Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Telegraphs, tranquilizers and tourism: the week at the mañaneras

President López Obrador met with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel in Campeche last weekend and awarded him the Order of the Aztec Eagle – the highest Mexican order bestowed upon foreigners.

After praising Cuba for its “example of resistance” during more than six decades, AMLO this week returned his focus to his own government and the “fourth transformation” he claims it is carrying out in Mexico.

Miguel Díaz-Canel and Andrés Manuel López Obrador
AMLO awarded Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel with the Order of the Aztec Eagle on Feb. 11 (@lopezobrador Twitter)

Monday

“Good morning, cheer up, we’re beginning the week and it will be very good for all of us. We have to have a lot of faith,” AMLO enthused at the opening of his Monday mañanera.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard made an early appearance and announced that Mexico would donate US $6 million in aid to Syria to assist recovery efforts in the wake of last week’s devastating Turkey-Syria earthquake.

National Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval subsequently presented a video report that noted that Mexican personnel in Turkey had rescued four people from earthquake rubble and recovered 29 bodies.

In a return to domestic affairs, the director of the National Tourism Promotion Fund (Fonatur) provided an update on construction of the Playa del Carmen-Tulum section of the Maya Train railroad, a project that has been vehemently opposed by environmentalists.

Tramo 5 Sur, as the section is called “is unique because more than 60% of the tracks will be elevated … in order to protect the area’s karst ground, cenotes, caverns and subterranean rivers,” Javier May said without mentioning the vast swaths of forest that have been cleared for the project.

The Fonatur chief also said that the project has created 6,500 jobs, most of which have been filled by local workers.

The governor of Quintana Roo – the state in which Tramo 5 Sur is located – was also on hand to extol the virtues of the multi-billion-dollar Maya Train railroad, a pet project of the president.

The “historic investment” is a “reflection of a humanist vision … oriented toward equality,” asserted Mara Lezama, a representative of AMLO’s Morena party.

The project will allow the “tourism success” of Quintana Roo to be “reflected in the wellbeing of [local] families,” she added.

Mara Lezama at press conference
Quintana Roo governor Mara Lezama (Gob MX)

During his Q & A session with reporters, López Obrador said that he expected the sale of Citibanamex to be finalized soon.

Completing the sale is “very important because it will mean providing certainty to workers and customers of this bank,” he said.

AMLO later found an opportunity to continue a recurring, time-honored mañanera tradition – a pause in proceedings for a musical interlude. While contemplating the past and present plight of migrants in the United States, the president asked for the song Latinoamérica by Puerto Rican band Calle 13 to be played because of the message of Latin American solidarity it conveys.

“The Hispanics that honorably work and live in the United States don’t like migrants of the same origin in a broad sense to be mistreated. The [Calle 13] song applies here,” he said.

Tuesday

AMLO noted at the top of his presser that it wasn’t just Valentine’s Day but also the Day of the Telegraphist.

“They were very important people in the towns where there were only telegraphs,” he said.

During a health update, Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell reported that authorities were aware of 45 cases across 18 states in which adolescents consumed the prescription-only tranquilizer clonazepam while participating in a social media challenge dubbed “the last one to fall asleep wins.”

Most cases occurred at private homes outside school hours, although media coverage has focused on incidents at schools, he said.

“As a preventative measure, it’s important to highlight the importance of family communication with these young people, … [what’s needed is] open communication about drugs and the risks young people face in general – injuries, accidents, alcohol abuse, unsafe sex, violence by a partner, gender violence, social violence, bullying,” López-Gatell said.

Back at center stage, López Obrador rejected a claim by former ambassador to the United States Martha Bárcena that Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard negotiated the United States “Remain in Mexico” immigration policy behind his back.

“It has no foundation,” the president declared before the foreign minister himself denied the accusation first made by former U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo in his book Never Give an Inch.

Martha Bárcena, former Mexican ambassador to the United States
Martha Bárcena, former Mexican ambassador to the United States (Cuartoscuro)

“Since she left her post, the former ambassador has dedicated herself to slandering me wherever she can. I would say it’s an obsessive grudge. … What she maintains in the interview with León Krauze … is simply false,” Ebrard said.

“… There was never a decision or action that I took hiding information from the president, I wouldn’t be foreign minister now [if I had done that],” he said.

