President López Obrador and United States-based Mexican journalist Jorge Ramos engaged in a robust verbal duel on Monday morning as the latter challenged the former on his record in reducing violent crime and managing the coronavirus pandemic.
Ramos, a reporter for the U.S.-based Spanish language television network Univision, appeared at López Obrador’s morning press conference — the mañanera — at the National Palace in Mexico City, and didn’t hold back when given the opportunity to probe the president.
“I was here at the mañanera in January of 2020 to ask you about the terrible wave of violence here in the country and you told me the following, and I’m quoting: ‘There will be results this year,’” Ramos said.
“Well, more than a year later, there are results but very negative ones, Mr. President. Your government is on track to become the most violent in the modern history of Mexico – more than 86,000 [violent] deaths up to now since you were sworn in, according to official figures. If things stay the same, there will be more deaths than … [during the governments of former presidents] Peña Nieto and Calderón,” he said.
“Femicides continue to increase with respect to last year – you know it, you said it last week – and outside the bubble of the National Palace, the country is not in peace and tranquility, [as you claimed] Mr. President. They’re killing almost 100 Mexicans a day, in Aguililla, in Zacatecas, in Reynosa. … You’re almost halfway through your government and you’re still blaming ex-presidents for what you haven’t been able to do. So, my question is, do you believe that your [security] strategy of ‘hugs, not bullets’ has been a complete failure … and are you going to ask for help, because up to now you haven’t been able [to stem the violence].”
With a wry smile creeping across his face, López Obrador told Ramos that he didn’t agree with him, asserting that his administration has in fact made progress in improving the country’s security situation.
“… I have other information,” said AMLO, as the president is commonly, known, reverting to his favorite catchphrase when confronted with information which portrays him and his government in a negative light.
“… We’re having difficulty in reducing the crime of homicide as we would like but, this is important, we’ve managed to contain the growth in homicides that was occurring; there is even a reduction since we arrived, … of 3%,” he said.
Ramos pounced, acknowledging that homicide rates have stabilized but pointing out that the government has contained them at near record high levels.
“… [Violence levels] have stabilized at a high level – at the worst time of the war, in other words. … What I’m saying is that you can’t say there are 100 murders a day and that’s a success,” he said.
“Of course it’s not an easy issue,” the president responded. “I already explained – we inherited a rotten fruit. I’m not blaming former presidents without reason, you know well, and it’s in the public domain that [organized crime] was practically in charge of the management of security …” AMLO said.
“I understand but there are no results. … There is no change,” countered Ramos before an exchange ensued that could almost be mistaken for a Monty Python skit, were the subject matter not so critical for the well-being of the country.
AMLO: “There is a change. I’m going to give you another piece of information.
Ramos: “But that’s the problem; you’re presenting [the information] as something positive and it’s not positive.
AMLO: “I’m going to give you the information from 2018 …”
Ramos: “There are massacres, there are murders.”
AMLO: “Yes, but it’s not the same.”
Ramos: “Three thousand a month.”
AMLO: “There are no longer massacres in the country.”
Ramos: “But what about Zacatecas, Aguililla and Reynosa?”
AMLO: Those are confrontations between [criminal] groups but it’s not the state, which was previously the main violator of human rights.”
Ramos: “… One of the main problems of the country is violence and that’s your responsibility now, Mr. President.”
AMLO: “Yes, yes, and I work [on the problem] every day.”
Ramos: “But there are no results.”
AMLO: “Of course there are. I respect your point of view but I don’t share it.”
Ramos: “They’re statistics from your own government, I got the figures from your own government.
AMLO: “I believe they gave you the wrong figures, I have other information.”
Ramos: “But there can’t be other information because it came from your government’s website, from the … National Public Security System.”
AMLO: “We’ll give you the information. … There has been a minimal reduction, I repeat, of 3% in the case of homicides. But in the case of vehicle theft … we have a reduction of 40%.”
Ramos: “But not in femicides, for example.”
