By RICARDO CASTILLO
Last Monday, Dec. 24, promised to be a peaceful Christmas Eve day for Mexico. Then, at mid-afternoon, the rumors of a helicopter crash near the city of Puebla, 160 kilometers east of Mexico City, began as a soft murmur and, by early evening, it was a rumbling roar.
The governor of the state of Puebla, Martha Erika Alonso, and her husband, Senator and former Puebla governor Rafael Moreno Valle, were two of the five dead in the collapse of the Augusta A 109 chopper, assembled in Italy with Canadian-made motors. The two pilots and Senator Moreno’s personal secretary also succumbed in the disaster.
The news of the accident definitely sent shudders up the political spine of the nation. By midnight – Christmas Eve – the political fake news factories had gone to work with the hashtags #AMLOasesino and #AMLOcobarde came out of different bot farms that usually feed the National Action Party (PAN) members and fans. Both Alonso and Moreno were deeply rooted PAN members. AMLO, of course, stands for the name of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The bot farms – as usual in these cases – never directly accused AMLO of being the author of the accident, but just by calling him assassin and coward, they associated him with the death of the Puebla native couple. Accusing by inference is indeed the modern way of creating suspicion against an enemy, and the political fact is that AMLO was a sworn enemy of the couple.
Erika Alonso ran for governor – under the aegis of her husband, no doubt – in the July 1 general election in which AMLO was elected president. In fact, on July 8, she received her recognition as the victorious candidate, but both AMLO, and the candidate for the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), AMLO’s political party, Miguel Barbosa, accused her and the Puebla Electoral Institute of committing “fraud.” And by July 12, AMLO outright refused to recognize her victory.
The case was taken off the hands of the Puebla Electoral Institute and was taken over by the Superior Electoral Tribunal, which, on Dec. 9, declared her the victor. This time, AMLO, as well as Miguel Barbosa, had to accept the decision, but did so without conceding.
Martha Erika Alonso was sworn in on Dec. 14 and the most noteworthy news of the event were that AMLO – already president – failed to attend the ceremony, which did not take place at the State Chamber of Deputies facility, as it should have, but rather in a different building.
It must be pointed out that many a shrewd Mexican politician has tried before to “will” power to his wife. All of them had failed until Senator Moreno Valle managed to do it for his wife. Also, as PAN senator and minority leader, he was considered the best positioned man to lead his party and run for president when the 2024 elections came around.
The reason for this is that in the July 1 election, Morena, AMLO’s party, won the majority of both houses of the state congress in which case Martha Erika offered a friendly hand to the antagonist opponents who swore they would be her watch dog to keep her from corrupt acts, of which they accused her husband Senator Moreno Valle during his 2011-2017 mandate as governor.
All investigative protocol was shoved aside on Christmas Eve and the corpses of Martha Erika and Rafael were excluded from routine forensic revision and cremated immediately. Their ashes were honored on Dec. 25 at the Victory Plaza in Puebla and once again, the most noteworthy absentee was AMLO himself. After all, it was a governor and a senator who were the motive of the postmortem homage and just out of sheer protocol the president should have attended.
Instead, AMLO sent Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero to represent him. And to no one’s surprise, she was heckled by a small group of PAN members who shouted “asesinos” as Secretary Sánchez Cordero marched to the podium. The hecklers also shouted “justice.”
A couple of hours after the funeral ceremony was over, Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo held a press conference to announce that authorities had carried out a full inspection of the crashed helicopter and found no traces of explosive remains or, in fact, of any foul play. Durazo also announced inspections of the crash site at a cornfield near Puebla would be continued by Canadian inspectors familiar with the motors of the craft.
As a side joke, the United States Transportation Department was also invited to participate in the investigation, but there was no answer due to the government shutdown up north.
AMLO did not reappear from the Christmas lull until Wednesday morning, when he offered an explanation as to why he was absent from the funeral ceremony. By then, it was clear he’d seen the social networks’ niceties against him and had an answer for those accusing him of being behind “the murder” of the former and current Puebla state governors.
AMLO said that a “small group” of both PAN and Institutionsl Revolutionary Party (PRI) politicians had used the accident to “carry water to their mills” by placing the blame for the accident on his administration.
“We are not repressors, we struggle for change through peaceful means and we are going to achieve change by the way of concordity,” he said. “We would never act against anyone, never, as a matter of principles and ideals. All this has to do with our adversaries and not with them all, these are neofascist groups that are mad as hell due to victory of our movement. They try to smear us; they try to affect us.”
And he lashed out at the troll farms blaming them for “intensive aggressiveness,” resorting to fake news to discredit the president, his collaborators and supporters. He blamed the hashtags for his absence from the mortuary ceremony.
“I don’t like to beat around the bush and I am used to calling bread bread and wine wine. Yesterday there was an ambiance created by your usual conservatives, not all, but a minority who act with pettiness. I am referring to the right, the conservatives who, besides their hypocrisy and being highly corrupt, are petty.” He mentioned the word “petty” (mezquinos in Spanish) at least five times.
“I didn’t go to (the funeral service) so as not fall into the game of these petty provocateurs and I decided to be prudent and not get involved with any provocation and wait until today (Wednesday) to inform you all,” AMLO said, as to why he did not attend the funeral ceremony.
In terms of what is going to happen now regarding the reigns of the state governorship of Puebla, it will happen in three procedures.
The first procedure would have been for the appointment of Government Secretary General Jesús Rodríguez Almeyda as the natural successor. But since Rodriguez is not a born native of the state, the minority PAN members of both houses of the state congress will appoint a temporary successor while arrangements for a new election are made. By law, the coming election must be within five months as of the date the government was declared leaderless.