Andrés Manuel López Obrador rose to power in 2018 pledging a transformation of Mexico after decades of one-party rule and rampant corruption. He promised to democratize Mexico and put an end to the devastating neoliberal policies that have dominated the country in recent decades.
In a country where seven out of ten live in poverty, this is no small promise. But the president’s vision, which places the disenfranchised at its core, has largely been blind to the violence Mexican women regularly face. Mexicans are bombarded with news of violent deaths and disappearances on a daily basis. But the murder of twenty-five-year-old Ingrid Escamilla in Mexico City in February, stabbed and dismembered by her partner, shocked the public after pictures of her skinned body appeared on the front page of a local paper and circulated across social media. The leak and subsequent publishing of Escamilla’s picture — under the headline “It was cupid’s fault” — stoked more outrage.
Feminists protested outside the National Palace where López Obrador holds daily morning press conferences, chanting, spray-painting, and setting fire to the five-hundred-year-old palace’s front door to demand justice for Escamilla and the women who are murdered daily. A week after Escamilla’s murder, a seven-year-old girl’s body was found inside a plastic bag after she was kidnapped outside of her school and sexually assaulted. Protesters demanded a clear position from the president, who described the murder as “unfortunate” and said city officials were investigating.
On February 10, during his daily morning press conference, López Obrador invited Mexico’s attorney general to present a huge cardboard check his office had recovered from a corruption probe worth 2 billion pesos. Instead, reporters questioned the attorney general over his proposed bill to change the definition of what constitutes a femicide. But the proposed bill quickly fell apart due to backlash from feminists, who saw the proposal as a de facto elimination of femicides from the criminal code by turning it into aggravated assault. They claimed this was a step backward in Mexico’s fight for women’s rights and commitment to the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
A clearly displeased López Obrador ordered reporters to stop. “I don’t want femicides to be the only topic [today],” he said, and continued with “the most important issue above all,” his fight against corruption and white-collar crime. But femicides have increased 137 percent in the last five years in Mexico; ten women were murdered every day in Mexico in 2018. Instead of detailing measures to end the impunity that results in only 3.2 percent of femicides being solved, López Obrador claimed the protests were an orchestrated assault from the right-wing opposition.
“It’s a strange thing that conservatives have turned into feminists, and we are now ‘machistas,’” he said sarcastically. “If [conservatives] have a problem with us, they shouldn’t dress up as feminists because that’s immoral.” The president often conflates his critics with members of the conservative political elites who have opposed him for decades. In the same way, he claimed conservatives had infiltrated the feminist cause to attack him. Since condemnation of his reaction came from all fronts, including opposing political parties and outlets ideologically close to them, he called them hypocrites.
“We are on women’s side, we are not ‘machistas.’ We come from a leftist movement,” he said in one of his daily morning briefings. “Do you know where the ‘machismo’ is? Who are ‘machistas’? The conservatives.”
In response, on March 8, at least eighty thousand women in Mexico City came out to demand an end to gender violence, chanting, “Me cuidan mis hermanas, no la policía” (“My sisters look after me, not the police”) and the now-famous Chilean refrain, “El Estado opresor es un macho violador” (“The oppressor state is a macho rapist.”)
Violeta Vazquez is a linguistics professor at the Colegio de México and an outspoken sympathizer of the “Cuarta Transformación,” the “fourth transformation,” as López Obrador’s political project is known. “There are different movements in ‘Obradorismo,’” she said. Since beginning his political career in the mid-1970s, AMLO has advocated for democracy and social justice. He identifies strongly with the nineteenth-century liberal president of indigenous heritage, Benito Juárez, and the leftist president Lázaro Cárdenas, who governed from 1934–1940, nationalized Mexico’s oil, and redistributed land to dispossessed peasants.
The first time López Obrador ran for the presidency in 2006, he ran as part of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and lost in what is widely acknowledged as a stolen election. In the aftermath, he mobilized tens of thousands of his supporters and occupied the heart of Mexico City for forty-eight days, closing down main streets and causing the city big losses.
He ran again in 2012 and lost to Enrique Peña Nieto, a symbol of Mexico’s notoriously corrupt old regime, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that governed for seventy-one years straight. AMLO created his own party, MORENA, which began as a “movement of national regeneration” and became a registered party in 2014.
MORENA was his launching pad to run in the 2018 elections for the third time, and was made up of a wide coalition that cut across political currents, age, gender, and class. The disillusionment that many Mexicans felt toward the status quo — rampant corruption scandals, growing inequality, over sixty thousand disappearances related to the drug war — set the stage for his victory.
AMLO took office on December 1, 2018 with 53 percent of the vote. The president’s popularity is still overwhelmingly high, but his approval ratings have dropped in his last year in office, according to polls, due to a sluggish economy and high levels of violence, including gender violence. There were about 34,608 homicides in 2019, an increase from 2018, and March 2020 has been the most violent month of his presidency.
Violence is the problem that most “worries and occupies” the president. For this reason, he holds a daily meeting with his security cabinet and uses his morning press conferences to give periodic reports on homicide data and security strategy. The same goes for the president’s anti-corruption campaign. When López Obrador wants to show he is fighting corruption or carrying out social programs for the poor, he gives weekly updates during his press conference on topics like oil theft, banks’ commission rates, or the construction of his flagship infrastructure projects.
Vazquez would like to see the president implement a similar communication strategy to inform the public about femicides and make clear that there is no impunity, that investigations are taking place and perpetrators will be punished. But she was disappointed in the president’s personal response to the feminist protests. “If he avoids the subject, it’s bad; if he addresses it, it’s worse. If he calls himself a feminist, it’s bad,” she said about the disconnect between political discourse and action. “If he calls himself a humanist, it’s worse. There’s nothing that can comfort anyone at the moment.”
Source: Jacobin Magazine
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