Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Boosters, busts and battles: the week at the mañaneras

Having recovered from his third bout of COVID, President López Obrador presided over all five of his morning press conferences (known as mañaneras) in the first week of May, four more than the number he appeared at last week.

He also delivered two public addresses – one at the National Palace on Monday to mark International Workers Day and another in Puebla on Friday to commemorate the 161st anniversary of the Battle of Puebla.

AMLO at morning press conference
President López Obrador giving a speech to mark International Workers’ Day on Monday. (Gob MX)

AMLO still has 17 months left as president, but he is already thinking about who will take his place in October 2024. A report published early this week said that he had asked the ruling Morena party to choose its candidate for the June 2024 presidential election within three months.

Monday

“We’re very happy to start the week, today, on this historic date,” López Obrador said, referring to International Workers’ Day.

“… It’s a tribute … in honor of the martyrs of Chicago, workers who demanded working days of eight hours … in 1886.”

Continuing the labor theme, the head of the National Tourism Promotion Fund reported that the construction of the Maya Train railroad between Calkiní, Campeche, and Izamal, Yucatán, has created over 11,000 jobs.

Javier May said that tracks have been laid along 92 kilometers of the 159-kilometer section, which includes a station on the outskirts of Mérida, the capital of Yucatán.

The governor of that state was on hand, and noted that among the other Maya Train stations in Yucatán will be those in the colonial cities of Izamal and Valladolid and one near the ancient Mayan city of Chichén Itzá.

“We see the Maya Train as a good project for the state of Yucatán,” said Mauricio Vila, a National Action Party governor with aspirations for higher office.

Mauricio Vila
Mauricio Vila, governor of Yucatán, at the Monday morning press conference. (Gob MX)

Having a “fast and efficient means of transportation” will allow Yucatán to attract some of the millions of tourists who visit Cancún and the Riviera Maya, he said.

“Without a doubt, [the Maya Train] is a project that will generate economic development and more jobs in Yucatán,” Vila said, noting that the railroad will benefit manufacturing companies as raw materials will be able to reach the state on freight trains.

Back at the mañanera lectern, AMLO turned his attention to other government projects, reiterating that a new state-owned commercial airline will begin operations under the defunct Mexicana de Aviación brand in 2023, and stressing that his administration intends to complete the rail link from central Mexico City to the Felipe Ángeles International Airport before the end of the year.

He also said that the process to recover the Category 1 aviation safety rating with United States authorities – which Mexico lost in 2021 – is “progressing very well.”

All the requirements for the recovery of the top-tier rating – whose reinstatement would allow Mexican airlines to add new flights to the U.S. – “have already been met,” López Obrador said.

The president later acknowledged that the head of the National Immigration Institute (INM), Francisco Garduño, had been ordered to stand trial on a charge related to the fire in a Ciudad Juárez detention center in late March that claimed the lives of 40 migrants. However, he declined to comment further.

“If I tell you something about Garduño, Reforma’s headline tomorrow will be, ‘He protected Garduño,” López Obrador said, referring to his least favorite Mexican newspaper.

Among other remarks, AMLO praised the strength of the Mexican economy, which expanded 3.8% in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period of 2022.

“We’re doing very well in economic terms, not just because there is growth … but also because of something fundamental that didn’t exist in the neoliberal period. There is growth with distribution of income, growth with distribution of wealth, growth with wellbeing,” he said.

Tuesday

During a security update in the first half of the presser, Navy Minister José Rafael Ojeda Durán mentioned two curious drug seizures.

Bottles of liquid methamphetamine
Discovered after a sniffer dog alerted customs teams, the drugs were disguised as bottles of “añejo” — aged tequila.(Semar)

More than 8.6 tonnes of liquid methamphetamine was found last week in Manzanillo in a shipment of 960 boxes of tequila bound for Australia, while 7.2 kilograms of ketamine was uncovered at Mexico City airport in a box of dried seafood, he said.

National Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval later reported that authorities have confiscated 588.1 million Mexican pesos (US $32.7 million) and US $129.5 million in cash from criminals since the current government took office in December 2018.

Responding to a question about street dogs and feral cats and how to control them, López Obrador asserted that animals mustn’t be mistreated before embarking on a monologue about behaviors that were once considered normal but are unacceptable today.

“In the case of dogs, for example, even though they were, and continue to be, the faithful friends of campesinos, … there was, and continues to be, mistreatment. They’re beaten, stones are thrown at them and all this has to change,” he said.

