Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Trade, traditions and tortillas: the week at the mañaneras

There was another round of musical chairs in the federal government this week, with President López Obrador announcing that his labor minister would become interior minister, a deputy labor minister would become labor minister and a Labor Ministry official would become a deputy labor minister.

With more senior officials set to leave the government in coming weeks and months to focus on contesting elections in 2024, keeping up with all the changes – and finding replacements in the president’s case – is set to become an even more laborious task.

AMLO at morning press conference
There have been a number of significant cabinet changes since the beginning of Morena’s internal selection process. (Mario Jasso / Cuartoscuro.com)

Apart from touting “generational change” in his government as a result of his latest appointments, AMLO, as always, spoke about a broad range of his issues at his morning press conferences, or mañaneras, this week.

Among the topics he covered were the government’s stance on genetically modified corn, the state of the public health system, his upcoming rally to mark the fifth anniversary of his election and the Supreme Court’s ruling against his controversial electoral reform.

Monday

After another lengthy update on the construction of the Maya Train railroad, López Obrador returned to the mañanera lectern to engage with reporters.

“Article 4 must also be changed with respect to pensions,” AMLO said in an indirect response to an inquiry about whether he would seek to enshrine the protection of animals in Mexico’s constitution.

AMLO said that in the final month of his presidency – September 2024 – when the sitting period of Mexico’s 66th legislature has begun, he will send a bill to Congress proposing that the constitution be amended to state that all citizens are entitled to the seniors’ pension from the age of 65.

“It’s already being delivered [to citizens] from the age of 65 … but in the constitution [eligibility] is established from the age of 68,” he said.

“So we’re going to correct that,” López Obrador said, adding that he will also seek to enshrine pensions for people with disabilities in the constitution.

AMLO with cabinet
The president with cabinet members and other officials at the Monday press conference. (Gob MX)

In addition, he said he would seek to guarantee “human respect for animals” via a modification to article 4.

“It’s a package of initiatives that I will send … when the new [congressional] period begins,” said AMLO, who hopes that the ruling Morena party and its allies will have a supermajority in both houses of Congress following next year’s elections, which would allow them to change the constitution without having to rely on support from opposition parties.

Later in his press conference, the president reaffirmed his opposition to genetically modified corn, and conceded that the government’s plan to ban the use of such maize in tortillas and dough by 2024, and as animal feed at a later date, could lead the United States to request the establishment of a dispute settlement panel under the USMCA free trade pact.

“We don’t allow the use of genetically modified corn for human consumption. That was a commitment we made … and we’re fulfilling it,” López Obrador said.

“… The deadline for [banning] the use of yellow corn for fodder was extended, … but [the United States] keeps insisting on being able to use yellow [GM] corn for human consumption and we’re not going to allow it. That’s why [we have] this consultation,” he said in reference to dispute settlement talks requested by the U.S. earlier this month.

“They might take us to a panel, but it’s a matter of public health,” said AMLO, who believes that GM corn consumption is harmful to humans.

Toward the end of his presser, López Obrador announced that Labor Minister Luisa María Alcalde Luján would become interior minister following the resignation of Adán Augusto López Hernández, who is seeking the ruling Morena party’s nomination for the 2024 presidential election.

Luisa Alcalde
Labor Minister Luisa María Alcalde Luján has been named the new interior minister following the resignation of Adán Augusto López Hernández last week. (Luisa Alcalde/Twitter)

“Luisa María … is young; it’s very important to think about generational change, to give opportunities to young people,” he said.

“In addition, Luisa María is a lawyer and she was already a legislator,” López Obrador said before praising her performance in her current position.

With Alcalde as labor minister “there have been four increases to the minimum wage,” he said.

“… So, she’s going to be interior minister.  … I believe there are now more women than men in the cabinet,” said López Obrador, who announced last week that Mexico’s ambassador to Chile, Alicia Bárcena, would replace Marcelo Ebrard as foreign minister.

“They’re women with conviction, with principles, with ideals, and that helps a lot,” he said.

Tuesday 

Introducing the recurring “Pulso de la Salud” (Health Pulse) segment, AMLO reaffirmed that Mexico will soon have a public health system that is better than those in Denmark and Canada.

By eliminating government corruption, including graft related to healthcare, there is sufficient money to improve the public health system, he said.

“There is no budgetary limit to guarantee the right to healthcare,” López Obrador added.

The governors of Nayarit, Tlaxcala, Colima, Sonora, Sinaloa and Baja California Sur attended the press conference to formally sign on to the federal IMSS-Bienestar health care scheme, which provides care to patients who don’t have health insurance.

