By RICARDO CASTILLO
The personal security of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has been a subject of intense debate since he was sworn in on Dec. 1.
His first act as president was to do away with the protection from the Mexican Army that presidents had enjoyed since 1934, when a special guard made up of at least 3,000 elite officers and soldiers known in Spanish as the Estado Mayor Presidencial (literally, Major Presidential State) were assigned to protect the president in turn.
The second move AMLO made was to keep a campaign promise of abolishing the hefty pension former presidents were receiving, as well as leaving them unprotected as each former president had a security detail of about 80 members of the Army, including upper-echelon of officials, as well as foot soldiers.
And thus far, Mexico’s former presidents have not had an incident of aggression against them from anyone, except for chatterbox Vicente Fox (2000-2006), who is a sworn eternal political opponent of AMLO and whose encounters with AMLO have always been on the brink of violence. Fox recently called AMLO “loco” (“crazy”), while AMLO has called Fox “chachalaco,” which is a noisy bird indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico’s tropical state of Tabasco.
So with security done away, there was an alleged incident last weekend at Fox’s ranch near the city of León, Guanajuato. The place known today as the Fox Cultural Center was supposedly visited then by an armed couple who wanted to get into a wedding. They were diverted by the farm entrance guards to a restaurant that Fox and his wife Marta do actually rent out for weddings. The two claimed they’d been hired to protect the newlyweds.
At the farm – known as San Cristóbal – guards immediately called up local police and notified Guanajuato state authorities of the presence of the armed couple, who visibly hoisted handguns. When the police arrived, they looked for the couple and their vehicle, but apparently they had left the area as they were unable to find the wedding they were supposed to protect.
Fox and his family were not at the farm at the time.
Nevertheless, upon hearing about the incident, Fox published an irate tweet claiming an armed commando had invaded his property and he would make AMLO responsible for his personal security and that of his family.
This time, AMLO responded promptly and ordered that an eight-soldier platoon be assigned to protect not merely Fox, but also former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, just in case, as these two represent currently a pervasive pair of critics who keep hammering insults at AMLO.
Fox sent a thank you note “to authorities” (not to AMLO) and that was the end of the incident. Felipe Calderón, by the way, did not even say thank you.
The first public reaction was to question AMLO for breaching his campaign promise. AMLO was “outfoxed” by Vicente Fox in creating the fake news of an armed commando. His exaggeration and egregious language hit well and on Saturday, April 6, AMLO ordered the Defense Secretary (Sedena) to give these two protection.
There was further reaction all over the media on the topic, since neither Fox nor Calderón are the popular former presidents they believe themselves to be. Here’s a message published on Wednesday, April 10, in La Jornada’s daily “Dinero” columnist Enrique Galván Ochoa:
“Please divulge that many Mexican do not accept paying for the security of former presidents. They made great fortunes sacking the nation, so it is only fair that all Mexicans take care of their own security. A resounding “no” to the government to issue escorts,” from J. Alfonso Solís via Facebook.
Galván Ochoa, by the way, answered:
“These former presidents are a calamity. In other nations (ex-presidents) simply disappear off the stage. Here, they continue to harm the nation, even when their terms are long over. I don’t believe, however, that the government is going to reverse its decision to protect them. Just imagine what would happen if Fox were to pass out when he’s high (on medical drugs) or Calderón were to tumble over a slippery tequila peel? Who would they blame?”
Certainly, comments like these about and this incident has been the trendiest news on the web.
As second issue at hand has been AMLO’s personal security. Definitely, the Estado Mayor Presidencial is absent but somewhat present.
Nevertheless, it is clear that AMLO has tightened his own security. For instance, his famous outings on commercial flights to different parts of the country are still there, but are no longer advertised. The main difference now is that official security is there, but is now made up of military personnel in civilian garb who mix with the crowds where AMLO speaks over the weekends. The 20 unarmed civilian guards are present, but it is clear that the relationship the president has established with the secretaries of the Navy and National Defense is very close.
And AMLO – much to his own chagrin – is getting the protection that he disregarded for a while. Many people are relieved that he’s finally paid heed to his security because, after all, he’s the only president we’ve got.
The two abovementioned former presidents are seen by most as noise-making “chachalacas,” trying to draw attention to themselves, and their now lost and long gone chance at power when they were in office.