Mexico’s president doesn’t let facts derail good Covid-19 story

Andrés Manuel López Obrador says virus curve flattened despite data showing otherwise

Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador  inaugurated a daily press 7am conference soon after taking power in 2018. Photograph: EPA

Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador inaugurated a daily press 7am conference soon after taking power in 2018. Photograph: EPA

 

In the course of a 2½-half-hour press briefing, the president claimed the country had “flattened” its coronavirus curve, despite official figures showing a relentless rise in cases.

He spent several minutes assailing a national newspaper for what he said was unfair coverage, and he defended his attempt to seize control of the budget.

But the leader extemporising in front of the cameras was not Donald Trump. It was Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose relish for encounters with the press rivals that of his US counterpart.

Amlo, as the Mexican leader is known, inaugurated a daily press 7am conference soon after taking power in 2018. It was a revolutionary move in a country where presidents have rarely faced close questioning. It also allowed Amlo to set the day’s agenda, much as Trump has often dominated news cycles with his tweetstorms.

As coronavirus cases mount in Mexico the sessions have drawn frequent comparisons to Trump’s aborted virus briefings, which similarly have focused as much on personal promotion and attacks on enemies as on offering accurate information.

But while Trump has now apparently cooled on daily appearances, Amlo has doubled down.

The president announced plans for an additional session every evening in which he or his secretaries will speak for two hours after the existing briefing by the country’s coronavirus czar Hugo López-Gatell.

The announcement prompted grumbling from members of the press corps, but it continues Amlo’s long-established habit of at least offering the appearance of open government.

“It works just like it works for Trump,” said Federico Estévez, political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. “It doesn’t matter what the quality of the communication is, it dominates the [news] cycle. That’s all it’s about. That’s all it’s supposed to be about.”

Verbose responses

Just as Trump frequently picks sympathetic reporters from fringe media outlets, Amlo often courts supportive questions from figures such as Carlos Pozos, a mustachioed and bowtie-wearing YouTuber popularly known as Lord Molecule.

He also takes more aggressive questions from mainstream reporters, although his verbose responses often evade an actual answer.

Mostly, though, Amlo pontificates: part president, part partisan hack, part preacher. He addresses the pressing matters in Mexico’s public, but not without trolling his opponents or detouring into diatribes on the supposed shortcomings of previous governments.

He regularly invokes moral values and cites biblical scripture. He even pulled a pair of prayer cards out of his wallet, saying the images (and personal honesty) helped protect him against coronavirus.

Amlo supporters delight in the president’s tendency to pick fights with the press and excoriate enemies. “This is the charm for his followers,” said Ilán Semo, historian at the Iberoamerican University. “They believe in him like they would a preacher.”

Just like their US counterparts, many Mexican journalists express mixed feelings over the presidential briefings.

“It was a useful and novel method of presidential communication,” said Javier Garza, a journalist in the northern city of Torreón, said of Amlo’s morning press conferences. “But it’s turned into a predictable spectacle without any value.”

Even if the briefings occasionally feel more like campaign events, “they’re still a place to pose questions to the president”, said Garza “and the president has not tried to flee”. – Guardian

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