First of all, let me clarify the difference between the word “occurrence” in English and “ocurrencia” in Spanish: In theory, they could be interpreted as being the same, but as you will see, there are significant differences in meaning between the two words.

The reason for this clarification is that, last week, I mistranslated the word “maestro” – meaning teacher – for master, meaning many things in English other than teacher. I thank the person who pointed out the difference in a response to my article and must point out that these errors do happen if you’re writing in English basing all your information on Spanish.

In any case, let’s get into the subject of occurrences and ocurrencias.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) outlined five options on Thursday, Jan. 16, as to what to do with the custom-made for the Mexican president 757 Dreamliner his administration has been unable to sell – or find ways to get rid of – for over a year now.

First, he said, he could sell it. The plane was valued by the United Nations at $130 million. An entrepreneur offered $125, but AMLO says he turned the offer down because it was undervalued. Another pending idea is to give it to an international auctioning outfit. AMLO doesn’t like that idea because the top price would be $130 and bids would likely go downwards, not upwards.

Second, negotiations are currently underway with the U.S. government to trade the plane for the equivalent in medical goods, “all the things we need for public hospitals.” That is a feasibility.

Third, the government could sell the plane to a consortia in “society” in 12 different stocks, and there are two offers for that. Several Mexican tycoons could consider the plane as an investment.

Fourth, the plane could be rented under the management of the Mexican Air Force. There is one other plane operating this way and it charges $70,000 an hour. AMLO said that since the Mexican Air Force not a for-profit organization, the Dreamliner could be rented for as little as $15,000 an hour, plus maintenance expenses.

And lastly, but politically a joke that’s turning into a nightmare for AMLO, is the idea of raffling the plane off through the National Lottery, with tickets (cachitos, as the single lottery bills are known as in Mexico).

Under this scheme, the lottery would print 3.5 billion pesos worth of cachitos and sell each 0f them at 500 pesos. For the winning ticket, the government would offer – AMLO said – up to two years in maintenance. If the winner decides to sell the plane, it would be conditioned to appraisal value and, in case (he or she) wanted to rent it, they would have to do so through a leasing company.

Theoretically, every Mexican wants to buy a cachito, but the jokes are flying all over the place: If I win it, where would I park it? Would I have to learn to “drive” a plane? There were all sorts of humorous claims and the web was full of them. In short, everyone considered owning the Dreamliner would be like winning an 800-pound gorilla or even worse yet, a Bengali tiger, in a raffle.

And here’s where I want to make the difference between occurrence and ocurrencia.

The first four ideas were acceptable, but the fifth one, people began asking whose “ocurrencia” was this. In English, an occurrence is something that happens through time – such as the slow occurrence of fossil fuels – but an “ocurrencia” in Mexican Spanish is a snappy idea that may be good, bad, ugly or totally ridiculous.

The ocurrencia of raffling the Dreamliner went viral and became the joke of the day over the weekend, with an emphasis on the winner of the dream plane that would have cost 500 pesitos mexicanos.

As a sale point for the Dreamliner, not only was is custom-made to suit former Mexican Presidents Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, who used it for long distance trips – but was made of special materials that are too expensive to refurbish – with the original cost when delivered in 2012 being over $200 million.

During his daily press conference on Friday, Jan. 17, AMLO was asked who had come up with the idea of raffling the Dreamliner and AMLO naively answered that he had asked his presidential staff to come up with ideas as what to do with by now-cumbersome plane. His staff just tossed the off-the-cuff ocurrencia into the ring.

The entire proposal has gone viral and AMLO’s abundant number of critics claim that it is “a burrada” (a donkey bray) to even consider that option. Many others use the term “ocurrencia,” which can be interpreted as anything from a witticism to a wacko idea.

Would you like to own a Dreamliner? “Compre su cachito” (“Purchase your lottery ticket”) is the joke that was rolling around this past weekend in Mexico.

But beyond the pranksters, many a “serious” journalist is considering that AMLO concocted the entire raffle ocurrencia to create a smokescreen (I read two columnists claiming that) to distract from real issues at stake in Mexico, ranging from the allegedly foundering presentation of replacing the Popular Security public hospitals system with the National Institute for Health and Wellbeing (Insabi) to casting a shadow over the successful approval by the U.S. Senate of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) voted in the same day that AMLO announced his proposals for “what to do with the plane nobody wants,” as he put it back then.

There are a myriad of other issues AMLO critics have brought up on the scheme, but — read my lips — these are columnists writing mostly out of spite because some of them got to fly in the Presidential plane, which was touted during a trip to Chile by Calderón as “the largest flying cantina in the world.”

Finally, during Monday morning Jan. 20 morning press conference – after half an hour of hearing both questions and opinions from attending journalists – AMLO made the announcement that the answer as to what to do with “the plane that not even Obama had” would come one of two dates. On Jan. 30, AMLO said, he will make an announcement and on Feb. 15, he will issue the final statement on the destination of the flying palace.

One thing worth noting is that AMLO did not consider the idea of raffling the plane as an “ocurrencia,” as his critics have. He is still considering that option since the proposed raffle would bring $158 million – a lot more than $130 million – provided every single Mexican buys a cachito.

Personally, I can spare a thousand pesos and buy two: Who knows? Perhaps I can claim one day “there’s a tiger in my house.”

Mexican ocurrencia surrealism? You bet, but for many a Mexican it is for real. But then, an “ocurrencia” may be a fantasy, but isn’t that an everyday reality in Mexico?


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