In response to a subsequent question about a five-year-old boy in Durango who tried to exchange his soccer ball – his only toy – for bread and milk in order to help his mother, AMLO assured that his family would receive government assistance.

“There’s not a municipality in Mexico … where support for girls, boys, campesinos, young people and seniors doesn’t arrive,” he said. “This year 600 billion pesos is being dispersed directly for the benefit of 25 million families.”

Wednesday

Media monitor Ana García Vilchis was back to present her “Who’s who in the lies of the week” segment and introduced a video that took aim at former president Calderón.

“The ex-president Felipe Calderón has used his Twitter account to share fake news and unverified information,” said the video’s narrator.

Among four allegedly misinformed tweets the video exposed was one in which Calderón said that a jaguar escaping from the destruction of jungle due to construction of the Maya Train railroad was run over this week.

“However, the image he shared in his tweet corresponded to an accident that occurred in Mato Grosso, Brazil, in 2016,” the video’s narrator said.

Manuel Bartlett
Manuel Bartlett, head of the CFE (Gob MX)

Manuel Bartlett, the octogenarian head of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), subsequently walked a few paces to the mañanera lectern and declared that it was an “unacceptable injustice” that more than 20 millions Mexicans in rural parts of the country are unable to connect to the internet.

However, the current government, via the CFE, launched its own telecommunications service “to take internet to the millions of Mexicans disconnected from information and culture,” said the narrator of a video presented by the veteran official, a former federal minister and governor of Puebla.

AMLO later responded to a question about the government’s decision to phase out imports of genetically modified corn for human consumption.

“Foods that could be harmful to health shouldn’t be allowed anywhere,” he said, adding that human health must be prioritized over profits.

The United States government, which has expressed “deep concerns” over Mexico’s phaseout of GM corn by 2024, has begun to understand “that we have to act in this way,” López Obrador said.

Among other remarks, the president said that he would prefer that narcocorridos – songs that glorify the lives of drug traffickers – weren’t performed in public, but stopped short of saying they should be banned.

He also said that drama series about drug traffickers (such as the Netflix series Narcos) amount to “an apology for violence.”

“[They show] very beautiful women, handsome, well-dressed men, … [large] houses – like those of [former security minister] García Luna, mansions, latest model cars, jewels, … exotic animals,” AMLO said.

“… But what is there about the harm caused by drugs? … Nothing, very little,” he bemoaned.

Just before the end of his presser, AMLO said he would veto proposed changes to a century-old law that stipulates the imposition of punishments for the publication of “insults” directed at the president of the day.

He then proceeded to read La calumnia (Slander), a poem by the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío that says that a diamond may be stained by mud but will nevertheless remain a diamond.

AMLO’s implication? That mudslinging directed at him does little to harm his good reputation among a majority of Mexicans.

Thursday 

After an introduction from AMLO, Javier May made another appearance and announced that 16,414 hectares of Fonatur land “with high environmental value” had been identified as being suitable for conversion into natural protected areas.

“This will contribute to guaranteeing people their right to a healthy environment and to protecting species in danger of extinction,” the Fonatur chief said.

A Fonatur video showing the proposed lands to be converted to protected areas.

 

“It will also avoid the excessive exploitation of natural resources, combat real estate corruption and protect public assets.”

Diego Prieto Hernández, head of the National Institute of Anthropology and History, subsequently reported that around 90% of archaeological prospecting work along the route of the under-construction Maya Train railroad had been completed.

Among the discoveries were 481 human skeletons in pre-Hispanic graves, he said.

During his engagement with reporters, President López Obrador declared that the airline Aeromar – which folded this week – was poorly managed.

“It’s one of those cases where the company goes bankrupt but the owners don’t,” he said.

López Obrador said that the government attempted to avoid the collapse of the airline by allowing it to postpone payment of debts owed to authorities including the tax agency SAT.

But “in the end they said, ‘we’re closing, we can’t [continue operating],” he said, adding that the government was attempting to find positions for about 500 newly-unemployed Aeromar workers.

The president then reiterated that a new army-run passenger airline that will operate under the defunct Mexicana brand is likely to begin flying by the end of the year with 10 planes.

