Money was a recurring theme at President López Obrador’s morning press conferences, or mañaneras, this week.
The president announced a pay rise for teachers, denounced the United States’ government’s funding of groups he claims are opposed to his government, celebrated the appreciation of the Mexican peso and proposed the public disclosure of the wealth of Mexico’s judges, who he frequently criticizes for living large on the public purse.
The vocal champion of austerity prides himself on being Mexico’s foremost advocate for those who have the least dinero – the nation’s poorest – though he also has time for the super-rich (as long as they earned their money legally), as he demonstrated again recently by meeting with billionaire businessman Carlos Slim.
“No teacher or education worker will earn less than 16,000 pesos [about US $900] a month,” he said, explaining that the amount is the average salary of employees enrolled in the government’s social security scheme.
“… We’re taking the decision that the minimum [salary] for a teacher will always be the average [wage] that the workers in our country earn. … This decision and the general salary increase will mean that we’ll allocate 42 billion additional pesos to the [annual] budget, to the strengthening of public education in our country. It’s not an expense, it’s an investment,” AMLO said.
The president also highlighted another investment his government is making in the education sector, noting that it is spending almost 96.8 billion pesos this year to fund scholarships for 12.2 million students from poor families.
Financial support of such magnitude has never before been provided “in the history of Mexico,” he said.
During his Q & A session with reporters, López Obrador was asked about an El Universal newspaper report that highlighted alleged corruption at the Institute to Return Stolen Goods to the People (INDEP), the federal agency tasked with distributing funds obtained via the sale of assets seized from organized crime and tax cheats.
“El Universal, which is very sensationalist and alarmist and against us, doesn’t inform, it manipulates,” AMLO said.
“There is no problem [at INDEP], I can guarantee you that, no problem,” he said.
“… There is no irregularity. … On the contrary, a lot of assets have been recovered,” López Obrador said, adding that they have subsequently been sold “for the benefit of the people.”
The president later reported that a government asset that was recently sold, the presidential plane, had arrived in Tajikistan almost a month after the government of the Central Asian nation purchased the luxuriously outfitted Boeing 787 Dreamliner for about US $92 million.
“We weren’t able to sell it [for a long time] because it’s so luxurious. … Now that we sold it to Tajikistan we’re going to build two hospitals, one in the Montaña [region] of Guerrero, in Tlapa, and the other in Tuxtepec, Oaxaca,” he said.
“… If I had used [the plane], we would have spent a lot. The last time president [Enrique] Peña used it, on a trip to Argentina, they spent 7 million pesos just on the [in-flight] internet service,” AMLO asserted.
Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez reported early in the press conference that the average number of homicides per day so far this year is 83, down from 101 in 2018, the year the current government took office.
She also presented data that showed that homicides declined 17% in the first four months of 2023 compared to the same period of 2019, the government’s first full year in office.
“Where are homicides concentrated? In six entities of the country,” Rodríguez said, explaining that 47.3% of all murders between January and April – 4,688 of 9,912 – occurred in Guanajuato, México state, Baja California, Chihuahua, Jalisco and Michoacán.
Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell replaced the security minister at the mañanera lectern and spoke about an issue inextricably linked to violence in Mexico: drugs.
“What we want to emphasize is that there is no happy ending” for habitual drug users, said the addiction prevention czar.
He specifically spoke about the risks associated with the use of cocaine, saying that the drug is “very addictive” and can cause serious health problems including gastrointestinal emergencies, heart attack and stroke.
Later in the presser, AMLO acknowledged that he met with Mexico’s richest person, Carlos Slim, late last week.
“We spoke about the country’s economic situation. He agrees that it’s a good time for investment in Mexico, that there is economic stability, that Mexico is among the most attractive countries for foreign investment,” he said.
López Obrador asserted that his government is largely responsible for making Mexico an attractive place to invest.
“There are several factors that come into play but there is one that is very important – confidence. It is known that there are healthy public finances, that the country isn’t in debt. It is known that that there is no corruption, that’s common knowledge in the financial world,” he said.
“It is known there is an authentic rule of law, not like before [when there was a] crooked state, a state of bribery,” AMLO said.
Continuing his long-running denunciation of the United States government’s funding of what he describes as “opposition” groups, López Obador presented a list of Mexican non-governmental organizations that have received money from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Among those on the list were Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity, which has exposed alleged corruption within the government, and the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a think tank.
“Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity – in favor of corruption, I say – US $2.3 million from 2018 to 2021,” López Obrador said, referring to his list.
The president was later asked whether he had sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping to inform him of a recent seizure in Lázaro Cárdenas of fentanyl that arrived on a ship that departed China.
López Obrador, who wrote to Xi in March to seek his support in the fight against fentanyl, said he hadn’t yet sent the letter, but stressed that the government wants to reach an agreement with China to “exchange information” about illicit shipments of the synthetic opioid, even though a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson declared that “there is no such thing as illegal trafficking of fentanyl between China and Mexico.”
In spite of that declaration, AMLO asserted that the Chinese government “can help us” in the fight against the trafficking of fentanyl and precursor chemicals and expressed confidence that it would “act responsibly” and in accordance with the “friendship” and “cooperation” between Mexico and China.
Just before the end of his presser, López Obrador highlighted the government’s capacity to provide high-quality and free health care to citizens, and asserted it was able to do so thanks to the savings it has generated by combating corruption.
He urged reporters – and the nation – to “never forget” that “the main problem in Mexico” before he came to government was corruption.
“If corruption is banished, the country emerges, it moves forward – it’s the blooming of Mexico,” AMLO said.
“We don’t need to put the country into debt, we don’t need to raise taxes, … none of that … because the amount [officials of past governments] stole was tremendous.”
Introducing the weekly “Who’s Who in the Lies of the Week” segment, López Obrador claimed that 99.99% of the media is against his government.
The remaining “very few” media outlets are not in favor of the government, but they “report and don’t manipulate,” he said.
Media monitor Ana García Vilchis took aim at the United States-based Mexican journalist Jorge Ramos, asserting that the Univision anchor “invented a migration crisis” by saying on television that 150,000 migrants were waiting in northern Mexico to cross into the United States in the lead-up to the expiration of the Title 42 migration expulsion policy.
She said Ramos had no source for his claim and denounced the figure he cited as false.
“What is true is that about 26,000 people have been counted at border crossings with the United States. … Both the government of Mexico … and United States authorities are working together to avoid mass crossings … and to protect [migrants’] safety and human rights, in contrast to what Jorge Ramos says,” García said.
AMLO fielded a question about a proposal from Morena Deputy Ignacio Mier to hold a public consultation, or referendum, on his plan to change the constitution to allow citizens to directly elect Supreme Court justices and other judges.
The president said he supported the referendum idea, but added:
“We have to look at the legal procedure because it seems … consultations can’t be carried out once the electoral processes begin. If there is time [to hold one before the 2024 election period begins] … it would be good because … we all have to participate in cleaning up … [and] purifying public life.”
López Obrador also said it’s a “fact” that “the judicial power, almost in its entirety, from top to bottom, is rotten.”
“It only serves tycoons and criminals, it doesn’t impart justice for the benefit of the people. So we have to renew it,” he added.
A British journalist who writes for a socialist newspaper spoke in glowing terms about the “fourth transformation” López Obrador says his government is carrying out in Mexico, and asked the president whether Mexican embassies could do more to inform foreigners about it.
“Yes, more information from the foreign service about what is happening in our country is needed,” AMLO said before noting that not all of Mexico’s diplomats “agree with our project.”
“… There are diplomats who have a different background because the neoliberal model lasted a long time in Mexico – 36 years,” he said.
“… [But] in general all those who work in the foreign service have acted responsibly, even when they don’t completely sympathize with our project. There haven’t been any acts of betrayal. … Those who do help us a lot in disseminating what is taking place in Mexico … are Mexican migrants,” López Obrador said.
In addition to the daily mañanera, the president noted that his government employs a tactic that is reminiscent of the representatives of some evangelical churches to inform Mexican citizens of the government’s work and invite them to participate in the “transformation” he’s leading.
“One of the recommendations we follow is to go house to house, knock on the door, take a leaflet, a newspaper, and speak with the people,” he said.
“‘I’m so-and-so, I’ve come to invite you to participate [in our movement] so that corruption is banished from Mexico, so there is justice and so that together we can achieve a change,'” he added, offering an example of the kind of pitches that are put to “the people.”
National Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval reported early in the presser that 49 migrants reported kidnapped in San Luis Potosí had been located.
Sixteen of that number were found on previous days while 33 were located just after 3 a.m. Thursday near the border between San Luis Potosí and Nuevo León, he said.
