AMLO, Salinas Pliego, and the Billions That Got Away

Dive into Mexico's Morning Conference, where President López Obrador conducts the country's current affairs. From fuel prices to national satisfaction, each topic adds a unique note to the country's vibrant political discourse, culminating in a crescendo of drama and intrigue.

AMLO, Salinas Pliego, and the Billions That Got Away
President López Obrador addresses the nation during Mexico's Morning Conference. Credit: Andrés Manuel López Obrador

In a country where the specter of inflation casts a long shadow, there's one ritual that Mexicans hold dear: the mañanera, the President's morning press conference. It's a televised spectacle, a mix of policy updates, folksy rambling, and fiery diatribes against the usual suspects – shadowy elites and the foreign press. Yet, buried within the meandering addresses are morsels of data that directly impact ordinary lives.

Today, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (or AMLO, as he's fondly known) is on his soapbox. Fuel prices, that perennial Mexican worry, are front and center. David Aguilar Romero of Profeco, Mexico's consumer protection agency, delivers the numbers: regular gasoline at 23.12 pesos a liter, premium just a touch more, diesel not far behind.

The mañanera isn't just about announcing prices, though. It's theater as consumer advocacy. Hundreds of complaints against shady gas stations were lodged, Romero proudly reports, with spot-check task forces descending across the nation. Even the bathrooms weren't exempt from scrutiny. Perhaps those attendants who mysteriously never had change for larger bills are feeling a chill?

The spotlight then swings to LP gas, the ubiquitous fuel for stoves and water heaters. Cylinders? 20.08 pesos per kilo. Stationary storage tanks? 10.84 pesos per liter. Here, a success story unfolds. “All gas companies complied with permitted prices,” beams Romero. A victory against the faceless profiteers, thanks to an army of eagle-eyed inspectors.

Finally, the issue that hits closest to home: food prices. Mexico, like much of the world, has seen the cost of staples uncomfortably rise. Aguilar Romero has…sort of good news? A “stable trend” in food prices, with a national average of 821.43 pesos for the basic basket of goods. But that word “stable” is doing a lot of heavy lifting. It's not really “cheaper”, just not getting worse…yet.

Zooming in on the capital region, the disparity hits hard. Over 250 pesos difference between the cheapest and most expensive basic basket? That's not a fluctuation, that's a chasm. It paints a stark picture – two Mexico City families, blocks apart, could be facing vastly different realities at the checkout counter.

The mañanera is more than just numbers; it's a window into kitchen-table anxieties. Those extra pesos for gas might mean postponing a desperately needed car repair, putting another dent in savings. For families on the edge, that jump in food prices could be the difference between three meals a day and two.

But there's a peculiar twist to AMLO's inflation updates. They're strangely devoid of solutions. There's a folksy charm in chastising gas station owners and celebrating vigilant inspectors, but it doesn't address the root causes. Are wages keeping up? Is there a long-term plan to buffer against global shocks?

This, perhaps, is what's most perplexing and frustrating about the mañanera fuel updates. They offer a snapshot of pain, but no path to relief. The villain changes daily – greedy corporations, careless shopkeepers, even the occasional unhelpful bathroom attendant – but the anxieties of those watching remain the same.

A Wattage of Satisfaction

President López Obrador unveils a snapshot of Mexico's energy landscape. Against the backdrop of global economic giants, Mexico shines as the second country with the most accessible electricity within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It's a reflection of the strides taken in ensuring not just power, but affordable power, courses through every corner of the nation.

The president pivots to the emotional background of the populace, drawing upon the canvas painted by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi). The findings are as intriguing as they are heartening – most citizens, spanning the urban expanse, are cloaked in a shroud of contentment. A staggering 48% of those surveyed rate their satisfaction with life at the zenith of the scale, a resounding endorsement of the national trajectory under López Obrador's stewardship.

The Renegade Saint

AMLO is not reading economic reports or political maneuvers. The weathered pages in his hand contain excerpts from his recently published work, “Thank you!”, a personal reflection on what he coins 'Mexican humanism'. Center stage, however, is not the President himself, but the legacy of a man long dead yet indelibly woven into the Mexican identity – the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.

“He was much more than a figure in history textbooks,” AMLO emphasizes. “He was a social fighter, a rebel with a heart of pure compassion. We need to remember him, not just how textbooks portray him, but who he was.”

The crux of the matter, AMLO explains, lies in how Mexico chooses to remember the genesis of its nation. Independence Day – the iconic, annually celebrated moment – marks the cry that set alight the fight against Spain. But it was only the beginning, a spark set loose. True independence, as Hidalgo envisioned it, lay beyond the simple removal of a foreign crown.

AMLO draws a comparison few journalists would dare: Hidalgo to himself, and the consummator of Independence, Agustín de Iturbide, to the modern Mexican elite. Iturbide, once the revolution was won, sought power and titles. Hidalgo, on the other hand, demanded more. The abolition of slavery, a true upending of the system that had kept the poor in their shackles, both literal and societal. That, AMLO states flatly, is the fight that never truly ended.

“Hidalgo was too pure, too radical for the men of his time,” AMLO laments. “He frightened those who, even while speaking of freedom, craved the familiar comforts of control.”

