Sunday, June 16, 2024

Security, seniors and succession: the week at the mañaneras

President López Obrador began his 55th month as president this week and now has just 16 months left in Mexico’s top job before his six-year term ends on Oct. 1, 2024.

At his morning press conference, or mañanera, on Wednesday, AMLO acknowledged that his time in office is running out, but asserted that “it’s like we still have 2 1/2 years left because we’re now going to work more.”

AMLO at press conference
President López Obrador is known for his lengthy press conferences, or mañaneras, held every weekday morning. (Gob MX)

The 69-year-old Tabasco-born leader – who attends a 6 a.m. security meeting every weekday before presiding over his lengthy pressers – also suggested that he would sleep less to ensure that he makes the most of his time left as president.

“When you get older you don’t need to sleep as much. Those who sleep the most are children and babies, right?”

Monday

The Central de Abasto de Mérida, a market in the Yucatán capital, is the most expensive place in Mexico to buy a canasta básica (basic basket) of 24 essential items, reported Ricardo Sheffield, head of the consumer protection agency Profeco.

“I don’t know what got into these people,” Sheffield said, noting that the canasta básica cost 1,076 pesos (about US $61) there during the third week in May.

The cheapest place in the country to pick up items such as eggs, rice, beans and tuna was a Chedraui supermarket in Aguascalientes, where a canasta básica cost 817 pesos (about US $46) – 24% less than the Mérida maximum.

Early in his engagement with reporters, López Obrador weighed in on a march in Mexico City on Sunday in support of the Supreme Court, which he has accused of being “rotten” in the wake of successive rulings against his government. Those who took part acted “with arrogance,” he said.

“They might not agree with those protesting [against justices] in front of the Supreme Court, but they shouldn’t have gone there to provoke them and remove their banners,” AMLO said, referring to clashes between pro-SCJN demonstrators and anti-court activists.

Defense of the Mexican Supreme Court march in Mexico City
Pineapples have become a popular symbol in the opposition protest movements, ever since Norma Piña was chosen as the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice on Jan. 2. Her last name means “pineapple” in Spanish. (Andrea Murcia Monsivais/Cuartoscuro)

“… Confrontation has to be avoided, violence has to be avoided. … Nobody should be ejected [from their place of protest],” he said.

AMLO later confirmed that he receives the old-age pension on top of his salary as president “because I’m now entitled to it.”

“Support for senior citizens is universal, for all older people,” he said.

“… It will help me [when I’m retired] because I’m not going to receive a government pension like previous presidents got. I’m going to … receive my Issste [state workers’] pension … and I’m going to live on that because I’m not a millionaire, my aim in life has never been to accumulate wealth,” López Obrador said.

One reporter noted that two months had passed since a fire in a Ciudad Juárez detention center that claimed the lives of 40 migrants, and asked the president about the government’s response to the tragedy, including a decision apparently taken by the National Immigration Institute (INM) to reserve footage of the incident as confidential for a period of five years.

“An investigation is being carried out and there are people detained,” López Obrador said.

“… It was a very terrible tragedy. I’m not in favor of hiding information, I don’t know why … [the INM] did that. I’m going to ask, so that all information is allowed [to be made public],” he said.

“… The culprits are being punished, both those who started the fire as well as the authorities responsible,” AMLO said, although no one has yet been convicted of charges related to the deadly blaze.

The president was also asked about a court ruling against the cutting down of trees and vegetation on certain sections of land through which the Maya Train railroad is slated to pass.

“They’re going to continue wanting to stop the work but they won’t be able to. According to the constitution, the laws, we have the right to build projects for the benefit of the people,” AMLO said.

Just before the end of the Monday mañanera, the president’s communications coordinator said that it was in fact the Federal Attorney General’s Office, rather than the INM, that reserved footage of the detention center fire as confidential.

“But they tell me that today it will be released,” Jesús Ramírez said.

“Ah, bueno,” AMLO said. “It was the Attorney General’s Office. … Now, let’s go to breakfast,” he added before Ramírez reminded him that he had information about his wife’s income at hand.

A document showed that Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller had income of 3.3 million pesos last year, a figure bolstered by sales of López Obrador’s most recent book, A la mitad del Camino.

“That book sold a lot. It’s still in bookstores,” AMLO said.

