Since taking office, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has enjoyed one of the highest approval ratings in Latin America, defying growing concerns over his country’s economy, which has stalled after years of mediocre but constant growth, and an increase in violence. But not anymore. His approval rating has fallen dramatically in 2020, including among many of the independents who are disappointed after joining the electoral coalition that helped him achieve a historic victory at the polls.
López Obrador has made his fair share of messy policy decisions, like canceling the construction of a new airport for Mexico City, a third of which was already completed; cutting social programs he considered obsolete or corrupt; and systematically dismantling some of the country’s independent regulatory agencies. The president has failed to inspire confidence for lofty goals of virtuous transformation. His administration’s inept handling of Pemex, Mexico’s debt-ridden oil and gas behemoth, has only added to the skepticism.
Meanwhile, López Obrador has grown increasingly paranoid and considers all critics his personal antagonists. Journalists who question him are suspect and corrupt saboteurs. This mind-set is reaching worrisome new levels. His narrow-minded response to Mexico’s growing movement against gender-based violence is a perfect example.
In the past few weeks, Mexico has been shaken by two brutal murders that have come to symbolize the struggles with violence against women. Ingrid Escamilla, a 25-year-old woman, was killed and skinned by her boyfriend, who nonchalantly turned himself in to the authorities, soaked in blood. Incredibly, this Dantean crime would soon be surpassed by the kidnapping, torture and murder of Fátima, a 7-year-old elementary school girl. The video of Fatima walking with her abductor, who had just taken the child from outside her school, horrified the country.
Mexico’s women are under attack. According to a national poll, 66 percent of women over 15 have experienced physical or emotional abuse and/or gender discrimination, and 41 percent say they have suffered a sexual assault. According to the Mexican government’s own numbers, 10 women are killed every day in Mexico. Considering the impunity in Mexico, the number is likely much higher.
Fed up, a group of activists suggested an unprecedented protest: a nationwide strike by women, using the hashtag #UnDíaSinNosotras (one day without us). The idea soon grew into an unprecedented and inspiring movement. On March 9, Mexican women will leave their workplaces to show, in a powerful display of solidarity, what the country would be like without them.
One would think López Obrador, who came to power as a supposed progressive, would fully support the women’s movement. Or, at the very least, respect it. But he has done the complete opposite. In a galling display of cruelty and indolence, Mexico’s president has disparaged the fight against gender-based violence. He has questioned its motives, accused the movement of being a front set up by his “conservative” opponents for nefarious reasons and expressed concern for the doors and walls spray-painted by the protesters rather than focusing on the movement’s urgent demands. Early this week, he added insult to injury when he announced that he would begin selling tickets for the much-ridiculed raffle of the presidential airplane precisely on the day of the strike. When a reporter asked why, López Obrador made matters worse. “I didn’t even notice. It didn’t even cross my mind,” he said. (The raffle has now been rescheduled).
That López Obrador has chosen to undermine and belittle the women’s protests, a brave and necessary movement if there ever was one, is a moral enigma and, perhaps most puzzlingly, a political miscalculation of enormous proportions. Mexican female voters go to the polls in considerably larger numbers than Mexican men. Younger women are already a crucial part of the electorate and will become more so in the coming years. To publicly antagonize them makes no sense, morally, politically and otherwise.
Unless, of course, the man making the decisions has chosen to live inside a paranoid bubble, where even the most noble and justified endeavors seem like a conspiracy.
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