After a trip to Oaxaca on the weekend, President López Obrador returned to Mexico City to begin the third working week of the new year.
The Maya Train railroad project, the controversial new anti-smoking law, “El Chapo” Guzmán’s request to return to Mexico, the 80th anniversary of the Mexican Social Security Institute and the upcoming trial of former security minister Genaro García Luna were among the issues that occupied the minds of Mexico’s 65th president and his colleagues at this week’s morning press conferences, or mañaneras.
Interior Minister Adán Augusto López spoke about a 35-year-old university thesis plagiarism scandal involving Supreme Court Justice Yasmín Esquivel before ceding the lectern to Javier May Rodríguez, the official in charge of the ambitious Maya Train railroad project, which will link cities and towns in five southeastern states.
“There are 339 days to go until we inaugurate the project in December 2023,” said May, general director of the National Tourism Promotion Fund (Fonatur)
Prior to that declaration, the Fonatur chief provided an update on construction of Section 1 of the project, a 226-kilometer stretch between Palenque, Chiapas, and Escárcega, Campeche.
“Along Section 1, 575 complementary projects are being built: 12 bridges that will cross rivers and streams, four viaducts, 383 drainage projects and 176 vehicular, pedestrian and wildlife bridges. All this … will allow the passage of the train with complete safety … [while] conserving the connectivity and everyday activities of the population. Ecosystems will be protected as well,” May said.
The governors of Chiapas and Tabasco later took the stage to express their support for the railroad, one of AMLO’s pet infrastructure projects.
“Tabasco residents and [residents of] the south-southeast of Mexico are excited and grateful for the benefits and prosperity this great Maya Train project will bring,” gushed Tabasco Governor Carlos Merino.
During his responses to reporters’ questions, López Obrador announced that National Guard commander Luis Rodríguez Bucio was replacing Ricardo Mejía Berdeja as deputy security minister, and reiterated his gratitude for U.S. President Joe Biden, who was in Mexico last week for the North American Leaders’ Summit.
“We’re grateful to President Biden because he’s the only [president] for many years who hasn’t built walls on the border. … That’s not the way to resolve the migration problem, we have to attend to the causes. … We’ve already said it many times – people don’t abandon their towns for pleasure, they do it out of necessity and President Biden understands that,” he said.
Later in the press conference, a reporter asked the president whether the arrest earlier this month of Sinaloa Cartel operative Ovidio Guzmán signaled the end of the government’s non-confrontational, welfare-focused “hugs, not bullets” security strategy.
“No,” López Obrador said. “… The fundamental thing is to attend to the causes [of crime] and that won’t change because we believe that human beings … are not bad by nature.”
In a pandemic update, Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell reported that COVID cases have been on the rise for 12 consecutive weeks.
However, “the positive news,” the coronavirus czar said, is that COVID hospitalizations and deaths have only risen slightly in the same period.
Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez later provided a report on homicide statistics for 2022, presenting data that showed that murders declined 7.1% compared to the previous year, but still remained above 30,000.
In his Q & A session with reporters, President López Obrador denied claims that the appointment of the National Guard commander as deputy security minister, and the naming of a retired general as the new National Guard chief, was another step forward in the militarization of Mexico.
“That’s another … [claim] of the conservatives, their spokespeople and the majority of the media,” he said.
“… Through smear campaigns and dirty wars, they [seek to] weaken and undermine those they consider adversaries.”
Asked about a strict anti-smoking law that took effect last Sunday, AMLO responded:
“We have to do everything that helps to prevent diseases. And it’s proven that tobacco affects [people’s] health so the measures being taken are helping a good purpose. Of course, those in the tobacco business … might not agree.”
The president also took a question on a recent InterNation’s survey that found that Mexico City was the third best city in the world for expats.
“Thousands of foreigners have come to live in Mexico City in recent years, especially from the United States, young people,” López Obrador said, wading into a controversial issue.
“It’s a city that fascinates them, a safe city. … Mexico City has fewer homicides than other large cities of the world,” he said.
After a presser intro from AMLO, government spokesperson Ana Elizabeth García Vilchis presented her “Who’s who in the lies of the week” segment, during which she took aim at a favorite target – the Reforma newspaper.
Citing a report on last week’s North American Leaders’ Summit published under the headline “AMLO, Biden and Trudeau avoid conflicts; prioritize photos,” García asserted that the newspaper didn’t bother to find out that “bilateral and trilateral meetings were carried out” and “outstanding issues were dealt with.”
“…Reforma doesn’t accept that the dialogue between the three countries occurred in an environment of respect and willingness to work in a coordinated way for the benefit of the three countries,” she added.
The president fired the starting gun on reporters’ questions and was promptly asked about the imminent trial in the United States of Genaro García Luna, a former federal security minister accused of colluding with the Sinaloa Cartel.
“It’s important to … [follow] this trial so that these things don’t happen again, because we’re speaking about a high-ranking public official,” López Obrador said.
