Insights from President López Obrador's Visit to Baja California Sur

AMLO's Baja visit mixes healthcare praise with security concerns. Zapata's legacy debated, tax battles heat up, and a billionaire's golf course becomes a public battleground. #narcopresidente smears ignite AMLO's ire.

Insights from President López Obrador's Visit to Baja California Sur
President López Obrador addresses a captivated audience during the morning conference in Baja California Sur. Credit: Andrés Manuel López Obrador

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, widely known as AMLO, has a reputation for his lengthy and often digressive “Morning Conference”. These press briefings provide a glimpse into Mexico's internal affairs, often highlighting regional tensions and the complex interplay of politics and policy. Amidst recent headlines out of Baja California Sur, AMLO's conference takes on a unique significance.

Governor Víctor Manuel Castro Cosío's effusive welcome of AMLO underscores the high stakes riding on the introduction of the IMSS Bienestar public health program. The phrase “health for all, that no one is left out, that no one is left behind” isn't mere political rhetoric – it's a visceral desire in a state where healthcare disparities likely run deep.

This focus on social welfare represents a hallmark of AMLO's presidency and finds a natural resonance within the Baja California Sur context. Yet, Castro Cosío's speech also hints at an undercurrent of tension. His praise for federal security forces engaged in maintaining “peace” within the entity suggests a less-than-ideal situation brewing below the surface of this seemingly idyllic tourist haven.

Secretary of the Navy Rafael Ojeda Durán's unsparing security report peels back the facade of Baja California Sur as a carefree destination. Rape, extortion, violent assault, and domestic abuse paint an unsettling portrait at odds with the state's image. Paradoxically, it appears that Baja California Sur is both a low-homicide zone and a hotbed for other serious crimes.

The massive quantities of drugs seized, the eye-popping sum of illicit money confiscated, and a staggering number of arrests further emphasize a simmering criminal underbelly. What does this mean for residents? For tourists? How does this square with the launch of a major healthcare initiative? These questions linger unanswered.

Castro Cosío's mention of water scarcity in Baja California Sur, a peninsula known for its aridity, adds another layer of complexity. It's a reminder that even regions blessed with natural beauty and economic potential face fundamental resource challenges. The planned desalination plant in Cabo San Lucas is a welcome intervention, but a deeper exploration of how Baja California Sur plans to address long-term water sustainability would provide necessary context for these policy snapshots in the news.

AMLO's Morning Conference from Baja California Sur offers an intriguing but ultimately incomplete window into the state's situation. Castro Cosío's optimistic focus on healthcare and security obscures a more nuanced social reality. Secretary Ojeda Durán's statistics offer a cold counterpoint, prompting critical questions regarding the state's underlying social health.

The president's visit appears to be a moment of political symbolism, a show of support amidst a tangle of unresolved issues. For Baja California Sur, the real story might lie in the years to come – how federal policies translate to local wellbeing, how crime dynamics evolve, and how the ever-present challenge of water is tackled will likely tell a more definitive tale than any single conference or news cycle.

Taxman and the Case of Total Play's Missing Millions

The shores of Baja California Sur, it seems, aren't just a hotbed for sun-seeking tourists. They've become a figurative, and perhaps literal, battleground in a high-profile tax saga that has been brewing for over a decade. At the heart of President López Obrador's recent Morning Conference is the Total Play Case, a convoluted tax avoidance scheme allegedly orchestrated by one of Mexico's wealthiest businessmen, Ricardo Salinas Pliego.

The crux of the matter, as explained by Antonio Martínez Dagnino, head of SAT (Mexico's tax authority), lies in Total Play's creative accounting practices. Since 2011, the company has somehow managed to report more expenses than income – a fiscal impossibility. When confronted with the need to pay ISR (Income Tax) in 2015, Total Play opted not for compliance, but for a labyrinthine legal battle.

The tale is a stark reminder that for some, litigation is merely a tool to buy time. Nine years and countless court challenges later, Mexico's Supreme Court finally upheld the tax bill in 2022 and reaffirmed it in 2024. Still, the money remains out of government coffers. Tax attorney Grisel Galeano García's impassioned plea to the magistrates (“Delaying collection would be complicity”) emphasizes the urgency of the situation and perhaps hints at political pressure that may be stalling resolution.

Dagnino's choice of words in describing Total Play's practices is intriguing. He doesn't accuse the company of fraud or criminality. Instead, he states that its practices are “not correct”, adding that the company abused the benefits granted in certain sectors. This phrasing suggests a complex scheme, one designed to skirt the edges of legality, and underscores the challenge of pinning down sophisticated tax avoidance strategies.

The estimated 30 billion pesos still in legal limbo further underscore the sheer scale of tax revenue potentially lost. Whether this astounding figure represents audacious greed, a cynical bet on legal loopholes, or a desperate measure of a business under financial strain remains frustratingly opaque.

The President pointed out that, after the Court's resolution on the discount to one of Ricardo Salinas Pliego's companies, there has been “controversy”, which is why he invited the director of the Tax Administration Service (SAT) to the Morning Conference. Antonio Martínez Dagnino, and the prosecutor, Grisel Galeano García, to detail the matter. “I want to clarify it that there is nothing personal, we are not fighting with anyone, we do not have enemies nor do we want to have them. Yes, we defend the interests of the majority of the people because that is what they elected us for, we have to govern and defend the assets of the people and the assets of the nation,” he assured.

