Mexico is a marvelous country. Extraordinary. But it is not peaceful.

That’s where Andrés Manuel López Obrador is wrong. And for things to change, it is necessary to recognize the violent reality facing the nearly 130 million Mexicans.

This is what happened in the last of the daily presidential news conferences I attended.

Five times I asked to participate in the morning news conferences at the National Palace, and five times I was allowed, without anyone asking for my questions in advance – which I would never agree to – and with absolute freedom to ask whatever I wanted. The president allowed me to ask my questions five times, and each time we had an intense and open exchange. I am grateful for all this.

But the president and I disagree on the violence.

“You’re not going to tell me that Mexico is a peaceful country,” I told him. “Mexico is a very violent country.”
“No,” he answered. “Look, it is a peaceful country.”
“With 166,000 murders in five years?”
“It is a peaceful country,” he insisted. “A good part of this are fights between gangs to compete in the drug retailing business … If we continue with the same policies, we will fix it. And now I tell you that I am sure of that.”

During the next two mañaneras, the president kept up his triumphalist line, even though his six-year term could wind up with 190,000 homicides, far above the murders recorded during the two preceding governments. “Mexico is living through a stellar moment in its history,” he said one day. The next day he declared that “Mexico is in its best moment.”

It is not. Let’s look at it.

The United States is also a dangerous country. Last year there were 656 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and there’s an extremely grave problem of lack of security in public places because of the lack of gun controls. Even so, Mexico had more murders – 29,675 to 18,854 in the United States – although the United States has a much larger population of 330 million people.

What is most frustrating about this issue is that if President López Obrador himself does not believe that the murders of 81 people in Mexico every day, on average, is a real tragedy, then nothing will change. The militarization of the country, far from bringing peace, has generated more violence. The strategy of “hugs, not bullets,” has been a disaster. And that will be the principal challenge for the next president.

But violence is not the worst concern in Mexico. The president has also eroded and tested Mexico’s young and fragile democracy as he gathered so much power, by militarizing the country and from his powerful news conference podium disqualifying judges, activists, feminists and journalists; criticizing the National Electoral Institute, which guarantees free elections; trying to disappear independent agencies; and shamefully supporting dictatorships like those in Cuba and Venezuela. Mexico should never be like Cuba. AMLO never dared to call Fidel or Raul Castro a dictator, or Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Despite all of the above, I am convinced that Mexicans will not allow democracy to disappear. On the contrary. It took so much work, so much time and so many lives that they will continue to fight for it. Vote by vote. The June 2 presidential election must be won simply by whoever has more votes.

Something interesting happened at the end of the news conference I attended at the National Palace. I had told the president that Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, other than Gaza. The president also disagreed with that. Since AMLO became president, 43 journalists have been murdered in Mexico, according to Articulo 19, a non-government organization that tracks such killings.

And when AMLO was leaving, after a three-hour news conference, the journalists would not let him go. They bombarded him with questions about a leak of personal details about 300 journalists who cover the presidential news conferences. That leak, officially blamed on a former employee, endangers the lives of the journalists and their families. That demand for an accounting should be the daily norm.

I have never understood why more journalists don’t go to his news conferences. It’s not easy to get the microphone, but almost always a question can be lobbed at the president, with the microphone or without it. Nowhere else in the world does this happen, every working day. And that’s what must be done when the president says Mexico is “peaceful.” You can prove to him, with your own facts, that it’s not.

By Jorge Ramos Ávalos

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”