Sad, Expensive Saga of AMLO’s Hated Presidential Plane Ends
By MARK LORENZANA
Mexico’s unwanted presidential plane has finally been sold — to the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan.
On Thursday, April 20, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced that the Boeing 787 presidential plane had been sold for $92 million.
So all’s well that ends well?
Not quite, because the most obvious problem about the sale was that López Obrador got rid of the plane at a loss, and a massive one at that: It was originally acquired by former President Enrique Peña Nieto for $200 million, and then finally sold by AMLO to Tajikistan for a mere $92 million.
And apparently, the López Obrador faithful — read: members of AMLO’s leftist ruling National Regeneration Movement (Morena) and his propaganda team — tried to get away with a couple of proclamations that weren’t that accurate: Right after the sale, they said that the president was just fulfilling his campaign promise to “get rid of the symbol of luxuries of the corrupt past,” and that the original price of the plane when Peña Nieto bought it was actually a lot less than the advertised $200 million.
Which was not true, of course, because everyone in Mexico knew the jet’s original price tag — helped, ironically, by the constant tweets by López Obrador of how much the plane cost, tweets that started almost immediately since he took office in 2018 when he vowed not to use the aircraft while constantly complaining about it being a stain on his so-called program of “Franciscan austerity.”
Talk about a big blunder by the propaganda team.
One doesn’t even need to be an expert at arithmetic to see that the plane was sold for basically nothing, considering the cost of its upkeep, even while it never took to the skies and stayed grounded at its hangar all these years.
Mexican journalist and frequent AMLO critic Carlos Loret de Mola in a Tuesday, May 2, opinion column for Mexican daily newspaper El Universal hit the nail on the head when he detailed what he called “the episode of the plane.”
“The episode of the plane paints the entire six-year term (of López Obrador): The president has an idea, disdains the expert voices that tell him that it will not work, forces its implementation, the idea takes longer and costs more money (which belongs to all Mexicans), and when he ‘succeeds,’ the broth ends up being more expensive than the meatballs,” wrote Loret de Mola. “But along the way, he has fuel to talk, talk, talk and try to sculpt reality with saliva. Admirable: The magician continues to deceive the same public with the same trick.”
For columnist Enrique Campos Suarez of business-focused daily El Economista, the presidential plane has always been López Obrador’s favorite tool or “trick to gain headlines” as “it contributes to the need to preserve the monopoly of political conversation,” essentially using it to distract the public from other pressing issues.
(López Obrador, by the way, had tried to lure corporations and business executives to buy the presidential jet, but he found no takers. He even symbolically “raffled off” the plane, which would be too expensive to convert back into a normal commercial airliner.)
“It is a fact that the administration of President López Obrador is a magnet for controversial issues that make even his most informed faithful doubt the effectiveness of his government actions. Not everyone will want to see their flagship works fail — as is the case of López Obrador and his pet projects. There is the Felipe Ángeles airport that’s deserted and subsidized, the Tren Maya that is supposed to be a tourist attraction but has since managed to only accumulate ecological devastation and the Tabasco refinery that is far away from producing its first barrel of gasoline,” Campos Suarez wrote.
“All of this is buried by the presidential plane, a propaganda instrument unleashed from an extensive catalogue during his morning press conferences, and none of this has any direct impact on the daily lives of the majority of ordinary Mexican citizens.”
And then there was the decision to ultimately sell the plane to — of all buyers — the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan, which over the years has accumulated its fair share of human rights violations.
“Tajikistan’s economic and political life continues to be tightly controlled by its president, in the 30th year of his rule, and his family,” said an Amnesty International 2022 report. “(In 2022), tens of ethnic Pamiri protesters were killed by security forces as demonstrations were violently suppressed and an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ was launched in the east of the country. Activists, local leaders, journalists and bloggers were arrested and sentenced in unfair trials. Many reported being tortured. Access to information, including through the media and Internet, remained heavily restricted. Domestic violence remained widespread with victims rarely securing justice or support. Afghan refugees continued to be detained and deported.”
Indeed, López Obrador was so desperate to get rid of the presidential plane, that he sold it at a massive loss (more than $100 million), and to a country that a U.N. special rapporteur said was targeting lawyers and journalists for their human rights work (this might sound familiar to lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders who have tried to do their jobs in Mexico for the past several years), a country with “a climate of corruption,” that “the fear of persecution and a stranglehold on human rights defenders working on difficult issues have forced some to leave the country.”
Indeed, AMLO was so desperate to get rid of the presidential jet, that on its last flight out of the country, nobody from the government even bothered to peel off Mexico’s emblem — an eagle holding a snake in its beak while perched on a cactus — that was still attached to the aircraft’s fuselage.
Such is the sad — and expensive — saga of López Obrador’s most-hated presidential plane.