“… In the countryside, when we were kids, we used … slingshots [against animals] – now they can’t be used. And many other things were seen as normal. … Turtle [meat] and turtle eggs were eaten before. There was even the myth that [eating] turtle eggs was linked to virility, … they even sold loggerhead turtle eggs in [the Mexico City neighborhood of] Tepito,” AMLO continued.

“… Now neither turtles nor turtle eggs are eaten. … I believe the area in which Mexicans have made the most progress in recent times is in political awareness and ecological awareness. For example, it was very common to take photos of oneself smoking, … it was a mark of manliness, of machismo, of virility. [Smoking] isn’t allowed now, not even at home because [one’s] children don’t permit it, just as they don’t let adults mistreat animals – it’s a new mentality,” he said.

López Obrador later defended his government’s human rights record when a reporter asserted that the deaths of the migrants in the Ciudad Juárez detention center fire were indicative of a country where such rights aren’t respected.

“There is a difference like that from heaven to earth between what previous governments did and what we’re doing in terms of human rights,” he said.

The survivors of the fire are receiving medical care that has saved their lives, he continued.

“They were taken to specialized hospitals with the best doctors and thanks to that they haven’t died,” AMLO said.

“… This tragedy happened and a complete investigation is being carried out – something that wasn’t done before. …. A lot of human rights organizations financed by the mafias of power are constantly pointing out things that are supposedly mistakes on our part [but] we act out of conviction and with humanism,” he said.

“… We don’t protect anyone, there is no impunity, we’re not the same as the neoliberal governments … our country has suffered. … In this government there haven’t been massacres, no one is tortured, human rights are not violated by the state.”

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall and President López Obrador
U.S. envoy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall with President López Obrador on Tuesday. (AMLO/Twitter)

Before bringing his presser to a close, AMLO noted that he would meet later in the day with Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, homeland security advisor to United States President Joe Biden.

Security minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez told reporters that migration, arms trafficking and drug trafficking would be on the agenda at the Mexico City meeting.

Wednesday

Ana García Vilchis began her “Who’s Who in the Lies of the Week” segment by denouncing a Twitter account that “usurps the identity of the government of Mexico.”

Created under the name Información Oficial Gobierno de México, the account, García said, went viral this week when it published a graph that showed that the government slashed funding for the treatment of children with cancer by 97% in 2021 compared to 2015.

“The data is false,” the spokeswoman said, adding that the account also publishes false information about public expenditure and debt.

“They’re so deceitful that they insert a link that redirects to a fake Ministry of Finance page. All the information is false, they straight out lie,” García said before noting that ex-president Vicente Fox and former first lady and current Deputy Margarita Zavala used the spurious health funding post to attack the government.

Did they act out of “ignorance or malice?” she asked.

The director of the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) spoke after García, and announced that a Mexico-produced COVID-19 vaccine called Patria was ready for use as a booster shot.

María Elena Álvarez-Buylla
The Conacyt director speaks at the Wednesday press conference. (Gob MX)

María Elena Álvarez-Buylla said that the vaccine, developed by Conacyt in conjunction with a veterinary pharmaceutical company, meets the safety and effectiveness criteria established by the World Health Organization.

“We now have the Patria vaccine [ready to use] and that’s great news for our country,” she said.

During his engagement with reporters, López Obrador mentioned that he still held out hope that various nations of the Americas would one day form a united bloc, “as was the ideal of Simón Bolívar.”

AMLO, who has previously called for Latin American and Caribbean leaders to aspire to the establishment of a European Union-style bloc, said that “instead of impositions and subjugations” in the region, there should be “cooperation for development and people’s wellbeing.”

There should be “fraternity between the people of America – universal fraternity as foreign policy,” he added.

López Obrador later revealed that he had sent a letter to United States President Joe Biden to complain about the U.S. Agency for International Development’s funding of groups that are “openly” opposed to the federal government.

The president, who has been denouncing such funding for about two years, apologized to Sherwood-Randall, the U.S. official with whom he met Tuesday, “because I told her in private … that I wasn’t going to send [the] letter so as not to bother President Biden.”

“… But … I did send it. Why did I change my mind? Because the truth is that I feel that [funding opposition groups] is very arrogant, very offensive and I can’t remain quiet,” López Orador said.

In his letter, which he read aloud at his presser, the president described the United States’ funding of opposition groups as an “interventionist act contrary to international law” and called on Biden to address the matter.

During his final remarks of the morning, AMLO said he would be “very calm” when he leaves office next year because he will have completed his “mission” and has confidence in those seeking the Morena party candidacy at the 2024 presidential election.

Thursday

A team of teenage soccer players from Nuevo León were present at the National Palace, where AMLO and Nuevo León Governor Samuel García congratulated them on winning a tournament in Spain organized by the Real Madrid Foundation.