Likewise, he mentioned that “large corporations” do not previously pay taxes, so there is still resistance for them to comply with their tax obligations. “We seek to ensure that there are no tax privileges, because it is very unfair, how do Mexican workers pay more Income Tax than businessmen? There has to be justice,” he said. He explained that the Government of Vicente Fox has reported that companies in Salinas Pliego evade paying taxes, and go to court to defend themselves.

AMLO, the Media, and the Battle for Truth

Today’s discourse is dominated by the echoes of an accusatory report penned by journalist Tim Golden. A report devoid of substantiation, yet laden with implications of nefarious ties to drug trafficking. AMLO’s response, as expected, is a blend of defiance and disdain. “Even if there is no evidence, we are free to express it, but if there is no evidence, credibility is lost,” he asserts, his voice a potent mixture of conviction and contempt.

But beyond the mere words lies a deeper undercurrent of manipulation and misinformation. AMLO bemoans the orchestrated campaign against him, spearheaded by digital 'bots' and amplified through the viral chorus of #narcopresidente. Two hundred million repetitions, a staggering cacophony of slander and suspicion echoing across the digital landscape. “It costs a lot of money, millions of pesos to spread lies,” he laments, a lone voice railing against the tide of deceit.

Still, amidst the deluge of falsehoods, AMLO finds himself embroiled in a battle not just with external adversaries, but with the very institutions entrusted to safeguard the truth. The National Electoral Institute (INE), charged with upholding the integrity of Mexico’s electoral process, stands accused of abdicating its responsibility. Refusing to probe the origins of the resources fueling the social media smear campaigns, while simultaneously censoring the President himself. The irony is not lost on AMLO, who wryly remarks, “But it is their responsibility to censor me.”

In a display of reluctant compliance, AMLO recounts his recent tussle with the powers that be. A contentious interview, swiftly deleted upon notification, a concession offered and rebuffed, and ultimately, a golf course entangled in bureaucratic red tape. The National Guard, once again thrust into the fray, tasked with protecting what is rightfully public property. Yet, in the twisted labyrinth of Mexican politics, even the reclamation of land becomes fodder for scandal and scrutiny.

Zapata, Golf Courses, and the Revolution

It's a history President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is never far from excavating. Amid the usual flurry of his Morning Conference, one name rises above the press corps' chatter: Emiliano Zapata. AMLO, with his knack for turning politics into parables, uses Zapata as a foil for Francisco I. Madero, painting Zapata as the man of the soil, Madero as the dreamer unfamiliar with the land. “Madero's idealism would have borne fruit,” AMLO muses, “had he but embraced the peasant's plight, the Zapatista banner.”

The specter of Zapata, the iconic figure of the Mexican Revolution, hovers over AMLO, a reminder of promises made and struggles yet unresolved. The tale AMLO weaves is a classic one: the greedy Porfirista landlords, their insatiable appetite for land finally meeting its fiery match in the peasant rebellion of Zapatismo. There's a hint of wistfulness here, almost a lament for a revolution that, in AMLO's eyes, remains unfinished.

But then, as is AMLO's style, the scene shifts with jarring suddenness. We're no longer in Zapata's time; we're smack in the middle of a different fight. The setting: a golf course in Huatulco, snatched back into the nation's hands after shady dealings. Gone are the mustachioed revolutionaries, replaced by National Guard troops and a tycoon lamenting the loss of his manicured greens.

The man in the crosshairs is Ricardo Salinas Pliego, the billionaire businessman, a symbol, in the eyes of many, of the very excesses AMLO purports to despise. Salinas Pliego bemoans misused government muscle. AMLO counters by flipping back through the tattered ledgers of Mexican history. Lands once meant for the people, he claims, were parceled out by “El Presidente Fox” – Vicente Fox – and his cronies, sold off for pennies.

The golf course, AMLO asserts, has always been a playground for the rich, built on land that rightfully belongs to the nation. Forget lush fairways and perfectly placed sand traps – this land needs to be returned to nature, become a Protected Natural Area. And what of the money, AMLO questions, did a single cent of those profits flow back into the public coffers? No, those who profited did so while the state footed the bill for water and upkeep.

It's vintage AMLO: part history lesson, part populist sermon. Zapata and Salinas Pliego – two names, two eras, curiously bound together in AMLO's narrative. Both are, in different ways, manifestations of an age-old fight over who “owns” Mexico. Zapata's ghost still walks, the unresolved specter of land reform hanging over every government auction and every decree to protect the wilderness.

Ayotzinapa Case and Search for Justice

AMLO's address of the murder of a young student from the Ayotzinapa normal school cast a shadow over the proceedings, a stark reminder of the persistent specter of violence that haunts Mexico's conscience. “They wanted to fabricate facts that did not correspond to reality,” declared the President, his words laden with a palpable sense of indignation. Yet, amidst the murkiness of deceit, glimmers of truth emerged from the depths of investigation.

The grim reality of abuse of authority came to light. Two individuals were detained, while the hunt for another perpetrator continued unabated. In a rare display of unity, the governor of Guerrero, Evelyn Salgado, took decisive action, purging the ranks of her administration to root out complicity and corruption. AMLO, ever the advocate for transparency and accountability, threw his support behind these measures, reaffirming his commitment to zero tolerance for corruption and impunity.

The Ayotzinapa case, a symbol of Mexico's collective trauma, loomed. AMLO's intention to engage directly with the grieving families underscored his empathetic approach to governance, yet his lack of confidence in their legal representation raised eyebrows. In a political landscape rife with mistrust and intrigue, AMLO's skepticism seemed both prudent and perplexing, a paradox emblematic of Mexico's complex reality.