Human lives in Mexico are worth little these days. Although the Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made a statement after the recent murders of Yessenia Mollinedo and Johana García, journalists in the state of Veracruz, it is now clear that his government has failed to protect the press in Mexico and take a stand in defense of human rights.
There was something of a “honeymoon period” after AMLO took office in 2018. Voters in Mexico believed that, despite AMLO’s history of divisiveness, his government would enact the necessary reforms to combat poverty, crime and environmental degradation. Observers outside the country might have even felt optimistic about the country’s prospects, identifying AMLO as a “progressive” politician who gave voice to the poor.
Those who had been following AMLO’s career since the 1980’s knew better: AMLO is no democrat, they told us, and they were right.
López Obrador has squandered his time in office going after his enemies in the press, civil society and the opposition. Thin-skinned like Trump, he frequently lashes out against journalists who disagree with him and accuses them of spreading “toxic information.”
According to the Mexican government and other sources, at least 50 journalists and 68 human rights defenders have been murdered in the country since AMLO came to power just over three years ago. This makes Mexico about as safe for journalists and human rights defenders as the Democratic Republic of the Congo under Sese Seko. The state prosecutor offices that investigate these crimes repeatedly fail to bring anyone to account.
The EU Parliament recently passed a resolution to encourage the Mexican government to do more about the violence. AMLO responded with an insult, calling the sponsors of the resolution “sheep”. Mexico was no longer a “land of conquest” or Spanish colony, he wrote, and reminded the Europeans of his high approval ratings.
Journalists and human rights defenders are not the only victims of AMLO’s failed government. Since his administration began, 19,445 kids and adolescents (aged 0 to 17), have been reported as missing. Of these, 5,102 have not been found, dead or alive. The president has no answers for the parents of these minors. And, except for the militarization of the public security forces, no policies to propose.
At just over 95,000, Mexico rivals Syria in the number of disappeared persons, a problem that AMLO inherited from previous governments that should have prompted a bold response as soon as he took office. When confronted with a report on the subject issued by the UN, the president lashed out in characteristic fashion.
“No international organization is going to put us in the dock…,” he shot back. He then suggested that numbers presented by the UN were fabrications.
Asked to comment on the more than 110,000 homicides that have been reported since he came to power, AMLO retorted that he had “other data” and went on to argue about statistics. Asked to comment on the 324,000 reported deaths as a result of Covid, and why the country had one of the highest fatality rates in the world, the president pushed back and asked viewers to reject such attempts at “calumny”. The numbers, he seemed to be saying, were yet another attempt to discredit him.
After the war in Ukraine broke out, AMLO announced that Mexico would not impose economic sanctions on Russia and his Minister of Tourism tweeted “Warm greetings to our friends at the prestigious airline @aeroflot, hoping for prompt connectivity between nations and of course to Mexico City…” The minister deleted the tweet, but AMLO remarked soon after that Mexico would not close its doors to anyone. He then compared (the presumably unnecessary) Covid shutdowns with the proposed ban on the Russian airline, a comment that made people wonder whether the president had had his cup of coffee that morning.
As for AMLO’s campaign promises to be a good environmental steward, the facts speak for themselves: AMLO was dismissive of the COP26 Conference in Glasgow last year. “Enough of hypocrisy and fashions,” he said, “what you have to do is fight the monstrous inequality that exists in the world.” It is lost on the Mexican president that climate change will only aggravate these inequalities. And that millions of people who are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change live in Mexico and Central America.
The president regards fossil fuels as the guarantors of national sovereignty, an old left-wing idea now embraced by Trump, Putin, the Vox demagogues in Spain and the rest of the Reactionary International. And this is why he recently proposed a law that would have curtailed private investment in clean energy projects. The law was voted down in the Congress.
Elsewhere, AMLO’s administration has barreled on with the construction of a refinery in the state of Tabasco and a train (Tren Maya) that will cut across pristine wetlands and rainforests to bring more tourism to the already overdeveloped Yucatan Peninsula. The government announced long ago that this train will run on dirty fuel, if it ever leaves the station give a recent court ruling to halt the work.
When he took office, AMLO instituted the daily ritual of the mañanera, a morning press conference to promote transparency, as he put it, and inform the public about the business of government. He had been doing this since his time as governor of Mexico City. The mañaneras seemed like a welcome change from the imperial aloofness of former presidents, who could not be bothered to answer questions or even pretend that they were accountable to anyone.
AMLO’s press conferences have long since devolved into lengthy, bitter and poorly articulated monologues. Much like Hugo Chávez used to do, but lacking the eloquence, López Obrador calls on his ministers to report on various affairs of state while he listens with a grim face. Back at the lectern, he goes on the offensive again and is not above playing clips of prominent journalists saying things that supposedly prove they’re corrupt or dishonest.
After the murders of Mollinedo and García, AMLO expressed his condolences and promised a full investigation.