Mexican Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle García. Photo: Energy and Commerce

By RICARDO CASTILLO

One thing that sets Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) apart from his predecessors is the high number of women in his cabinet. Out of the bunch, three are being singled out by columnists who are flying out trial balloons depicting them under a group name, las halconas, or female hawks or falcons. Truth be told, the term halconas does not mean much when applied to women. To men, it’s a different story.

The name-calling by columnist Salvador García Soto of El Universal quickly burst – turkeys don’t fly — and his attempt to tag these women with this offensive moniker failed. But then, it does go to show the dirty tactics used by some anti-AMLO columnists, aimed at the people surrounding him. At least García Soto applied the label halconas “due to the hard and consistent line these women take to defend the Fourth Transformation (4T),” as AMLO describes his style of public administration.

The ladies in politics touted as “birds of prey” took the bait since the term halconas meant nothing. They are: Labor Secretary Luisa María Alcalde, Public Function Secretary Irma Eréndira Sandoval and Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle García.

By no means are these the only women in AMLO’s cabinet. Off the top of my head, I can also mention Interior (SeGob) Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero and Economy Secretary Graciela Márquez Colín, to name two, but indeed the abovementioned threesome are imbued in the midst of political turmoil, not because they are tough, but because it comes with the job.

Let’s review them one at a time:

The most vulnerable is no doubt Irma Eréndira Sandoval at the Public Function Secretariat. To many the title “public function” may sound strange, but in a nation where the president scorns “the scourge of corruption” literally on a daily basis, Sandoval is definitely in a frail position. She’s the anti-corruption watchdog and the number of cases that hit her desk each day are piled high.

Recently, Irma Eréndira Sandoval has also been in the news, first for testing positive for covid-19 – for which she had to go into confinement – but later for a comment she made saying that Mexico’s hurricane season is year-round. And just to mention the most recent scandal she was embroiled in, she had to deal with the sale to the government of respirators by León Bartlett, the son of Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) director and bird of all political tempests Manuel Bartlett Díaz.

Apparently – I don’t have all the hard facts at hand – León Bartlett used his not-scant influence to place a number of respirators to treat covid-19 patients with the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS). The respirators were allegedly way overpriced and to make a long and noisy story short, they were finally returned to Bartlett, but their failed purchase – at least to the press – stank of corruption.

Secretary Sandoval also proposed the elimination of trust funds worth as a whole 855 billion pesos. She wasn’t selective enough in her proposal and many of those trust funds were to support the arts, with the result being a wide protest from those affected. But yes, there are many trust funds that do nothing but plunder the nation’s budget and now those are the ones being considered for dissolution.

Energy Secretary Rocío Nahle García is indubitably the most beleaguered of the bunch since she is responsible for behemoth junkyard of the state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), as well as the construction of the controversial Dos Bocas refinery in Tabasco.

But the case that has her in the midst of a political short circuit is the brawl she’s picked with the wind and solar electricity producers, aimed at leaving them out of production despite preexisting international contracts. She has concentrated all her efforts to block these companies through her brainchild Agreement to Guarantee the Efficiency, Quality, Trustworthiness, Continuity and Safety of the National Electrical System.

On this issue, she has already lost some fights since various judges are awarding habeas corpuses (amparos) to the green energy companies. But the real objective of her decree was to use the enormous surplus Pemex has of fuel oil to produce electricity in a permanent (even if not clean) manner. Nahle is now at the crux of a legal and political ordeal.

Last, but certainly not least, there is Labor Secretary Luisa María Alcalde Luján, who besides having to deal with the union centrals inherited from the very corrupt labor past, is in charge of one of AMLO’s pet projects, called the Program for the Young Building the Future which, has thousands of young Mexicans working as apprentices at private companies to learn a trade hands-on.

The government gives them 3,500 pesos a month as a stipend, but, let’s face it, the program is not doing well, particularly now that the nation has lost over a million jobs, and counting, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. For this and because she’s got seven relatives working for the government, she’s steadily criticized in the media, but she still enjoys the protection of AMLO, who invites her to his press conferences every Monday. As usual, she was there at the National Palace on Monday, June 8.

Most definitely, Salvador García Soto is part of a bunch of macho men columnists now carrying out “a misogynous campaign” against AMLO’s women in power and even calling them the meaningless term “halconas” for no good reason except that they hold top federal government positions.

If simple and vulgar machismo be the case, it would seem only natural – though unacceptable, coming from popular columnists – since Mexico is still, without the shadow of a doubt, a macho country.

But the real problem is that this is politics and columnists are carrying out tongue-lashings for anything the women in AMLO’s cabinet do.

And they may not be halconas, but they are definitely tough ladies, taking flak, mostly for being women, and definitely, holding envious positions that were once the exclusive domain of political macho men.

…June 9, 2020

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