Coca-Cola FEMSA leader José Antonio El Diablo” Fernández Carvajal. Photo: FaceBook

By RICARDO CASTILLO

Now that the National Front to Stop AMLO (FRENA) is on its fifth day of protest with an invasion of Mexico City’s main downtown thoroughfare Juárez Avenue, suddenly the question of “what and who is FRENA?” struck me like a lighting rod.

I am no arithmetician, but I know numbers well enough to come up with the forever-valid equation that one plus one will forever keep adding up to two. And two, it seems to be, is the same in Mexican politics.

Two things happened last weekend that at a glance are separate and ingredients of different dishes … but, oh, what a coincidence when one and one aim in the same direction!

On the one hand, there is the FRENA occupation of Avenida Juárez. Actually, the group was  trying to occupy the main square Zócalo in front of the National Palace, but it was prevented from getting there by riot police.

FRENA visible leader and “social reformer” Gilberto Lozano established their scantly attended protest tent city on the streets to keep on shouting, “AMLO, resign now.”

On the other hand, there was the visit that Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey made to the National Palace to hold a long and amiable chat with the Mexican president.

There was, however, a noticeable absentee during Quincey’s visit, and that was Coca-Cola FEMSA México president José Antonio “El Diablo” Fernández Carvajal, definitely AMLO’s most bitter political enemy in the Mexican business community.

Now, the 1+1 seems evident when you put the FRENA leader and

together. They are in the same boat and, for the past 30 years, Lozano, a mechanical engineer but apparent Man Friday for Fernández, has worker anywhere from being a Coca-Cola FEMSA (Fondo Económico Mexicano Sociedad Anónima) executive to managing the Monterrey soccer club – which FEMSA owns – to the political sacrificial role of “social reformer” and definite leader of FRENA. In fact, after setting up the tent camp on Avenida Juárez, Lozano made a brief speech with a noticeable quote: “We are well financed for the next three years.”

Surely, Quincey must be extremely worried due to the now-long list of disagreements between his top man in Mexico and the president.

One of them came out last June when, as we reported in Pulse News Mexico, Coca-Cola FEMSA agreed to pay 8.7 billion pesos in back taxes. Fernández held a face-to-face interview with then-Tax Administration Service (SAT) Director Raquel Buenrostro, who negotiated the payment directly with him. About the only request Fernández had about paying the accumulated back taxes was that the payment be in three installments, which was fine with SAT’s Buenrostro.

Nevertheless, Fernández was apparently furious, not because he had to pay, but because the money was going to the AMLO administration. Fernández is quoted as commenting a few hours later: “I’m going to pay the SAT, but if necessary, I’ll double up to push AMLO out of power in 2022.”

March 21, 2022, is the apparent date when a national referendum will be held in which voters will decide whether AMLO stays in power or leaves.

Surely, Coke CEO Quincey knew all this before visiting the National Palace. Needless to say, the last thing Quincey wants is to see a clash between Fernández and the president hurt in any way, manner or form the Coca-Cola image in Mexico. After all, Mexico is its best customer in the world. From what we have heard about his private meeting with AMLO, the president suggested Quincey advise the Mexican representative (FEMSA) of the world-famous brand “to pay taxes on time,” something the company does comply with … in the United States.

For the record, FEMSA is a superbly run business concern and wields a solid public relations department. Recently it issued a statement to the website La Politica Online disclaiming some of the statements it published as facts – same as here – claiming the following: “The 230,000 company contributing partners (employees) have the sole mission of generating economic, social and environmental value for our country. Antonio Fernández is not involved in any political or electoral project, but he is working together with us on health and a public-private effort to help health personnel in nearly 100 covid-19 hospitals and the help the national industry develop Mexican-made ventilators.”

For sure, the ventilators are blowing a lot of political air.

As for the presence of FRENA on Avenida Juárez, and in the recent many car caravan political parades they have held all over Mexico, two things are clear regarding the participants: They all hate AMLO, but their numbers, seen against the roster of registered voters, is minimal.

The proof of the pudding lies in the fact that the vast majority of the brand new tents Lozano ordered distributed along the avenue to make it look like a massive demonstration are vacant.

The tents are even the laughing stock of Mexican cartoonists. One of them pictures an observer lifting up an empty tent and saying: “It is full … of bots.”

In addition, if there is a profile of FRENA participants, the first noticeable thing about them is is that many are wielding Catholic rosaries and images of the Virgin of Guadalupe. This gives the “movement” a religious slant, which I am sure organizer Lozano had no intention on including.

One observation on the “occupation” of Avenida Juárez is that it also attempts to imitate AMLO’s closure of Reforma Avenue after the 2006 elections. He claimed he had been “robbed” by then-President Vicente Fox and elected President Felipe Calderón. The difference between the FRENA “occupation” and AMLO’s months-long blockade of Reforma Avenue is about a million people in the flesh.

Surely,  Quincey’s visit to the National Palace may help tone down political attitudes to some degree, but one thing is certain: The broken political fences between AMLO and “El Diablo” Fernández will not mend.

…Sept. 24, 2020

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