Tuesday

“We’re going to report on security, as we do every 15 days on Tuesdays,” López Obrador said at the beginning of his presser.

“We’re also going to report … on welfare programs. The issues aren’t opposed to each other. On the contrary, they are closely related,” he said.

“What we achieve in security has as its support, its base, everything that we’re doing for the well-being of the people,” AMLO said, offering a synopsis of his so-called abrazos, no balazos (hugs, not bullets) security strategy in which the government favors addressing the root causes of crime through welfare programs over combating criminals with force.

In the regular “Zero Impunity” segment, Deputy Security Minister Luis Rodríguez Bucio reported that a man known as “Coma Peter” was arrested in Chihuahua in connection with the 2019 murder of three women and six children belonging to three Mormon families.

“This detainee, José Osvaldo “N,” alias ‘Coma Peter,’ was arrested in Ascensión, Chihuahua. [He is a] presumed operator of a crime group known as Nuevo Cártel de Juárez,” Rodríguez said, adding that he is accused of murdering members of the LeBaron, Langford and Miller families.

“With him 33 people have now been arrested in this case,” he added before offering brief details about other recently detained suspects.

Continuing the security update, National Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval reported that more than 255,000 members of the National Guard and armed forces are deployed across Mexico to keep the peace – no mean feat in a country where there have been over 30,000 homicides every year since López Obrador took office.

Defense Minister Cresencio Sandoval
Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval at the Tuesday morning press conference. (Gob MX)

He also gave a rundown of seizures of weapons and drugs in the month of May, informing the press that 1,342 firearms, 238 kilograms of fentanyl and over 3,500 kilograms of methamphetamine had been confiscated.

Welfare Minister Ariadna Montiel Reyes later reported that 11.4 million senior citizens and just under 1.3 million people with disabilities are receiving government pensions.

Other officials offered updates on programs that would be more likely to help lead people away from a life of crime, including the Youths Building the Future apprenticeship scheme and the Sowing Life reforestation/employment initiative.

According to the information presented, almost 284,000 young people are currently undertaking the former program, in which participants are paid 6,310 pesos a month, while nearly 450,000 people are employed in the latter.

After reports from numerous other officials, including the head of the fisheries agency Conapesca and the coordinator of the government’s national digital strategy, AMLO finally returned to center stage to respond to reporters’ questions.

One journalist asked the president about a peace agreement proposal put forward by an activist who called on Mexico’s most powerful cartels to cease hostilities and enforced disappearances.

“I agree [with the proposal] and hopefully peace will be achieved – that’s what we all want, for there to be no violence, no homicides, no aggression, because it affects everyone,” López Obrador said.

“… I approve of everything that means setting aside or not using violence,” he said, adding that members of crime groups have the power to take such a decision themselves.

“They should take responsibility and behave as good citizens. … There is always a way out for those who don’t want to use violence.”

Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas
The cell phone of Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas, who is also president of the Ayotzinapa truth commission, was infected with Pegasus spyware as reported by The New York Times in May. (Gob MX)

AMLO later reaffirmed that his government doesn’t spy on anyone. Asked how the cell phone of Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas was infiltrated by the Pegasus spyware system, as The New York Times reported May 22, López Obrador said that “we have to see who did it” before asserting that it wasn’t the federal government, the army or Mexico’s “intelligence system.”

“Probably … it was the same people as always – the authoritarian conservatives,” he said, apparently referring to members of past governments, or current opposition.

Wednesday

Just over 20 minutes into the third mañanera of the week, the general director of the National Water Commission strode to the lectern and reported that the government is working on 15 “priority water projects.”

“Putting the human right to water first, the government of Mexico is making progress on the construction of dams and aqueducts for the supply of potable water in various entities of the country,” Germán Martínez Santoyo said.

He said that the López Obrador administration is also investing in new irrigation infrastructure.

“The government of Mexico is investing 93.55 billion pesos [about US $5.3 billion] with complete transparency and zero corruption for the benefit of 21.3 million residents and farmers,” Martínez said.

Other water officials offered specific details on some of the projects, including two that are part of the government’s Yaqui Justice Plan, which seeks to make amends for past injustices committed against the Sonora-based indigenous group.

AMLO thanked the “people of the towns where these [water] projects are being carried out,” asserting that without their support “we couldn’t advance.”