AMLO noted that García Luna worked in different law enforcement agencies before becoming “very close to president [Felipe] Calderón” and obtaining a lot of power while public security minister between 2006 and 2012.
He also said that the former cabinet minister had relationships with high-ranking U.S. officials.
“That’s why the trial is very important; [to find out] how involved were the agents or authorities of the United States.”
Turing to another criminal matter, the leftist leader said that the government was dealing with a request from convicted drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to return to Mexico from the United States, where he is in prison.
Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S. Esteban Moctezuma, “sent the request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs … and the person in charge of North America [affairs] is already looking at this issue, we’re going to review it,” López Obrador said.
Answering another question, AMLO noted that 125 Canadian mining companies operate in Mexico and declared that most are doing the right thing in terms of looking after the environment.
“Fortunately the majority of Canadian mining companies are helping us to not destroy territory, to look after the environment,” said López Obrador, who has boasted that his government hasn’t granted a single new mining concession since it took office in late 2018.
Canadian mining companies pay the highest mining sector wages in Mexico and help the communities in which they operate, and state governments, more than other mining firms, the president added.
AMLO appeared at his press conference on Thursday and announced the staging of an “extremely important commemoration” to mark the 80th anniversary of the foundation of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMMS), a major public healthcare provider.
Director Zoé Robledo spoke of the challenges the institute has faced over the years.
For 80 years, IMSS “has been here with all its glory and all its determination filling pages [of history with] hope and pride, but also overcoming difficult times – earthquakes, hurricanes, economic crises, disinvestment, attempts at privatization, the gale of neoliberalism and also the pandemic. But … [IMSS] has always come through, evoking the eagle that represents and identifies us,” he said.
López Obrador later expressed his appreciation of IMSS workers, declaring that their work during the “difficult times” of the pandemic mustn’t be forgotten.
“They were heroes, heroines – the IMSS nurses, doctors and workers who helped save lives, who placed their lives at risk to save the lives of others,” the president said.
He later noted that he had fulfilled his commitment to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by meeting with representatives of four Canadian companies and resolving their problems with Mexico’s electricity sector “without any obstacle.”
“We always seek conciliation,” AMLO declared.
He closed his mañanera with one of his favorite recurring segments: a presentation on his popularity in comparison to other world leaders.
“[Prime Minister Narendra] Modi, from India, is still beating us, he’s a phenomenon, 76% approval and 20% disapproval,” López Obrador said as he displayed the latest data from polling company Morning Consult.
“We’re maintaining second place, 66% [approval and] 28% [disapproval]. That’s why I say there’s no [political] polarization [in Mexico], there’s politicization,” he said.
“… We’re doing well. And thank you very much to the people for your support, we’re never going to betray you,” AMLO remarked.
The Antiguo Palacio de Ayuntamiento – the Mexico City Town Hall – was the venue for the president’s final presser for the week.
“We’re very happy to be … [here] in this jewel of colonial architecture, seat of the Mexico City government. … Not all the [government] security meetings and press conferences are held in the National Palace, we go out to the states and we’re going to continue doing it,” AMLO said.
After praising Claudia Sheinbaum as an “intelligent, hard-working and honest” woman, López Obrador ceded the spotlight to the Mexico City mayor, who presented a security report.
“At this time we have an average of 2.3 homicides per day,” Sheinbaum said before highlighting that the per-capita murder rate in Mexico City in 2022 was lower than those of numerous other Western Hemisphere cities including St. Louis, Baltimore, Chicago, Monterrey, Guadalajara and Medellín.
“We’re even below the city of Los Angeles,” added the mayor, a leading contender to secure the ruling Morena party’s nomination for the 2024 presidential election.
After resuming center stage, López Obrador aired three “hypotheses” about the accusations faced by former security minister Genaro García Luna, and former president Felipe Calderón’s knowledge – or lack thereof – of his ex-colleague’s alleged collusion with criminals.
“One is that García Luna is innocent. … That’s a possibility,” AMLO said of the former security minister, who will go on trial in the United States next week.
“… The second [hypothesis] is that he was involved [in criminal activity] and Calderón had no knowledge. We don’t rule that out,” he said.
“… The third is that … García Luna committed crimes and … Calderón knew [about it],” López Obrador said, referencing a claim the former president has denied.
Asked about the attack on prominent journalist Ciro Gómez Leyva and the subsequent arrest of 11 people in connection with the crime, AMLO said progress is being made in the case.
“It’s something that concerns us a lot … because it’s … a serious case,” he said.
“[The case] has a political connotation and it’s a matter of the state. That’s why I gave the instruction for a thorough investigation. … There is already information about the characteristics of the group [that allegedly committed the crime] … and we’re trying to get to the masterminds. … Who gave the order? And who gave the money? Because all of this is done for a fee,” López Obrador said.
Before his press conference drew to a close, the 69-year-old president noted he would once again spend the weekend in the southeast of the country to inspect progress on the Maya Train.
“We have to inaugurate the Maya Train in December. That’s why I’ll be there every 15 days, looking not just at the Maya Train … [but also] other projects we have to supervise.”
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