“IMSS-Bienestar is today an institution of the Mexican state that provides medical care and free medications to people without social security,” said Zoé Robledo, director of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS).

IMSS Bienestar
Six governors and the head of IMSS, Zoé Robledo, with the president at the Tuesday morning press conference. (Gob MX)

He said that 17 states and Mexico City have implemented the IMSS-Bienestar scheme, and indicated that seven other states are likely to follow suit.

“We’re convinced that by the end of the year IMSS-Bienestar will become the largest public health care provider on the entire planet, with the most hospitals, the most workers [and] the most healthcare centers,” the IMSS chief said.

“The most important thing … [is that it’s] made for Mexicans, for the diseases they suffer,” Robledo added.

Later in the presser, a reporter noted that former foreign affairs minister Marcelo Ebrard had proposed creating a ministry of the 4T, or fourth transformation – the monumental change AMLO claims his government is carrying out – if he wins next year’s presidential election.

The reporter also noted that one of the president’s sons had rejected the idea that he could head up the ministry, as Ebrard proposed.

“I don’t want to give an opinion on matters … [related] to the survey to choose the coordinator of the defense of the transformation,” López Obrador said, referring to the ruling Morena party’s process to select a candidate for the 2024 presidential election.

Marcelo Ebrard
As an aspirant to the Morena candidacy for 2024, Marcelo Ebrard has been touring the country this week. (Marcelo Ebrard/Twitter)

“… The transformation will continue and it requires direction, it requires someone who will provide continuity, [a person] to whom I’m going to hand over the baton of the transformation movement, but I don’t want to give an opinion on the process,” he said.

“… My immediate family – my sons, my wife Beatriz, don’t get involved at all in this process. … We don’t have favorites,” AMLO said.

López Obrador subsequently confirmed that he would travel to Chile in September to attend events marking the 50th anniversary of the death of former Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was killed in the 1973 military coup in the South American country.

“I consider president Allende a pacifist with a democratic vocation, I believe he is the most important [such person] of recent times,” AMLO said.

“I would compare him with [former Mexican president Francisco I.] Madero because at that time, 50 years ago, it was very much insisted on … that transformation – structural changes – could only be achieved by armed means. But he always sought transformation by peaceful means and that’s why he was the victim of a gang of ruffians, starting with the treacherous general Augusto Pinochet.”

Just before the conclusion of his press conference, López Obrador announced that Marath Bolaños López would succeed Luisa María Alcalde Luján as labor minister.

Marath Bolaños
The new labor minister to take over from Luisa María Alcalde will be deputy minister Marath Bolaños López. (Marath Bolaños/Twitter)

“He’s currently deputy labor minister and in charge of the Youths Building the Future [apprenticeship] program. … He’s young, I believe he’s the same age as Luisa María [35], it’s generational change,” AMLO said.

“Tomorrow we’re going to announce another change,” he added without providing any other details.

Wednesday

“As we do every Wednesday, we’re going to report on “Who’s who in the lies of the week,” AMLO said, referring to the recurring fake news exposé segment presented by Ana García Vilchis.

“… It’s a sample, a summary [of fake news] because there’s a bombardment of lies like never before. With honorable exceptions, media outlets don’t report but manipulate,” he added.

García took aim at the “prophets of doom” in the media, asserting that they had once again lied by reporting that the Federal Electricity Commission doesn’t have sufficient electricity generation capacity for the summer months.

Ana García Vilchis
Ana García Vilchis during the weekly “fake news” exposé section of the morning press conferences, this time debunking a photo that was supposed to show AMLO embracing Hugo Chávez. (Mario Jasso / Cuartoscuro.com)

“Reforma and El Heraldo [de México] disseminated a lie, according to which the Federal Electricity Commission would be overwhelmed by the heat wave our country is currently going through and that there would be blackouts as a result. This is false,” she said.

“Manipulation of information seeks to sow uncertainty, but we say to everyone: don’t be fooled, the Federal Electricity Commission has sufficient capacity to respond to maximum energy demand during summer,” García said.

“… With the current heatwave it is estimated that electricity demand increases by up to 5% across the country. The Federal Electricity Commission has that [higher] demand covered and more. … There has been no shortage of electricity, the operating conditions across the country are normal.”

Back before reporters, López Obrador also asserted that “there is no problem” with electricity supply. An alert declaration issued by the National Energy Control Center on Tuesday due to dwindling electricity reserves was “routine,” he said.

Responding to a question about rules related to parties’ selection of presidential candidates  and allegations that Morena has violated them, AMLO said it was normal for “temperatures to rise” and for there to be “nervousness” a year out from the election.

