The wall protecting Mexico’s National Palace, where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador works and lives. Photo: Google

By KELIN DILLON

As U.S. President Joe Biden moves further away from his predecessor Donald Trump’s much talked-about plan for a wall on the Mexico-United States border, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) ironically put his own wall up on March 5 in front of Mexico City’s National Palace, the place López Obrador himself calls home.

Last month, on Feb. 11, Biden signed an executive order scrapping the controversial border wall and ending the United States’ declaration of emergency on the region. With what many say is a victory on the immigration front, health issues now arise with the free flow of people, as the open land borders are without a policy requiring migrants to present a negative coronavirus tests before entering the United States.

The United States currently requires all travelers entering the country by air to provide proof of a negative covid test before boarding their flights, curbing the potential spread of coronavirus into the nation, and the lack of similar policy on the land border could conversely exacerbate the virus’s spread. A report from Forbes showed that in Brownsville, Texas, alone, 108 migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in a one month period tested positive for the coronavirus, with the full number of positive cases crossing into the United States unknown, but likely much higher.

AMLO applauded Biden’s cancellation of the wall at the time, calling it “a historic event.” Now, as Trump’s walls between Mexico and the United States go down in spite of health risks, AMLO has put up his own wall in front of the National Palace in Mexico City’s historic center, ahead of the planned women’s march on International Women’s Day today, Monday, March 8.

Mexico has seen femicides increase over 130 percent between 2015 and 2020, causing an uptick in protests and demonstrations in favor of women’s rights over the years in tandem with the increase in violence. Demonstrations were held earlier in the month in front of the National Palace in protest of Guerrero gubernatorial candidate Félix Salgado Macedonio, who is facing rape and sexual assault allegations, which are expected to intensify today during the women’s march.

Many criticized the barricade as obstructing women’s right to protest, creating a literal barrier between the president and the marchers, and as hypocritical, since AMLO vehemently opposed the U.S.-Mexico wall. Others noted how the National Palace is a designated historical monument and the two-meter wall acts as a safety measure to conserve its preservation.

 “Imagine, if we don’t take care of the national palace and they vandalize it,” said AMLO in a press conference from Yucatan over the weekend. “What image will this send to the world?”

Spokesman for the president Jesús Ramírez referred to the new barrier as a “wall of peace,” put in place to “to protect and not to repress” the planned protests on Monday, following widespread accusations of the wall silencing women and preventing them from their right to demonstrate, though his words caught intense criticism from the wall’s opponents.

“Freedom of demonstration exists in our city, but it is also up to us to protect people,” said Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum in defense of the newly-erected barrier. “We have seen in these demonstrations how people who are walking are attacked. So, that’s why protocols are made that are validated by the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City and different civil organizations, of police action.”

Though the preservation rationale is logical, the wall has also come under criticism as a political move by leftist AMLO against his conservative opposition, with journalist Mario Luis Fuentes sayingthe president accuses his opponents of using feminism as a ‘political’ weapon, saying ‘conservatives’ now present themselves as feminists,” calling the barrier an “unnecessary aggression” following being “faced with the legitimate anger and discomfort of millions of women in the country.”

Protestors seemed to agree with Luis Fuentes over the government, painting the names of victims of femicide across the wall over the weekend and placing letters personally addressed to AMLO at the base of the wall.

Whatever the true motivations are behind the newly-erected barricade in the historic center, one cannot help but note the irony that as the wall on Mexico’s northern border is cancelled, a wall within Mexico’s own capital is built, and while the United States takes on the health risk of opening borders to migrants, Mexico prefers to shield its government from the voices of its own citizens. 

…March 8, 2021

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