“All were transferred to the National Immigration Institute office in San Luis Potosí,” he said.
The army chief said that no one had been arrested in connection with the disappearance of the migrants, among whom there were 11 children.
López Obrador later said that he had complete confidence in Sandoval, despite reports by Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity about his extravagant expenditure on overseas travel and his purchase of a luxury apartment.
“Among other characteristics, other virtues, the general is an honest, incorruptible person”, he said.
Asked about the recent appreciation of the peso, AMLO said that the strengthening of the currency “generally helps us.”
“For example, there is a percentage of foreign debt that is in [US] dollars, so this means a reduction in the amount of the debt [in pesos],” he said.
López Obrador acknowledged that a weaker dollar can hurt Mexican exporters, but stressed that “a strong peso is better than … [a] devaluation” of the currency.
“… Although the conservatives don’t like it, the peso is the currency that has appreciated the most in relation to the dollar in the time we’ve been in government. Now the Mexican miracle and the Mexican dream are being spoken about again,” he said.
Responding to another question, AMLO pledged that all of his government’s infrastructure projects – among which are the Maya Train railroad, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec trade corridor and the Olmeca refinery on the Tabasco coast – will be completed when he leaves office at the end of September 2024.
“We don’t want to leave projects unfinished,” he said.
“We’re going to finish all of them, rain, thunder or lightning. With all the obstacles they put in front of us we look like steeplechase runners,” AMLO said, referring to impediments such as court orders.
“We run, an obstacle [appears] and we jump it. They put another one in front of us and we jump it as well,” he said.
“Today we don’t have a presentation. We’re going to answer questions, although not for very long because we’re off on a tour, we have to go and supervise [construction of] the Maya Train [railroad],” AMLO said at the beginning of a presser that lasted more than two hours.
López Obrador noted that he issued a new decree on Thursday that established five infrastructure projects and assets, including the Maya Train railroad and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec trade corridor, as matters of national security and public interest.
The decree – which was published after the Supreme Court struck down a similar albeit broader 2021 decree – is necessary to protect the projects from “senseless, irresponsible, corrupt [and] unpatriotic” people who could stop them via the obtention of court orders, he said.
López Obrador asserted that there is “no legal provision” in the decree to “deny information” to citizens about the projects. Claims to the contrary constitute anti-government “propaganda,” he said.
“… Just imagine, benefits for the people of the southeast [could be] canceled due to nothing more than the caprices of the corrupt elite,” AMLO said.
“Why are we concerned? And why was the decision taken to make these projects actions of national security. Because those who are bringing injunctions against all these projects are receiving funding from the United States government, and we can prove that,” he said.
López Obrador once again railed against the Supreme Court, which has also recently struck down part of his electoral reform package and legislation that allowed the National Guard to be placed under the complete control of the Ministry of National Defense.
“It’s completely against us and the transformation of the country, … [it’s] part of the same conservative and corrupt group,” he said.
“… We got here as a result of the votes of a majority of Mexicans, but we inherited the judicial power from the old regime and it’s practically intact – it’s the same old judicial branch, we have to renew it,” AMLO said.
Responding to another question, López Obrador revealed that the government had received information about the presence of “armored vehicles” of the kind “the United States army uses” in the northern border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, where two United States citizens were killed earlier this year.
“What are they called? Hummers, yes. … They’re investigating why they were in the city,” he said.
“Nobody knows how they crossed [the border from the United States]. … They’re investigating how they crossed to Mexico,” chimed in Jesús Ramírez, AMLO’s communications chief.
“Maybe they’re those that they withdraw [from military use] and sell. In any case, we have to investigate,” López Obrador said.
Toward the end of his presser, the president once again turned his mind to the nation’s Supreme Court justices and proposed that information about their financial positions – their assets and overall wealth – and those of other judges be made public.
“I believe that all citizens have the right to know about the wealth of public servants, there’s no reason to hide it,” he said.
AMLO told a reporter that if he uncovered any information about the assets of “justices, magistrates and judges,” – many of whom he asserts earn excessive salaries and are corrupt – he would disseminate it at his morning pressers.
“Transparency is a synonym of democracy. Transparency is a golden rule of democracy. So let everything be known,” he said.
“… The more informed people are the better, because this also leads to a better society,” AMLO said.
By Mexico News Daily chief staff writer Peter Davies ([email protected])