MEXICO CITY – The foreign correspondents from the United States and Canada, unaccustomed to the long monologues of the president of Mexico, got a little taste of his mãnaneras, the never-ending and torturous news conferences that Andrés Manuel López Obrador holds virtually every morning.
At the end of the meeting of the leaders of Mexico, Canada and the United States, Mexican journalist Sara Pablo from Grupo Fórmula put several questions – short and precise – to the three. But the only one who answered was Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
His reply went on for 28 minutes.
The question for AMLO was on immigration and how Mexico – which in practice has become a wall and part of U.S. immigration policy – was preparing to receive tens of thousands of migrants that its neighbor is going to be returning south very soon.
In a meandering talk, the president mentioned a refinery, the Maya train line, scholarships for young people, an assistance program for people 65 and older, the trees planted by his government, the fight against corruption and immunity and a whole bunch of other issues. The White House transcription showed López Obrador delivered more than 2,500 words in his reply. And, in fact, he never answered Sara’s question. Neither Joe Biden nor Justin Trudeau could answer because AMLO abruptly ended the news conference after his reply. That was so embarrassing that at the end Biden said into a microphone, “I want the record to show I don’t know what questions I didn’t answer.”
Several foreign correspondents went on Twitter to point out AMLO’s propensity for talking much and saying little. Max de Haldevand reported on Bloomberg that Biden and Trudeau looked down at their shoes or up at the sky as AMLO talked and talked. The Washington Post highlighted that AMLO talked a lot longer than his guests. And the Mexican Reforma newspaper calculated AMLO spoke for a total of 41 minutes during the public ceremonies, compared to 14 for Biden and 12 for Trudeau.
In Mexico, we call that tirarse un rollo – to speak for a long time but without substance.
Beyond the anecdotal, López Obrador’s performance reflects the way he governs. He believes that speaking to the press every morning, sometimes for nearly three hours, will dominate the country’s message and narrative. Sometime it does. His supporters repeat his words, without questioning them, millions of times on the blessed social networks. But the problem is that his words are not magic and no matter how much he talks, they do not change reality.
Taling a lot without substance is not a real solution.
The best evidence his words cannot change reality is the terrible violence in Mexico. His government is already the most violent of this century. Here are the official numbers: Since AMLO became president, more than 133,000 Mexicans have been murdered. That’s more than in the six-years presidential terms of Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón. But AMLO insists on presenting those same numbers in a different way. He is the king of spin, trying to put a positive bent on something that is not.
During his morning news conference on Dec. 29 2022, he said homicides dropped 10.3 percent during his government, compared to increases during the three previous presidential terms. The reality, no doubt about it, is that many more Mexicans have been murdered during López Obrador’s term in office than in any other since the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War. Despite the president’s statistical juggling.
No matter how you put it, it’s impossible to present the deaths of 133,000 Mexicans as something positive. That is to fervently believe in his enormous capacity for tirarse un rollo. The president is the principal promoter of magical realism thinking, that he can present anything – even record numbers of murders – as something positive.
Many Mexicans are not swallowing that line any more. The violence is there, with femicides, the disappeared, drug cartels, Culiacan attacks, enormous territories with no authority and the deaths of journalists. Regardless of the spin coming from the National Palace. The reality, specially when it is stained with blood, does not go away easily.
Mexico doesn’t need more long talks without substance, just results.
When López Obrador hands over power in 2024 he will be judged not by the millions of words he spoke in his morning news conferences, but for concrete solutions to the problems he faced. He promised fewer poor, less inequality and fewer dead, as well as more democracy, more economic progress and more freedom And that’s how he will be measured. Nothing less and nothing more.
The reports by the foreign correspondents who covered the meeting between AMLO, Biden and Trudeau describe three countries that have enormous differences yet are doing everything to work together. Regardless of the point of view, that is very positive and must be highlighted. But they also describe a Mexican president who is enamored of his own words and does not know how to end his monologues.
Within the palace, no one dares to interrupt him or let him know that, somewhere along those 28 minutes, they stopped listening to him.