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Tuesday's mañanera brings out a full house of cabinet ministers. Tuesday's mañanera brings out a full house of cabinet ministers.

Statues, high water and unfirm ground: the week at AMLO’s press conferences

Mussolini, Columbus and Kamala Harris all gained a mention at the president's mañaneras

President López Obrador had spent the weekend checking up on his flagship project, the Maya Train. The 1,525-kilometer railway is set to traverse the Yucatán Peninsula, an economically deprived region historically.

The massive infrastructural project could change the face of the southeast of the country, connecting far-flung ruins, indigenous towns and tourist hotspots. AMLO has said trains will be running before he leaves office in 2024.

On Monday, the man from Tabasco was back at the morning news conferences bright and early as ever.

Monday

It was a morbid start to Monday. A journalist asked AMLO how he would like to be remembered alongside the great presidents now lying in the political cemetery of history. The leader from Tepetitán said that wasn’t for him to answer: “I can’t talk about that, history will tell. I want to finish well, to continue serving the people of Mexico and when time goes by the people will judge us,” he said.

Ideological battles came to the fore later in the conference. Right wing Spanish politicians had been in town the previous week, and AMLO pointed to other foreign agents —in the time of Mussolini — who had brought propaganda to Mexico to smear the name of communism. “Mexicans, this is made in Italy, if we do not destroy communism, it will destroy our family, our moral ideas, our civilization, our longings for freedom, our homeland,” read one poster.

But the president made clear that the c-word wasn’t a term he’d shy away from. “What is communism? If to be a humanist is to be a communist, let them put me on the list,” he said.

Tuesday

“It’s raining a lot; yesterday we had floods in many states in the country,” opened the president. In better news, COVID point man Hugo López-Gatell confirmed a fourth week of reduction in cases and two thirds of adults vaccinated with a first shot. However, on the education front it was a mixed bag. Education Minister Delfina Gómez Álvarez skimmed through some unflattering figures: only just over 50% of students had returned to classes.

Another presidential raffle was set for September 15, the day of the El Grito independence celebration. AMLO brought on lottery official David Roberto Jacinto Rodríguez to detail the 22 prizes on offer, which include former narco properties and a box at the Azteca stadium.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard stepped up. He was off to the United States on Thursday, and expressed the urgency of a solution to the migrant crisis. Seven hundred and fifty migrants, many of them minors, had been rescued by authorities in three recent events, he said.

Defense Minister Sandoval reports on construction at Mexico City's new airport.
Defense Minister Sandoval reports on construction at Mexico City’s new airport.

Later in the conference, the president demonstrated his dexterity. A journalist posed the topic of the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, which threatened the legal autonomy of Sinaloa and Coahuila. AMLO, the journalist said, had previously taken a pro life stance.

“These are very controversial, contentious issues and we do not want to encourage any confrontation … if it is already in the Supreme Court, then let it be resolved there … I’m not taking sides,” the president declared.

Wednesday

Tula was at the top of the agenda. The president extended his condolences to the 16 patients killed in a Hidalgo hospital after the building flooded, and then addressed the big movements the previous evening: a powerful earthquake had hit Acapulco, Guerrero, and shaken Mexico City hard.

Ana Elizabeth García Vilchis lined up the fake news. The Christopher Columbus statue — removed from its plinth on Reforma Avenue in October — had not been destroyed; hospitals had indeed received cash prizes from the last presidential raffle; hospital ventilators were all fully functional.

AMLO revived Columbus, and celebrated his fall: Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum “has made the decision to put a sculpture of an indigenous woman on Reforma Avenue [in place of Columbus.] It seems very good … I celebrate it because it is a recognition of the deep cultural greatness Mexico, of pre-Hispanic Mexico,” he said, and added that Mexico’s heritage goes deeper than recent European developments: “In Teotihuacán there’s a huge pyramid … from the year A.D. 600, we’re talking about 900 years before the Spaniards arrived …”

Later in the conference, AMLO found himself in a mischievous mood. Visits from right-wing Spanish politicians were no problem, he said, and managed to mispronounce the name of their political party: “So, welcome to those from Fox — Vox.” The cynical observer might see a feigned reference to a former right-wing president of Mexico.

Thursday

The now defunct disaster relief fund Fonden was a “bag of money” for corrupt officials, AMLO said. Chiefs of Civil Protection, the Well Being Ministty, the navy, the defense ministry and transportation all took to the podium to detail how natural disasters were now being better tackled, including support for 35,000 people in Tula, Hidalgo.

Migration arrived at the conference: another 648 migrants had been rescued in Nuevo León to add to the 750 announced by Marcelo Ebrard on Tuesday.

“That’s what’s being discussed today in Washington. The United States has to take the decision to help poor countries, the Central American countries, and attend the causes of the migration phenomenon,” AMLO said. “Now it’s a new era … there hadn’t been any attention to the population which has to emigrate. There hadn’t been anything in years … it’s all coercive,” he added.

What of police abuse against migrants, posed a journalist. “We don’t have information about that,” AMLO replied.

Education Minister Gómez reported that schools are only at half capacity.
Education Minister Gómez reported that schools are only at half capacity.

The cause of the Tula hospital disaster was revealed. Dams had overflowed causing the roads to turn to rivers and the hospital could not be contacted, said Civil Protection chief Laura Velázquez.

A Spanish journalist returned to the conference. In his last appearance, he had said that apologies for historic wrongs were inappropriate, and that Mexico should be appreciative of what the European conquerors had brought. Now, polarization was on the menu. Words like fifí, to refer to wealthy snobs, and chairo, to describe idealistic young protesters, were having a negative impact, he said.

“Brotherhood,” the president replied, reigns in Mexico.

Friday

The Felipe Ángeles Airport, being built to serve Mexico City, was first on the Friday menu. The president had been irked by an article in the newspaper El Universal which claimed construction workers were being poorly treated. Engineers and the military top brass spoke to give their enthusiastic support to the project, which is more than two thirds complete.

Back to statues. A plinth stood empty at the President’s Causeway, located at Los Pinos, the official presidential residence where AMLO had chosen not to live. Would his effigy take its rightful place there after his term?

“I don’t want my name to be used to name any street, I don’t want statues, I don’t want my name to be used to name a school, a hospital. Absolutely nothing,” the president insisted.

On Thursday’s economic talks in Washington, one journalist reported U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said there will be investment in Central America. The president called for a Panamerican future: “The union of our America or North America, Central America, South America, all of America, we have to unite,” he said.

A busy weekend was ahead for AMLO with travel to Sonora, Sinaloa, and Nayarit.

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