In a move both dramatic and disturbingly resonant, AMLO reminds the room of the fate of the original revolutionary. Betrayed, captured, and brutally executed, Hidalgo's head wasn't given the dignified burial of a national hero. Rather, for ten long years, it was placed on a spike in Guanajuato – a grisly warning for anyone bold enough to dream like he did.

And here, AMLO strikes the core of his argument. Mexico isn't just a nation defined by its heroes, but by how it chooses to honor them. The Hidalgo of popular memory – the brave priest who cried out against Spanish rule – has replaced the Hidalgo who dared disrupt a power structure not dissimilar to the one AMLO criticizes today.

Is AMLO simply a master politician, utilizing history for his own agenda? Certainly. But perhaps there is a flicker of genuine reverence in his voice as well. Hidalgo has become a symbol, an idealized revolutionary convenient for all. But, perhaps under AMLO's unorthodox history lesson lies a sincere desire for Mexico to recapture something lost: the spirit, not just the image, of a man who truly fought for all his people.

A Window into National Affairs

Six cases of inflated contracts linger in the air, like ghosts of fiscal irresponsibility haunting the present administration. López Obrador, with his trademark candor, lays bare the negotiations, revealing a governmental quest to procure nine hospitals while dodging a financial bullet worth close to 140 billion pesos. It's a fiscal balancing act, a struggle of accountability, as the administration seeks to untangle itself from the webs spun in the corridors of power during the previous president's tenure.

AMLO's narrative shifts to a private tour embarked upon over the weekend, a pilgrimage through the nation's hospitals. It's a journey of scrutiny, where the president, clad in the garb of a healthcare sentinel, evaluates the heartbeat of Mexico's health system. From the condition of equipment to the availability of medicines and the dedication of medical personnel, every detail is scrutinized. It's a reminder that governance is not just about policies written in ink, but about the realities lived by millions.

Meanwhile, on the ecological front, news trickles in about the battle against forest fires raging in San Miguel Chilapa, Oaxaca. Here, nature's fury clashes with human resilience, as the Federal Executive reports progress in taming the flames.

Yet, in the midst of these tales of governance and nature's wrath, a discordant note strikes. López Obrador turns his gaze towards the judiciary, wielding his words like a scalpel, dissecting the flaws of the legal system. With a blend of frustration and determination, he laments the need for renewal, denouncing a structure riddled with inefficiencies. In his eyes, the judiciary stands accused of bearing the weight of its own misdeeds, a “Supreme Court of crookedness” in his unapologetic lexicon. It's a moving indictment, a call to arms for reform in a system shackled by its own inadequacies.

Airports, Electricity, and a Hint of Socialism

The Toluca Airport, AMLO reveals, is a bureaucratic headache. Once privatized, it now flounders as a money pit. The solution? AMLO wants the federal government to buy back the shares, returning it to public hands. This, he believes, will lead directly to the equally ambitious goal of stabilizing, or even lowering, electricity prices, especially during those brutal summer heatwaves. Critics scoff, stirring memories of failed state-owned industries of the past. But to AMLO, it's about more than efficiency. It's about a touch of socialism in Mexico's 21st-century economy, a rebuke to the neoliberal policies of his predecessors.

Free Speech and a Politicized Nation

“There is no censorship here,” AMLO declares defiantly. It's a familiar refrain. The man loves to claim he's a champion of the free press, even as he regularly lambasts journalists who dare to criticize him as “sellouts” and “conservative puppets”.

He waxes lyrical on Mexico's newly politicized citizenry, a source of pride for a president who sees himself as a revolutionary figure awakening the masses. “The debate is good,” he says. But good debate, according to AMLO, must apparently remain respectful; whether he means respectful to the institution of the presidency or merely his own ideology is a matter left open to interpretation.

This, perhaps, is where the funny turns to the unsettling. For all his talk of open debate, AMLO paints a remarkably thin-skinned portrait of the Mexican media landscape. He sees conspiracies where others see critiques, slander where others see accountability.

The President basks in the glow of a hyper-politicized population, but seems genuinely hurt when that same population criticizes his government. Yet, isn't that the natural byproduct of the very political awakening he celebrates? These morning rambles reveal an AMLO at war with himself, championing ideas of democratic energy while bemoaning the consequences.

Blast Furnaces and Burning Bridges

Altos Hornos de México (AHMSA) is a behemoth of the Mexican steel industry, its sprawling Monclova plant a symbol of the country's industrial might. Yet, recently, the company has been mired in allegations of corruption, its future hanging in the balance. AMLO, never one to shy away from a fight, has targeted AHMSA, painting the company as representative of a bygone era of shady business practices and political collusion.

“There was a lot of irresponsibility, of influence…they did what they wanted,” the President thundered in the recent press conference, his voice echoing through the Palace's ornate halls. The company is a relic, he claims, on life support from government contracts and a blind eye turned to its dealings.

In AMLO's narrative, he presents himself as a savior of sorts. This isn't simply an economic issue, it's a moral one. He refuses to forgive AHMSA's colossal debts, offering only a slight reprieve: “We can give payment terms,” he concessions, “but under new management.”