Alejandro Isauro Martínez Orozco
Cedric Iván Escalante Sauri, who is in charge of a reservoir project in Sinaloa, speaks at the Wednesday morning press conference. (Gob MX)

Campesinos, ejidatarios  [communal land owners], small landowners, local authorities, mayors and of course governors, who help a lot. It’s a coordinated effort,” he said.

“… For the entire Yaqui Justice Plan, the government of Sonora and [Governor] Alfonso Durazo have always been helping.”

Responding to his first question of the day, López Obrador said that his meeting on Tuesday with United States Homeland Security Advisor Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall was “very good.”

“Yesterday we dealt with the migration issue. There are two things that are very important. The first … is that for the first time in many years the United States government is opening up … a [new] channel for legal migration. … They’re granting about 400,000 temporary visas for Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela,” he said.

“… The other thing we insisted on was investing more in Central America and the Caribbean, in the poorest communities. We’re already investing about US $150 million in Central American and Caribbean communities and we’re suggesting that they, as a minimum, do the same because we have studies … that clearly show that where we’ve implemented the Sowing Life and Youths Building the Future programs … young people remain [at home], people stay in their towns,” AMLO said.

“… As we’ve always said, migration isn’t for pleasure but rather out of necessity.”

AMLO at morning press conference
AMLO mentioned he received a letter from Senator John Kennedy of the U.S., apologizing for remarks he had made disparaging Mexico. (Gob MX)

López Obrador later revealed that United States Republican Party Senator John Kennedy – who said in May that “without the people of America, Mexico, figuratively speaking, would be eating cat food out of a can” – had sent him a letter to apologize.

Mexico’s Ambassador to the United States, Esteban Moctezuma, “gave it to me about a week ago,” he said, adding that he would show it to reporters at a future press conference.

Among other remarks, the president reiterated that the government is committed to combating the illegal drug trade, including the trafficking of fentanyl.

“[We’re] preventing the introduction of … [precursor] chemicals, destroying laboratories, doing our job,” he said.

“And a lot of public servants lose their lives [in the fight against drugs]. A deputy administrative director was kidnapped three days ago … in the port of Manzanillo, precisely because of the control measures that are being taken. And they murdered him,” López Obrador said.

Thursday

“We’re very happy to be here in Ciudad Madero, in Tampico, in this region of Tamaulipas,” López Obador said at the beginning of his presser.

“… At sea level, … you always sleep very well, you rest,” he added.

AMLO, who would attend a National Navy Day ceremony in Ciudad Madero later in the day, once again congratulated the people of the northern border state for electing Américo Villareal – a Morena party representative – as governor at the 2022 election.

“Tamaulipas needed a good governor. Those of you who are tamaulipecos know how [the state] suffered bad governments for many years, … and now the government of an upright, honest man has arrived … and that’s an advantage because, let’s not forget, Mexico’s main problem was corruption,” he said.

Villareal, a cardiologist who took office last October, replaced AMLO at the mañanera lectern and declared that Tamaulipas is “obtaining good results” in the fight against crime.

The “perception of insecurity” in the state, as measured by the national statistics agency INEGI, has declined 11.2% over the past year, the governor said.

Governor Américo Villarreal
Tamaulipas governor Américo Villarreal at the Thursday morning press conference. (Gob MX)

“In the fight against corruption we’re applying our moral values, such as honesty, ethics and honor, thinking of a better future and sharing this task with society in order to proudly progress in the restoration of citizens’ confidence without fear,” he added.

Navy Minister José Rafael Ojeda Durán reported that Tamaulipas – home to the notorious Gulf Cartel – has been the 17th most violent state in Mexico during the term of the current government based on its per-capita homicide rate.

During his engagement with reporters, López Obrador defended his government’s record on human rights and holding criminals to account.

“We don’t allow torture, like before, … the state doesn’t disappear anyone, massacres [by security forces] aren’t authorized like before,” he said.

“… Before there were more deaths in confrontations than wounded people and arrests,” López Obrador said.

“… With us there are more wounded people and detained people that those who lose their lives. This is a sign that we respect human rights in practice. … We’re not the same [as past governments]. … There is no impunity. How could we be the same if the security minister is now Rosa Icela Rodríguez and during the government of [Felipe] Calderón, the security minister was [convicted drug trafficker Genaro] García Luna?”

