It was time for 68-year-old President López Obrador to roll his sleeves up for another year of governance, having rested at his home in Palenque, Chiapas, over the festive break.
As his principal tool for public communication, the morning conferences in 2022 are sure to be dotted with moments of deep reflection, testy exchanges and memorable gaffes, rarely otherwise seen in the political arena.
A guest from the other side of the puddle joined the first conference of 2022. Jeremy Corbyn, a former U.K. prime ministerial candidate, attended with his Mexican wife, Laura Álvarez. The president described the member of the U.K. parliament as “a defender of just causes, a defender of workers.”
Later in the conference, Corbyn spoke in Spanish to thank the president, before switching to English to extol the value of the daily press conferences, to lament inequality — highlighting the needs of children in Chiapas — and to urge assistance for the world’s 70 million refugees.
The president offered a kind word to a politician of different stripes. “President Bolsonaro, of Brazil, was hospitalized. I hope he comes through it OK, and that he recovers.”
In response to a journalist, the Tabascan said school scholarships were the gift from the Three Kings to children via his administration. “That’s what Melchior, Gaspar and Baltazar are going to bring. But they [the children] should write their letters anyway.” The gift centered celebration was Kings Day on Thursday.
The president also gave an offer of asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is set to be extradited from the U.K. to the United States. “We are willing to offer Assange asylum in Mexico, that is our posture. We believe that the U.S. government must act with humanity. Assange is sick … before the end of President Donald Trump’s administration I sent him a letter asking him to exonerate [Assange].”
Health Minister Jorge Alcocer gave the COVID update on Tuesday as his deputy, Hugo López-Gatell, was off work with a cold.
Alcocer said the omicron variant was spreading fast, but was only causing light symptoms. Just 15% of hospital beds were occupied and 89% of over 18s had received two shots.
The ex-leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in Mexico City, Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez — also known as “the King of Trash” due to his inherited refuse collection company — had been arrested for human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
“If the law is being applied without any considerations, without privileges, then what should be done is being done. I can summarize this with a liberal principle: beside the law nothing, and above the law no one,” the president said.
The foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, confirmed that the government was in contact with Julian Assange’s lawyers, but that he couldn’t take up the asylum offer “for a procedural reason.”
The president applauded his own work on education: “Since we came in, there hasn’t been a single strike in protest,” he said, before conceding schools had been shut for most of his administration.
Fake news debunker Elizabeth García Vilchis kicked off the conference on Wednesday. She wished a Happy New Year before dismissing reports that gas prices would spike and that the National Guard was involved in the disappearance of two youths in Michoacán.
García added that the president finished 2021 on a high note, with about a 70% approval rating across three surveys.
Later in the conference, the president said the employment rate fell by 300,000 jobs in December, due to the practice of firing staff and recontracting them in January to avoid paying their labor benefits. He named and shamed the worst offender: “Doing the analysis of the companies that carry out this practice … I’m going to say something. The first place this December, in this dismissal mechanism, is Tecnológico de Monterrey [a private university]. And why am I saying this? Because I want it to be debated.”
The president confirmed that remittances for December would see 2021 comfortably reach the US $50 billion mark. “This is the contribution of our compatriots, the heroes … speaking in baseball terminology, that’s what got us out of the hole.”
He added another present to his wish list for children on King’s Day: the gift of good health, but dissuaded kids from asking the kings for a toy he despises. “The kings and the elephant and the camel and the horse no longer want anything to do with … video games.”
The president announced a new monthly feature for an update on economic trends, and laid out some favorable figures. Unlike other world currencies, the Mexican peso only depreciated 0.8% in the first three years of his government; external debt rose to 52.1% of GDP in the pandemic but had receded to 50.4% since the recovery. However, he conceded inflation — at 7.37% — was a primary concern.
He thought back to when he faced legal charges in the 2006 presidential campaign, and drew on Martin Luther King for inspiration: “I remembered Luther King a lot, who was arrested because he supposedly went through a stop sign. He went to jail and was offered bail and never accepted … That’s called peaceful civil resistance.”
On the corruption of previous administrations, he gave the example of oil company Oceanografía. “It’s a company that was very favored during the governments of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón. Those governments gave [Oceanografía] billions of dollars in contracts, without bidding, by direct award. Then one of the owners gave watches away to journalists, politicians and officials … million-dollar watches.”
There were two new options for the still unsold presidential jet, AMLO said: to exchange it for helicopters to fight forest fires or to give it to the Ministry of Defense to charter out.
He added that two medicines were being approved as treatments for COVID-19.
Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier, who the president recently met with, tested positive for COVID. A journalist checked in on the 68-year-old’s health.
The president confirmed he was fighting fit. “The truth is I’m very well, I’m fine and I have no symptoms … I’m already getting back to baseball because I had torn [a tendon] … but I’m already better … soon I’m going to join up again with our veterans’ team.”
In Zacatecas, a vehicle with 10 dead bodies was abandoned in front of the state government palace on Thursday. However, the president said he was confident of the security strategy in the state: “Very regrettable what happened, but we are advancing. During the time we have had a special operation in Zacatecas we have seen a decrease in homicides of 25% in 40 days.”
Mexico News Daily