The president of Mexico has flunked his main task: to protect the lives of Mexicans facing crime and the pandemic. That's why journalists have the duty to question him.
AMLO talks a lot. He's held more than 600 news conferences in less than three years, and his words at those “mañaneras” are reproduced far more than those of previous presidents because of the “blessed social networks.” That's how he dominates the national agenda, and no opposition leader has the same media presence. In the face of so much power, it's up to us journalists to force him to account for his work.
The main job of a journalist – aside from reporting facts in a fair and truthful manner – is to question those who have power. That's what journalism is for.
When I participated in his mañanera last week, I told the president that the job of independent journalists is to speak truth to power. And that meant confronting him, just as we did with previous presidents. I am not sure he liked what I said. But he allowed me to speak openly. I asked questions with absolute freedom, no one asked to see my questions beforehand and there was no attempt at censorship afterward.
AMLO was legitimately elected with more than 30 million votes, and should rule as president for each and every day of his six-year-term. Not one more, not one less. He already has said several times that he will hand over power on September 30 2024, as required by law. But the fact that he is a legitimate president does not necessarily mean he is an effective leaders, or that journalists cannot challenge the information he disseminates.
The problem is that AMLO is continuing the tradition of the Mexican presidency, with its dominant stage, and uses the mañaneras to dish out official propaganda, to trash ideas that don't match his and to vilify his critics. For example, there's the new section of his mañaneras, Who's Who in the Lies.”
But just as he does, it's up to journalists to point out his mistakes and inaccuracies. AMLO's weak point are his dead, and his inability to protect the lives of thousands of Mexicans. And that's what I wanted to ask about the mañanera.
The López Obrador administration is on the way to becoming the most violent in modern Mexican history, with more than 86,000 murders since he became president. Those are official numbers, and there's no progress, I told him. And outside the National Palace bubble, there's none of the “peace and tranquility” he touts so often. Almost 100 Mexicans are murdered every day. That's a failure of his “hugs, not bullets” policy.
In December 2018 – his first month in power – there were 2,892 murders and 2,963 in May of this year. “There's no change,” I told him. But he insists there have been changes. “We have improved. Now I really do have other numbers,” he answered.
When I told him that I got the numbers from his own government – the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Safety System – he told me: “I think they gave you the wrong numbers. I have other numbers.” It's not the first time he replies to me like that.
We also did not agree on the ineffective handling of the pandemic. That mistaken strategy has cost many lives. Mexico has the fourth largest number of dead from the Corona virus, according to Johns Hopkins University, even though it ranks 10th in population. The president told me I was misinformed and produced a graphic showing Mexico was 19th in Covid deaths per million people. Beyond the different statistics, how can he say “we're doing well,” when there have been 229,000 dead, and surely many more than that.
Although we disagree on many things, I am grateful for the opportunity to talk and debate with the president. It would be difficult to find another country with a similar opportunity for journalists. And I don't understand why the journalists who criticize the government don't wake up early to confront him in person.
For democracy to remain alive we must challenge AMLO and all those who hold any bit of power. Journalists cannot surrender the mañaneras to AMLO.
Even if it's not comfortable. I've been to three of them, and I expect to be back soon.