He defended the legality of Morena’s selection process amid claims that under electoral laws it is too soon for presidential aspirants to begin campaigning for a party’s candidacy.

The ruling party process currently underway is to choose “the coordinator for the defense of the transformation” rather than the 2024 presidential candidate, he said.

“I conclude my mandate [as president] in September next year, but at the same time I’m … the leader of the process of transformation and that’s what’s going to be resolved, [it’s about selecting] who will receive the baton so that I have complete freedom and can use my last year [in office] to finish the [government’s infrastructure] projects,” he said.

The president, who is obliged by Morena rules to remain neutral in the selection process, noted that he would hold a rally in Mexico City’s central square, the Zócalo, on July 1 to mark the fifth anniversary of his comprehensive 2018 election victory, and called on those planning to attend to not demonstrate their support for any of the presidential aspirants.

Zócalo Mexico City
The president last called for supporters to rally in the Zócalo to commemorate the nationalization of oil in March. (Gob MX)

“This is to commemorate the triumph of the transformation of Mexico. … Everyone is invited, but there should be zero politicking,” he said.

AMLO later confirmed that a photo circulating on social media that showed him embracing the late former president of Venezuela Hugo Chávez was doctored.

“I never saw him, … I never spoke to him, but I’m not going to disrespect him,” he said.

In a change of pace, one reporter sought the president’s opinion on legislation in Mexico City that allowed “nightclubs with table dance and erotic dances” to open.

“I have no knowledge about that,” AMLO retorted. “But we’re going to ask [Security Minister] Rosa Icela [Rodríguez] to inform us, she’ll be with us on Tuesday.”

Among other remarks, López Obrador said that the personnel change he had flagged announcing would be held off until Thursday, and defended the government’s reforestation/employment program Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life) in response to an assertion that its implementation in El Salvador and Honduras isn’t helping to stem northward migration.

“It’s extremely important and it helps a lot,” he said. “Of course, more support is needed. … It’s not possible that Mexico is investing more than the United States in programs dedicated to the people.”

Thursday

Hours before the ruling was handed down, AMLO successfully predicted that the Supreme Court (SCJN) would invalidate the second part of the electoral reform package recently approved by Congress.

“I believe it’s an invasion, an interference with the legislative power,” he said of the court’s overruling of the Congress.

The SCJN has become the “supreme conservative power” that defends the interests of the “conservative minority,” López Obrador asserted.

“[The justices] are arguing that the … [electoral reform] wasn’t discussed in Congress, wasn’t discussed enough when it was discussed and the conservative bloc … didn’t want to participate,” he said.

“That’s why they’re going to annul the electoral law,” AMLO added.

“… That’s why I think it’s extremely important for the members of the judicial power to be elected, like the president is elected, like deputies are elected, like senators are elected,” he said.

“… I’m going to present a reform bill … so that the people chose [judges] like in the time of the Restored Republic, the time of [former president Benito] Juárez and [former finance minister Miguel] Lerdo, when judges with a lot of integrity, a lot of principles and who represented the interests of the people were those who made up the judicial power, not employees of vested interest groups,” AMLO said.

Mexican Supreme Court
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a 9-2 vote to strike down electoral reform passed in February. Justice Javier Laynez argued the legislation was rushed through the lower house of Congress contrary to the “principle of democratic deliberation.” (SCJN)

Later in the mañanera, a reporter reminded the president that he hadn’t announced the personnel change he mentioned at his two previous pressers.

“Ah, yes, it’s done. Look, you’re going to say it’s [just] a deputy minister role, but it’s a very important one that matters a lot to me due to what is done in benefit of young people,” López Obrador said.

Quiahuitl Chávez Domínguez, a Labor Ministry official, will replace Marath Bolaños López as deputy labor minister, he announced.

AMLO noted that she will be responsible for the government’s apprenticeship scheme called Youths Building the Future. He said that 2.6 million young people are benefiting from or have benefited from the scheme, which in addition to providing on-the-job training has been the subject of corruption allegations.

“Of these 2.6 million, half have stayed to work permanently in the place they were trained,” López Obrador said.

“Who is the tutor? The maestro of a mechanical workshop, the owner of a shop, a factory, … a handicrafts workshop – that’s where they’re learning.”

After AMLO listed a range of reasons why his July 1 rally will be a celebration, a reporter put a simple question to him: “Are you satisfied, Mr. President?”

“I’m very satisfied, I’m very pleased,” he responded before conceding that he still has things to do in his 15 months left in office.

“I have to keep applying myself in order to not leave anything outstanding, to not leave unfinished [infrastructure] projects. [I have to] finish the Maya Train, finish the trans-isthmus [corridor], finish the Tulum airport, finish the irrigation systems, … finish the aqueducts, … establish the network of 3,000 branches of the Bank of Well-Being, … [have] the health system working perfectly. … We still have a lot of things to do, but we are doing well, we are making progress,” López Obrador said.

