Every morning, Andrés Manuel López Obrador walks the corridors and steps of the National Palace, a historical monument built in the 16th century, located in the Zócalo of Mexico City, which serves as his residence, office and strategic headquarters. Even before protesting as president, he decided to go live in the same compound that the viceroys of the colonial era, Emperor Maximiliano in the mid-nineteenth century and former president Benito Juárez, who died in that mythical place that, until before 2018, inhabited. It was only visited by presidents in civic ceremonies or government reports.
With López Obrador, the residence of Los Pinos – home of the Mexican presidents since 1934 – was “returned to the people”, turned into a cultural center and a kind of museum of morbid visited by thousands of people to see the bedrooms and dressing rooms of the former president Enrique Peña and his ex-wife, the telenovela actress Angélica Rivera, or the bunker in which Felipe Calderón planned the war against drugs. Head of an Administration sustained by symbols, López Obrador has made the National Palace the epicenter of politics and public life in Mexico.
Man of routines, he gets up at 5:00 from Monday to Friday; He spends half an hour on grooming and another half on reading the news. Shortly before 6:00, he walks to his office in the middle of a line of military cadets who honor him with bugles and bugles, while the first rays of light appear in the courtyards of the palace. Every day, the president heads the Security Cabinet meeting, in which civilian and military authorities give him the part of the day of a war that he did not declare, but that continues to bleed the country. Then, walk to the Treasury Room, a sober space on the ground floor, which the previous presidents used to offer dinners to high dignitaries and today is the scene of the famous morning conferences, unprecedented exchanges with the press in which the president informs, comments, debates and sets the public agenda.
Until May 31, 2021, in 913 days of government, López Obrador had starred in 619 of these press conferences, with an average duration of 108 minutes and dozens of media present. This morning oracle is just as good for reporting on the COVID-19 vaccination program as it is for issuing instructions in real time to cabinet members. The morning has served to broadcast, live and in full color, the president’s participation in a UN summit on climate change, or to sing ‘Las mañanitas’ to the moms on May 10, Mother’s Day in Mexico.
Although, as of April 2021, during the mid-term federal election campaigns – in which it was voted to renew one of the two chambers of the Union Congress, half of the governorships and 97% of the positions municipalities of the country -, the president has spoken above all about his favorite topic: conservatism, his neoliberal rivals, the corrupt past and predatory businessmen who want to boycott his government project, which he himself calls the “fourth transformation” and that the journalists abbreviate it as “the 4T”.
López Obrador says that his arrival in power was a peaceful revolution comparable to the three great revolutions – yes, armed and violent – in Mexican history: the Independence of 1810-1821, the Reform of 1857 and the Revolution of 1910-1917. With this account of the raison d’être of his so-called National Regeneration Movement (which gives its name to Morena, the party he founded in 2014), López Obrador justifies most of the government’s actions. Decisions judged as far-fetched by its critics, such as canceling the construction of an airport that had been under development for two years and an investment of 160,000 million pesos (six billion euros), building a refinery in the era of renewable energies, creating a “Institute to give back to the people what was stolen” or to finish off a recently acquired presidential plane, for him they are a hallmark of pride: they reflect that now there is a government that sees the most disadvantaged first.
Nor is he scared by the fact that the iconic international media are criticizing his Administration or warning that Q4 will lead Mexico into a canyon. When the prestigious English weekly ‘The Economist’ published in its May edition a cover with López Obrador on it, titled “The false Mexican messiah”, and an editorial calling on Mexicans to vote against Morena in the elections of 6 In June, the president devoted more than 10 minutes to the issue in three mornings, explaining that conservatism and reaction have international networks that seek to boycott his project. “They are upset that people are supporting a transformation. So they take out this silly cover, very rude, of course a liar,” he said.
In this electoral cycle, López Obrador has directed his missiles against the press, intellectuals, civil society organizations and electoral authorities. He has denounced that the United States embassy illegally finances organizations such as Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity or Article 19 Mexico Chapter, to destabilize his Government. And he has said that the National Electoral Institute (INE) – an autonomous public body created in 1990 to put an end to the electoral fraud of the PRI era – does not serve to promote democracy, but rather to obstruct it. The president has criticized electoral advisers when they approve decisions that affect Morena’s candidates, such as removing two of them who violated the financing rules for their candidacies.
According to INE data, of the 36 mornings of the electoral campaign, in 29 the president violated the Constitution, since it prohibits him – and any public official – from speaking for or against political parties, broadcasting polls with electoral forecasts or propagandize government actions and achievements.
The president has become the main offender of the strict legal framework that regulates political communication in Mexico, the product of a constitutional reform that the left promoted in 2007, after the controversial presidential election in which López Obrador alleged fraud and accused the then president , Vicente Fox, of unbalancing the terrain with his interference in the process. It is paradoxical that, today that he is in power, López Obrador is the main detractor of that model and of the sophisticated electoral system that he himself used to become President in 2018.
In the 2018 campaigns, López Obrador defined himself as a fool – the fool in Silvio Rodríguez’s song – and assured that stubbornness and perseverance would lead him to the Presidency. Once in power, he uses the same word to defend his policies and his habit of commenting openly on his most controversial decisions. Determined to achieve a place in history, he does not give respite to his collaborators, critics and the governed. It has been placed at the center of the debate and on the public agenda. Although he was not on the ballot, the June 6 elections revolved around him. He himself anticipated the dilemma: “Either you are in favor of transformation or you are against it, that’s what you are going to decide.”
More or less López Obrador, that was the main decision for the 93.5 million Mexicans of voting age summoned to the polls on June 6, 2021. Actually, that is what the Mexican story of the 21st century has been about: yes or no to López Obrador, the man who polarizes; the politician you love or detest, without half measures.
López Obrador persevered until reaching the presidency at 65, in his third election, and is not satisfied with a conventional exercise of power. His is history, which he recreates every day as he walks through the palace, with its viceregal rooms and the portraits of his heroes, in whose gallery he dreams to settle one day.
For now, today his portrait is as uncertain as the future of his fourth transformation.