Those Pesky Critics


Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Photo:


It’s a well-known story: During Christmas 1170, King Henry II at his castle in Normandy, furious at the excommunications issued by Archbishop Thomas Becket against various bishops who were loyal to him, exclaimed: “Is there no one who will free me from this annoying priest?” Upon hearing this, four noblemen traveled to Canterbury and assassinated Becket. When the scandal broke, the English king insisted that he had never given the order for Becket’s murder, that it had all been a misunderstanding.

A similar staging of the same story is now taking place in Mexico. From the National Palace, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) — who, if not an absolute power seems to aspire to be — furious over his critics (almost all journalists, writers and intellectuals), commonly issues rants against them, with first and last names, expressions that could be “misinterpreted.” But he hasn’t done this just once, as Henry II did; he’s done it countless times, before millions of people.

The setting for AMLO’s proclamations is his so-called “mañaneras” (daily press conferences that have become his bully pulpit for political monologues that run from two to three hours at a time), which first premiered on Dec. 3, 2018. Every morning from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., five days a week, the president simulates a press conference in which few independent journalists are admitted and (should they gain access) are rarely allowed to speak. As for the president’s official spokesman, his main job is to prepare the questions and distribute them among the unconditional media. Usually, the only person who speaks is the president himself.

One of AMLO’s specialties is the ad hominem attack. Five years ago, the Mexican writer Gabriel Zaid compiled a list of AMLO’s insults against anyone he despises or seeks to discredit. By then, the list of insults had reached 80, but now there must be many more.

López Obrador also commits defamation and slander. Anyone who criticizes him is part of a conspiracy that seeks to overthrow him. Everyone who criticizes him is corrupt and motivated by material interest, has ill-gotten money or aspires to have it. The president encourages lynching, such as when he refers to his critics as “enemies of the people” and exhibits their personal data (tax documents, properties, photographs, videos) to reveal their economic status, the origin of which he necessarily presents as something obscure, unspeakable.

Among the group of critics that he considers “enemies,” I have been one of the most attacked. To date, he has quoted me 298 times with insults, slander and defamations. Although AMLO is well aware of my criticism of each of the Mexican governments from 1970 to the present (amply documented in books, essays, articles and videos), he has accused me of having sold out to those governments and of now conspiring to restore them.

López Obrador’s resentment of me stems from the publication of my essay “The Tropical Messiah” a month before the 2006 election (which he lost by a 0.58-percent margin). He has accused me of “driving the strategy” to defeat him; of “asking Joe Biden to intervene to scold him” and thus favoring the appointment of a new U.S. ambassador (he suggested it be myself) who would plot a coup and assassinate him; of “wanting people to be suppressed;” of doing “enormous damage to Mexico.” Not long ago, he even called on the public to help him find out where I live in order to showcase that investigation in the media.

The president maintains that his attacks are mere exercises of his legitimate right to freedom of expression. Mexican jurisprudence provides that public figures are subject to greater scrutiny than private citizens. That scrutiny can be harsh, aggressive, even offensive. And the threshold of tolerance before him must be directly proportional to his relevance in public life. For that reason, as public figures, all of us annoying critics of López Obrador are subject to that sort of treatment.

But the law is made to protect free speech, not for the government to stifle. AMLO attacks his critics personally from the headquarters of the executive power, and uses public resources to do so. His messages and attacks are disseminated in full on television and the official media, which in turn multiply exponentially on social networks. Consequently, the persecution exercised by AMLO seeks to inhibit freedom.

Are there legal ways to deal with it? In theory, yes. In practice, no. One of the hallmarks of the Mexican Constitution is the so-called Juicio de Amparo appeal system, which protects individuals against abuses of government authority. Appealing to this ruling, the aggrieved could claim the affectation of various human rights protected by the constitution, such as the right to due process and judicial guarantees, the presumption of innocence, the right to privacy or private life, honor or reputation, to freedom of expression, the right to disseminate ideas, the right of respond to allegations. We could even expect reparation for the moral damage that has been inflicted on us.

But the president does not respect those legal protections.

The aggrieved parties could go to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in Mexico and then appeal, when appropriate, to international instances that could generate some form of protection. But in practice, the Mexican CNDH is entirely subservient to the government. And even if an international organization issued a favorable opinion, the president would not abide by it either.

In full view of the world, AMLO seeks to destroy Mexico’s electoral system and set us on the familiar path of a one-party, one-man state; to put an end to democracy and shackle freedom. We annoying critics are determined to point this out.

López Obrador said that watching a newscast by journalist Ciro Gómez Leyva could produce “a tumor in the brain” (Dec. 14, 2022). The next day Gómez Leyva suffered an violent attack on his person. The intellectual authors of the attack have not been found and, in all probability, never will be. The president declared that “it could have been a ‘self-attack,’ not because he fabricated it, but because someone did it to affect us…”

Perhaps it is only a matter of time before one of López Obrador’s critics is assassinated. At that point, the president will say that it was a plot to overthrow him or, like Henry II, that it was just “a misunderstanding.”

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