Friday

AMLO held his last press conference of the week in the capital of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, where he was joined by officials including Governor Rutilio Escandón, National Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval and new Interior Minister Luisa María Alcalde.

“I’m truly very pleased to be here. The sun rises very early, Chiapas is luminous and one of the most beautiful states of Mexico, with good, hard-working, peaceful people. Now we’re going to confirm that with the security data,” López Obrador said.

Sandoval, who regularly offers state-based security reports when the president takes his mañanera on the road, noted that Chiapas is the eighth most populous state of Mexico with 5.5 million residents.

Based on per-capita data for the 4 1/2 years since the current government took office, Chiapas ranks 25th among the 32 federal entities for kidnapping and human trafficking, 26th for homicides and extortion, 30th for vehicle theft and 32nd for home burglaries, he said.

Data presented by Sandoval showed there were 1,969 homicides in Chiapas between December 2018 and May 2023, making the southern state the 21st most violent based on absolute murder numbers.

Escandón, elected governor in 2018 on a Morena party ticket, pledged Chiapas’ commitment to the “transformation” being carried out by the López Obrador administration and asserted that the chiapanecos, as residents of the southern state are known, are “witnesses of the fulfillment of government proposals.”

Governor of Chiapas
Chiapas governor Rutilio Escandón at the Friday press conference. (Gob MX)

“The southeast of Mexico now reflects socio-economic development thanks to the great infrastructure projects [of the federal government] such as the Olmeca refinery, the Maya Train and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Trade Corridor,” he said.

Among other remarks, the governor said that his government is speaking with “the relevant authorities” about the creation of a regional low-cost airline to be called Chiapas Despega (Chiapas Takes Off).

The airline, he said, would “satisfy demand for flights between municipalities” in the southern state.

Responding to his first question of the day, López Obrador expressed his dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court’s ruling against the second part of his electoral reform.

“What [the justices] did yesterday was to correct another power,” he said.

“It’s like the legislative power deciding to prosecute corrupt judges, magistrates, justices. … It’s one power intervening in the internal processes of another,” AMLO said.

“… More than anything, I interpret this as a political attitude of protection, of defense of the interests of a greedy and corrupt minority, which [previously] dominated in Mexico – those who felt they were the owners of Mexico hijacked the government. … As they can no longer dominate in the executive or the legislative, that minority is taking over the judicial power, turning it into a supreme conservative power,” he said.

“… With what moral authority [can the justices] question the procedures of the legislative power,” López Obrador said after railing against the high salaries they earn.

Asked why the security situation in Chiapas is better than in most other states, AMLO offered a thoughtful response.

“It’s largely due to cultures, to deep Mexico, to traditions, to customs, to conserving our background and cultural heritage. When there is more community life, there is less crime. It’s because there is integration in families, the social fabric isn’t broken, there is mutual support – that is extremely important. There is solidarity, fraternity,” he said.

Protesters in San Cristóbal de las Casas
Protesters in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, as a show of support for the EZLN on June 8. (Isabel Mateos Hinojosa / Cuartoscuro.com)

“… Another very favorable element has been the work of the churches in Chiapas, … I’m referring to the Catholic Church and evangelical churches in all their denominations – that has helped as well.”

The president later acknowledged that Alcalde has faced criticism – especially on social media – since her appointment as interior minister and offered her the opportunity to respond.

“Although it seems incredible, what I believe is that these kinds of openly misogynist and sexist comments help. They expose a conservative way of thinking, in which you can only place a woman or a young woman in some spaces of society. … The good news is that there are fewer and fewer [people who think that way]. We’ve made a lot of progress on the path … to equality,” she said.

AMLO resumed his position at the mañanera lectern, and promptly asserted that progress on security matters in Chiapas – where violence has recently affected border and Zapatista communities – “also has to do with the participation of the governor” in the federal government’s security strategy.

In his final remarks of his presser, López Obrador noted that he had asked the king of Spain (in 2019) to apologize for the “extermination, repression and exploitation” of Indigenous people in Mexico during the colonial period.

He highlighted that his government has apologized to the Maya people, the Yaqui people, and “even the communities of Chinese citizens who were repressed and exterminated during the Mexican Revolution,” whereas the king of Spain “didn’t even reply to my letter.”

“He sent his spokespeople, [Peruvian novelist Mario] Vargas Llosa among others, to respond to us by attacking us,” AMLO said shortly before declaring it was time for breakfast.

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

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