In a subsequent (at least partly) tongue-in-cheek remark, the Tabasco-born presidente said that his dedication to fighting the previous federal government’s energy reform that opened up the sector to private and foreign companies was the cause of his heart attack in 2013.

AMLO in 2013 protest
AMLO in the Zócalo leading a protest against energy reform in 2013 (LopezObrador.org.mx)

“We filled the Zócalo twice, three times [to protest] against that reform that privatized oil,” he said, referring to Mexico City’s central square.

AMLO later said that he was considering filing a lawsuit against a lawyer for Genaro García Luna due to his claim at the former security minister’s New York trial that ex Sinaloa Cartel member Jesús Zambada gave him US $7 million for his 2006 presidential campaign.

“I’m seeing if it’s possible to file a lawsuit for moral damage … in the United States,” he said, adding that he could seek $7 million in compensation and give any payout to “families of victims of the [militarized] war” on drug cartels launched by Felipe Calderón shortly after he was sworn in as president in 2006.

“I’m looking at whether [I’ll file the suit] as Andrés Manuel or as the president of Mexico,” López Obrador said.

Friday 

In Hermosillo, Sonora, for his last mañanera of the week, AMLO noted that he would subsequently travel to Puerto Peñasco to officially open the first stage of a massive solar farm.

“It’s very important, it’s very good news,” the president said, adding that it will be the largest solar plant in all of Latin America when it’s completely finished.

Sonora Governor Alfonso Durazo, López Obrador’s erstwhile security minister, took center stage and noted that it was his former boss’s 24th visit to the northern border state since he took office in late 2018.

“In each visit there is proof of a pledged word, … deeds that confirm the fulfillment of each of the commitments that the president has made with sonorenses,” he said, using the demonym for residents of the state.

AMLO at the Puerto Peñasco solar power plant
AMLO at the solar power plant in Puerto Peñasco, Sonora (Gob MX)

The new solar plant, Durazo said, is a “state-of-the-art facility … that will mark a before and after in the generation … of solar energy, not just in Sonora but at a national level.”

The governor also touted a 10% reduction in homicides in Sonora in 2022 compared to the previous year.

National Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval later noted that Sonora was the seventh most violent state in Mexico in terms of both total homicides and per capita murders between December 2018 – the month the current government took office – and the end of 2022.

He also observed that Sonora is the second largest state in Mexico in terms of area (Chihuahua ranks first) and the 18th largest in terms of population (México state ranks first in that category).

During his verbal to and fro with reporters, AMLO asserted that his government is attending to the needs of indigenous communities in a “special way.”

“But in the case of the Yaqui people [in Sonora] I believe the support is even greater because the justice plan for the Yaqui people is comprehensive,” he said.

AMLO, Alfonso Durazo, Katie Hobbs and Ken Salazar
Sonora governer Alfonso Durazo (left), AMLO, Arizona governor Katie Hobbs (right) and U.S. ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar (far right).

“… Land taken from them after the presidential resolution of general Lázaro Cárdenas is being returned. … We’ve already returned 30,000 hectares,” said López Obrador, a self-styled champion of Mexico’s most marginalized people.

Turning to international affairs, AMLO said he didn’t want to transfer the leadership of the four-nation Pacific Alliance to Peruvian President Dina Boluarte because he considers her government “illegitimate.”

“What happened in Peru” – where former president Pedro Castillo was ousted by the Congress in December – “is extremely serious,” he said, adding that there were no “legal foundations” for his removal and incarceration.

“They don’t respect the will of the people and what there is beneath is a classist, racist attitude because he’s an [indigenous] teacher from the mountains, a humble man,” López Obrador said.

“… I don’t want to legitimize a coup, we can’t do it, that’s contrary to freedoms, contrary to human rights and it’s anti-democratic,” he said.

In a lighter mood at the end of his presser, the president spoke at some length about baseball, his favorite sport.

AMLO with baseball players
AMLO with retired Mexican baseball players (@Lopezobrador Twitter)

“The World Baseball Classic is coming up and the Mexican team is very strong with very good players and hopefully we’ll do well. Some games are going to be played close to here in Arizona, in Phoenix I think, it won’t be very far to go,” he told reporters in Hermosillo, before reconsidering his remark and inquiring, “Phoenix is far away, isn’t it?”

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