The president later revealed that the government had reached an agreement with Grupo México under which the mining and infrastructure conglomerate will cede control of a section of railroad in Veracruz that was occupied by the navy last month.

López Obrador said that Grupo México, parent company of the railroad firm Ferrosur, had agreed to “voluntarily hand over” a 120-kilometer section of the Southeastern Railway to the nation.

In exchange, Ferrosur’s concession to operate another section of railroad in Mexico’s southeast will be extended by eight years to 2044, the president said. No monetary compensation will be paid to Grupo México, López Obrador said.

Military forces take over parts of Ferrosur's railroads
The Mexican Navy took over parts of a railway operated by Ferrosur in Veracruz in late May. (Ángel Hernández/Cuartoscuro)

“This is the agreement and I believe it is beneficial,” he said. “In addition, it’s a matter … of national security,” AMLO added, referring to a decree he issued that declared the stretch of railroad seized to be of “public utility” and relevant to national security.

López Obrador also said that he expects that passenger trains will be running along 2,000 kilometers of government-operated tracks when he leaves office next year.

Such a situation, which mainly depends on the timely completion of the 1,554-kilometer-long Maya Train railroad, “hasn’t been seen for a long time, [not] since the bad decision to privatize railroads was taken,” he said.

Friday

AMLO presented a graph during his mañanera introduction that showed that the unemployment rate in Mexico in the first three months of the year was lower than the rates in several other countries, including the United States, Canada, France, Colombia and Spain, but slightly higher than those in Japan and South Korea.

The rate in Mexico – 2.7% in the first quarter, according to INEGI – is among the lowest in the world, López Obrador said.

He highlighted a range of other economic data, including US $18.6 billion in foreign investment in the first quarter of the year.

“The [first quarter of] 2022 was also very high but … the Televisa-Univisión merger and the restructuring of Aeroméxico are included. Now there hasn’t been any operation with those characteristics but foreign investment is growing a lot,” AMLO said.

“… People know that we are doing well economically and socially,” he said at the tail end of his economic update.

AMLO at morning press conference
The president discussed economic growth at the Friday morning press conference. (Gob MX)

“Yesterday and the day before yesterday I was in Tamaulipas … and the people are very happy, very hopeful and that’s the way it is in the entire country.”

Having opened the floor to questions, the president was asked whether the government would support a multi-billion-peso aqueduct project in Querétaro.

“We’re speaking with the governor, we’re looking at how we can support what he’s proposing,” López Obrador said.

Picking up on the reporter’s acknowledgement that he had signed a decree to establish the Peña Colorada zone of Querétaro as a natural protected area, AMLO declared that he wants to “go down in history” as the No. 2 ranked president in terms of the creation of new natural reserves.

“General Lázaro Cárdenas is first. I aspire to [second place],” he said.

“One day we’re going to tell you how many reserves, how many natural protected areas will be left [by the current government]. … All the National Tourism Promotion Fund land for starters,” López Obrador said.

“… There should be areas for the enjoyment of the people. There weren’t beaches for the people before, the trend was to privatize all the beaches and now we’re going to leave thousands of kilometers [of public beaches]. Not thousands, but hundreds of kilometers of beaches for the people.”

AMLO later said that the government would present a report on Monday “on everything that has been done” in response to a 2009 fire in an ABC daycare center in Hermosillo that claimed the lives of 49 young children and injured more than 40 others.

“We’re going to report on the criminal complaints, … the payment of compensation, … other support we’ve given and how we’re going to continue supporting [victims and the families of victims],” he said.

A selfie of the three politicians outdoors with trees and a multistory building in the background.
Interior Minister Adán Augusto López (left), Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, and Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard are the three favorites vying for the Morena candidacy in 2024. (Claudia Sheinbaum/Twitter)

One reporter noted that it was exactly one year until the 2024 elections will be held, and asked the president what advice he would give to his successor.

“[I’ll talk about that] later because there’s still a long time left,” López Obrador responded cheerily. “The election is a year away, exactly one year.”

AMLO predicted “continuity with change” following next year’s presidential election, indicating that he believes that the candidate for the ruling Morena party – most likely Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum or Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard – will triumph on June 2, 2024, and perpetuate his so-called “fourth transformation” of Mexico.

“… [There will be] continuity in the project, but change in the women, the men, who lead the government,” he said.

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

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