said he’d consider declaring illegal migration at the border an “invasion,” by which he could invoke wartime powers. AMLO suggested he listen to “Somos más Americanos” (We are more American) by the much beloved norteño band Los Tigres del Norte.

Tuesday

The president introduced a briefing on health reforms, lamenting that only half of Mexicans have social security.

The director of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), Zoé Robledo, said the country was short more than 33,000 staff including doctors, specialists and nurses. He added that Nayarit had been the first state to benefit from direct federal health services and that Tlaxcala and Colima would be next.

Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, increasingly less preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic, offered a poetic vision of the vaccination program, which was almost reminiscent of a song famously sung by U.S. soul singer Marvin Gaye.

“One of the big challenges in the vaccination program was reaching people … community by community. Crossing rivers, climbing mountains, along winding roads and gorges,” he said.

Later in the conference, the president called for integrity in public life by quoting the 19th century Mexican writer, Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, meanwhile illustrating how to win the moral high ground.

“‘I’m poor because I didn’t want to steal. Others see me from the top of their carriages … but they see me with shame. I see them from above with my honesty and my legitimate pride. He who walks without remorse and is unstained always goes higher,'” he cited.

Wednesday

Much of Wednesday’s conference was dedicated to the plan to curb inflation of staple products. Business leaders were given an unusually warm welcome.

“A decision was taken to act on food-related issues, convincing, persuading, calling on producers, distributors and retailers to act together [with the government], without coercive measures. It’s not about price controls, it’s an agreement, an alliance to guarantee that the canasta básica has a fair price,” the president said, referring to a set of 24 staple goods.

A spokesperson from supermarket chain Walmart welcomed the plan, as did the global vice president of bread-maker giant Bimbo.

In addition to the usual officials and reporters, Wednesday's conference was attended by several prominent food industry leaders.
In addition to the usual officials and reporters, Wednesday’s conference was attended by several prominent food industry leaders. Presidencia de la República

Finance Minister Rogelio Ramírez de la O credited telecom magnate and Latin America’s richest man Carlos Slim for promising not to increase internet and telephone charges.

Although a frequent critic of big business, López Obrador called for a round of applause for the cooperative companies.

Federal fib-finder Ana Garía Vilchis said the government hadn’t ordered the destruction of a dam in Coahuila and insisted they weren’t trying to jail opponents of the failed electricity reform. She also found time to ask journalist Carlos Loret de Mola to declare his earnings and property portfolio.

Later in the conference, the president said his patience was wearing thin with U.S. promises for assistance to Central America. “We’re asking them to speed up because the Capitol managed to send US $30 billion in a few days for defense in Ukraine and we have been waiting four years for the authorization of US $4 billion for Central America,” he said.

Thursday

The president was in Puebla city on Thursday to commemorate the Battle of Puebla, when Mexican forces overcame a French assault in 1862. The holiday is better known as “Cinco de Mayo” (May 5) in the United States, where it is often celebrated more vigorously than in its country of origin.

Puebla Governor Miguel Barbosa speaks at Thursday's press conference.
Puebla Governor Miguel Barbosa speaks at Thursday’s press conference. Presidencia de la República

It would be the last conference of the week: the president had his bags packed for Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Cuba.

“It’s to express our solidarity with brotherly peoples, neighbors, from Central America and the Caribbean … We lack resources and there is a lot of need in Mexico … but preference must always be given to the poorest, the most humble, the most needy,” the president said of his trip, before alluding to his wish for the political unification of the Americas.
Migration was sure to be a topic of discussion during the trip. “There are partisan interests, interests of groups, political and economic interests which are the ones that have influence … they take advantage of the exclusionary policy,” he said of U.S. political figures, before calling for “Somos más Americanos” to be played in dedication to Mexican migrants in the United States.

Friday

The tabasqueño was on his travels, so there was no conference on Friday. Well-traveled too are Los Tigres del Norte. The band was formed by teenagers in Sinaloa in the 60s but only started recording once they had reached California. Migration features heavily in their songs, which have won them six Grammy awards.

Here is part of their song, “Somos más Americanos”:

“They’ve ordered me a thousand times,
That I return to my land,
Because I don’t belong here.
I want to remind the gringo,
I didn’t cross the border,
The border crossed me,
America was born free,
It was man that divided her.
They painted the [border] line,
For me to jump over,
And they call me an invader.
It’s a clear error,
Eight states were taken from us,
Who is the invader here?
I’m a foreigner in my own land,
I didn’t come to cause war,
I’m a hard working man.
Among brave warriors,
Indians from two continents,
Mixed with the Spanish,
If we go back through the centuries,
We are more American,
We are more American,
Than the son of the Anglo-Saxon.”

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