AMLO: “Allow me, allow me [to continue], we’re going by parts. Kidnappings, down 40%, robberies in general, down, 26%. You say ‘femicide’ to me. Do you know when homicides of women were first classified as femicides? When we got into government.”
Ramos: “There were figures before, as well.”
AMLO: “Before, yes, [but] very few, [femicides] were recorded. Now there are more complaints and we’re acknowledging that there has been an increase but it must be taken into account that the murders of women during previous governments weren’t considered femicides. So we’re going to continue working to guarantee peace and tranquility, we have no doubt, Jorge.”
Ramos: “That’s why I’m talking about the bubble, because you speak of peace and tranquility, [but] leave the National Palace and there is no peace and tranquility.”
AMLO: “… There were elections [on June 6]. Of 160,000 voting booths, only 30 couldn’t be installed. There is governability in this country …”Journalist Jorge Ramos questions the president at Monday’s press conference.
Ramos: “And how many candidates were killed, Mr. President?”
AMLO: “Yes, unfortunately.”
Ramos: “It’s a tragedy.”
AMLO: “But in all cases, in the majority of cases, the culprits have been punished.”
Ramos: “The impunity in this country is more than 90%.”
AMLO: “No, in what corresponds to us, it’s zero impunity, there are no longer privileged people.”
Ramos: “I’m referring to the murders in this country, the majority of these murder cases are not resolved.”
To support his “zero impunity” claim, the president – adopting a very stern tone – noted that 20 people have been arrested in connection with the 2019 murder of three Mexican-American Mormon women and six children in Sonora.
However, as Ramos noted, studies show that the vast majority of crimes go unpunished.
The journalist and the president also clashed over Mexico’s Covid-19 death toll. Ramos asked López Obrador whether he accepted responsibility for the “the poor management of the pandemic” and received a perhaps predictable response:
“I don’t agree with you,” AMLO responded. Ramos noted that there is a discrepancy between the official Covid-19 death toll – currently more than 233,000 – and fatalities that the Health Ministry has acknowledged are associated with the disease. The discordant figures appear on the same government website, he said.
“I don’t understand why there are two figures, Mr. President,” Ramos said, citing a death toll of 351,00, although the Health Ministry said last week that 447,000 fatalities were attributable to Covid-19.
“Why not tell the truth, that there have been many more pandemic deaths in Mexico?”
In turn, the president accused the journalists of being “misinformed” and proceeded to present Covid-19 mortality data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
“I’m giving you statistics from your government,” said Ramos, who questioned why Mexico had the fourth highest death toll in the world when it ranks 10th in terms of population.
“No, my government’s figures are these, look,” AMLO responded before accusing Ramos of “slander” and presenting a table that showed that Mexico ranked sixth in Latin America for per capita Covid deaths – behind Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Paraguay – and 19th in the world.
“This doesn’t change the enormous number of deaths here in Mexico, Mr. President,” Ramos argued.
“Ah, no? Because we have 126 million residents,” López Obrador said.
“… But there are countries that have a higher population and they have fewer people who died from Covid,” Ramos retorted.
“This is the updated [Covid deaths/population] relation, Jorge …,” AMLO replied dismissively.
“What you want to tell me is that you’ve managed the pandemic well?” Ramos asked.
“Yes, of course, of course, … better than in other places,” the president said before he came under fire for telling people early in the pandemic to keep eating in restaurants and not wear a face mask in public until July of 2020.
“… You’re saying we’re doing well when in reality there are so many deaths. How can you say this to the families of the victims? You can’t, Mr. President, you can’t,” Ramos said.
“I don’t agree with you,” López Obrador declared once again. “With respect to what you say, I don’t agree and I feel that there’s an interest [behind] your questioning of our government, a bias. There is no problem because we have a calm conscience,” the president said before Ramos denied that he had any bias against him or his administration and was just doing his job.
The Univision journalist, who also works for the president’s least favorite newspaper, Reforma, has been asking tough questions of the president since early in his six-year term. AMLO was clearly annoyed at times as he was grilled today, providing more evidence for government critics who say that he is intolerant of press scrutiny and critical coverage – an accusation he denies.
Mexico News Daily