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

A song to dance the USMCA: the week at the morning news conferences

Sidesteps, swerves and direct confrontation were some of the moves on show during the mañaneras

President López Obrador demonstrated his capitalist credentials last weekend, inaugurating a Nestlé coffee factory in Veracruz.

Monday

AMLO opened the week with a dedication to “the best president in the history of Mexico,” referring to Benito Juárez and announced a post-conference ceremony to commemorate 150 years since the death of Mexico’s first indigenous leader.

“These autonomous bodies were created in the neoliberal period … they came up like mushrooms in the rain,” said the president, responding to a journalist’s charge that judges on an independent court were earning vast sums. “A kind of golden bureaucracy was created with very high salaries and all kinds of privileges,” the president continued, before pledging a one-off “Who’s who in the salaries” section, to reveal the earnings of public servants.

The president pays tribute to former leader Benito Juárez on Monday.
The president paid tribute to former leader Benito Juárez on Monday. Presidencia de la República

Fresh from his visit to Washington, D.C., López Obrador said the arrest of cartel leader Rafael Caro Quintero was unrelated to his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and insisted that U.S. security forces played no part in the arrest, despite their claims to the contrary.

However, the tabasqueño was ardent that another criminal case had been addressed: “I left a letter to President Biden about [Julian] Assange … explaining to him that Assange did not commit any serious crime, he did not cause the death of anyone, he did not violate any rights. He exercised his freedom, and that stopping him was going to mean a permanent affront to freedom of expression … I explained that Mexico is offering protection and asylum to Julian Assange,” he said of the long-imprisoned WikiLeaks founder, who is fighting extradition from the U.K. to the U.S.

Tuesday

The president confirmed a trade deal was in the making with Ecuador, but assured that shrimp and banana sellers in Mexico wouldn’t be compromised. He complimented the country’s center-right leader, Guillermo Lasso, before noting “it hasn’t been easy for him … facing protests and violence in prisons.” Another deadly prison riot in Ecuador left 13 inmates dead on Monday.

The safety of citizens was top of mind for the president, who endorsed an all inclusive strategy on the domestic security front. “It’s been decided that it is a matter of national security,” he said of section 5 of the Maya Train, adding that construction had resumed a week previously, despite a definitive suspension order from the courts. With the definitional change, responsibility for construction has passed to the Interior Ministry and the Security Ministry, although it is being managed by the National Tourism Promotion Fund (Fonatur).

It is not entirely clear what security threat emanates from a lack of train tracks in the country’s southeast.

“Doesn’t that argument have to be formally presented before the judges?” a journalist inquired, only to be met with a highly effective combination of denial and ambiguity.

Wednesday

Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez emphasized the downward trend in homicides in her report on Wednesday.
Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez emphasized the downward trend in homicides in her report on Wednesday. Presidencia de la República

In the monthly security report, the corresponding minister, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, celebrated only 15,400 murders in the first five months of the year, which she said was a 9.1% decrease in annual terms.

Tipping discourse in favor of truth, Ana Elizabeth García Vilchis addressed media wrongdoing in her “Who’s who in the lies of the week” section. García falsified a story “sung in chorus” by journalists that claimed U.S. President Joe Biden ordered AMLO to put up US $1.5 billion for security on the northern border. García also assured that the president wasn’t informed of the location of Caro Quintero by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

Later in the conference, López Obrador found a novel way to demonstrate that Mexico wasn’t taking orders from the U.S. Responding to criticism that his energy policy violates the USMCA trade agreement, he ordered a song. “We can explain the energy policy of our country … Let’s see if you can find my countryman, Chico Che,” he said. Chico Che’s song “¡Uy, que miedo!” (“Ooh, how scary!”) was played for journalists and viewers.

Thursday

The USMCA returned to the conference on Thursday after U.S. and Canadian officials announced they were seeking trade dispute talks over the government’s favoring of state energy companies. “There is no violation of the treaty … our policies are defined in Mexico and have to do with our Constitution and laws,” the president said.

López Obrador added that separate dispute proceedings related to USMCA were previously initiated against the U.S. and Canada, and that Mexico had 70 days to respond before the matter would be referred to an international tribunal.

“What is our agenda? It’s not to privatize education or health, nor to privatize oil … our agenda is the well-being of the people,” the president insisted.

Later in the conference, another conflict surfaced. A journalist complained in a lengthy speech that she hadn’t been granted access to the conferences and accused the president of preferring flattery to hard questions. When another reporter interrupted the tirade, he was swiftly dismissed. “Shut up, palero … Sorry, when you have your moment, I don’t interrupt. You’re a palero,” she said, accusing him of being a pawn of the government.

The press corps at Thursday's conference.
The press corps at Thursday’s conference. Presidencia de la República

“Love and peace, love and peace,” the tabasqueño implored, raising a peace sign with both hands.

Friday

The president was in the tourist city Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, on Friday. He wished President Biden a speedy recovery from COVID-19.

López Obrador presented his evidence from the text of the USMCA to prove there had been no violation of the treaty. Reading from chapter 8, which he said was inserted as a revision at the government’s insistence, he cited: “‘Mexico has the direct, inalienable, and imprescriptible ownership of all hydrocarbons … in the subsoil of the national territory.'”

The president added that the previous agreement was tantamount to treachery and blamed “the conservatives” for ceding more than half of Mexico’s territory to the U.S. in 1848. He later called out U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken for criticizing Mexico’s record for violence against journalists, amid the U.S. pursuit of Assange, whom he called “one of the best, if not the best journalist of our times.”

Before signing off on another week of conferences, AMLO conceded that security in Mexico was no piece of cake. “Of course it is complicated, it is difficult. It’s not tortas ahogadas or tamalitos de chipilín, but we have to address the causes where the violence originates,” he said, naming a couple of Mexican dishes to stress the futility of simplistic solutions.

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