Teen soccer players
These teenage soccer players were invited to the National Palace for the Thursday morning presser. (Samuel García/Twitter)

García said that the Mexican team was the only one that included girls, and advised Liga MX professional teams to take a look at the “very good players.”

One reporter asked López Obrador what message he would like to send to Tulum Mayor Diego Castañón, who took over the job in March due to the death of Marciano Dzul Caamal.

“He has to work in coordination with [Quintana Roo] Governor Mara Lezama,” AMLO responded, adding that the mayor should also collaborate with federal security forces to combat criminal gangs that traffic drugs.

The presence of gangs “frightens off” tourists, he said before noting that Tulum’s beaches and archaeological site make the destination a “paradise.”

López Obrador said he had hadn’t received any complaints about the new mayor and hoped that would remain the case.

Later in his response, he reiterated that the Tulum airport will open in December, and asserted that the facility, which is being built by the army, is “essential” because the Cancún airport is “saturated.”

Render images of the planned Tulum International Airport
Renderings of planned features of Tulum International Airport, including a military base and a Maya Train station (in the bottom right box). (Sedena)

The president was later asked about a letter in which sons of imprisoned drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who were indicted in the United States last month, assert that they have “never produced, manufactured or commercialized fentanyl.”

“I don’t know the content [of the letter],” López Obrador said. “… We don’t offer an opinion about that … and we don’t speculate.”

He subsequently emphasized that, “unlike what happened before,” the government doesn’t protect any organized crime group.

“Before, as it has been clearly shown, one group or one cartel was protected and others were pursued,” AMLO said, referring to former security minister Genaro García Luna’s proven collusion with the Sinaloa Cartel.

“… [Now] the line is very clear, and we’ve always said so. There is a clear line [between] the authorities and [organized] crime.”

López Obrador later rejected a report that claimed that friends of one of his sons benefited from that friendship by obtaining lucrative government contracts.

If the journalist who made the claim, Carlos Loret de Mola, has proof of corruption, he should take it to the Attorney General’s Office, he said.

“My sons aren’t corrupt. … Watch the report.  It’s nothing, it’s desperation, it’s slander,” AMLO said before bluntly rejecting the suggestion that the situation was one of a conflict of interest.

Friday

AMLO’s Cinco de Mayo press conference was held in Puebla, where Mexico won a battle against invading French forces on May 5, 1862.

“We’re very happy to be here in Puebla on this memorable day,” López Obrador said.

“… We’re going to participate in the celebration of the battle … in which the Mexican Army, with the participation of the people, … defeated the French Army, which at that time was the most powerful army in the world,” he said.

May 5 press conference
AMLO at the Friday morning press conference with members of his cabinet. (Gob MX)

National Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval offered an overview of the security situation in Puebla, which he noted has a population of 6.5 million people across its 217 municipalities.

The incidence of all but three crimes is on the wane, he said before providing specific data for a range of offenses. There were just two kidnappings in Puebla in March, while there were 69 homicides, 190 burglaries and 468 reported incidents of vehicle theft, Sandoval said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard subsequently reported that the United States issued over 360,000 temporary work visas to Mexicans in 2022.

“The figure of 360,656 visas was reached – it’s the highest number in the history of our country. … We hope the figure is a little higher this year,” he said.

AMLO later thanked United States President Biden for opening up new legal pathways to work in the U.S.

“What do I say to our brothers from Central America, the Caribbean, … South America, Latin America? Go to the United States embassies, … the American diplomats there … will provide all the information,” he said.

After Navy Minister José Rafael Ojeda Durán reported that authorities had detected a shipment of fentanyl and methamphetamine from China in the Pacific coast port city of Lázaro Cárdenas, AMLO said he would send a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping to inform him of the seizure.

The president, who already wrote to Xi to seek his support in the fight against fentanyl, said that he would once again request information about the trafficking of the synthetic opioid from China to Mexico.

A Chinese government spokesperson said in April that “there is no such thing as illegal trafficking of fentanyl between China and Mexico,” but López Obrador noted that his administration now has “proof” that there is.

The event commemorating the May 5 Battle of Puebla
The president, his wife and cabinet members at the commemoration of the 161st anniversary of the Battle of Puebla. (Gob MX)

Before departing for breakfast to fuel up for his address to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, AMLO acknowledged that the World Health Organization had declared an end to COVID-19 as a public health emergency and noted that officials of his government would meet on Monday to discuss whether to follow suit.

Health officials will announce Mexico’s decision on Tuesday, he said shortly before bidding reporters farewell.

By Mexico News Daily chief staff writer Peter Davies ([email protected])

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