The problem with AMLO's hardline stance is that finding a willing investor with a clean reputation is proving more difficult than expected. The stench of scandal lingers, and AMLO has effectively burned his bridges with the current owners, a group he views as the embodiment of a corrupt system. His fiery rhetoric about kicking the can down the road and comparisons to disgraced ex-President Carlos Salinas further entrench the stalemate.

The echoes of past battles reverberate through AMLO's approach to AHMSA. One can almost see the ghost of his legendary fight against Pemex, the state-owned oil giant, where he battled what he perceived as bloated bureaucracy and entrenched interests. Yet, unlike Pemex, AHMSA is not a national icon. Its image is tainted, and with it, the political capital AMLO can afford to spend rescuing it.

There's an irony here. This is the same AMLO who rails against foreign companies and their influence in Mexico, yet in this case, the best hope for AHMSA's survival may be new international investment. His populist instincts are clashing with the complex realities of modern industry.

AHMSA's employees are the true casualties in this high-stakes drama, their livelihoods dependent on the whims of the powerful. The workers of Monclova, proud of their industrial legacy, now face uncertainty. AMLO's narrative paints them as innocent bystanders, pawns in a game played by corrupt elites, but that offers little consolation when paychecks are in danger.

This is where the story of AHMSA offers a potent dose of realpolitik. AMLO may be known for his idealism, but the harsh truth is that industries cannot be run on slogans alone. There's an art to economic brinkmanship, a willingness to compromise, that so far seems absent in this standoff.

Friendship, Philosophy, and the Taxman

Despite acknowledging his friendship with Salinas Pliego, AMLO was quick to point out their, ahem, philosophical differences. You see, in AMLO's world, past administrations had a fondness for waiving taxes for the wealthy. It was, some would say, a cozy arrangement. Meanwhile, your average farmer, worker, or professional? Paying their dues while the big fish swanned about.

AMLO, in his quest to right these wrongs, insists he isn't raising taxes. Instead, he's ending "fiscal privileges". The result, a remarkable increase in tax collection to the tune of 1.5 trillion pesos in only five years.

"Your money is not going to end up in a few hands," he assures the public, with a pointed glance, one assumes, in the direction of his billionaire buddy.

But Salinas Pliego, it seems, has a long-standing relationship with the tax authorities that dates back to the administration of Vicente Fox. As the years have piled on, so has the debt – now hovering around a cool 20-25 billion pesos. Neither side seems particularly keen on this arrangement, yet a resolution remains elusive.

AMLO claims a Supreme Court minister sat on the case file for months. It's shady; it's infuriating; it's a classic symptom of the very system AMLO wants to shake up.

Intriguingly, somewhere amidst the legal wrangling and public sparring, there was an attempt at negotiation. AMLO even dispatched the head of the tax service to hammer out a deal. Would Salinas Pliego take a slightly smaller hit to his fortune, perhaps?

Spoiler Alert: He wouldn't. And so, the matter, burdened as it is by taxes, interest, and years of bad blood, pirouettes back into the courtroom.

To add a delightful touch of the absurd, AMLO publicly challenged Salinas Pliego: If you've got evidence of those pesky "leaks" in the pension system for seniors, do tell! The President himself will go all whistleblower. It's the kind of taunt that doubles as savvy politics, highlighting AMLO's commitment to the little guy, even if it risks irking the country's third-richest man.

Murder of Alfredo González

A somber tone enveloped the room as President AMLO addressed the murder of Alfredo González, a candidate with aspirations to lead the municipality of Atoyac de Álvarez, Guerrero. The President's regret echoed through the halls, resonating with a profound sense of loss. González's dream, cut short by senseless violence, became a poignant reminder of the challenges faced by those daring to tread the path of political change.

In his measured cadence, President AMLO offered reassurance - a lifeline amidst despair. He spoke of governmental protection available to those who sought it, a beacon of hope flickering amidst the shadows of uncertainty. Tomorrow, he promised, specifics would be unveiled by Rosa Icela Rodríguez, the stalwart guardian of security, offering solace to a nation grappling with insecurity.

However, amidst the mourning, a different tempest brewed - the digital battleground of political warfare. AMLO's voice pierced through the clamor, addressing the insidious campaign of 'bots' that sought to poison discourse with the venomous hashtag #narcopresidente. With a deft hand, he pointed fingers without naming names, a diplomacy within the constraints of electoral decorum.

But the morning's revelations did not cease there. The spotlight shifted to the shores of Ensenada, Baja California, where a tale of mystery and tragedy unfolded. Eleven soldiers, clad in the uniform of duty, vanished into the ether, leaving behind unanswered questions and shattered families.

President AMLO's words painted a picture of resolve tinged with sorrow. As the investigation unfolded, hope flickered like a solitary flame in the darkness. Six soldiers had been found, their fates no longer shrouded in uncertainty. Yet, one remained elusive, a ghost haunting the collective conscience of the nation.

Following the tragedy, President AMLO's compassion shone through. The plight of the soldiers' relatives became a focal point of attention, a testament to the empathy that underscored his leadership.