Mexican president flouts coronavirus protocol to shake hands with ‘El Chapo’s’ mother

Tribune Content Agency

MEXICO CITY — It was bad enough that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was seen shaking hands with a 92-year-old woman Sunday in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

But what really upset many Mexicans was that the woman in the encounter is the mother of notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

A 30-second video of their brief meeting quickly went viral, and by Monday the phrase “Narco President” was trending on Twitter, along with hashtags about the importance of staying inside to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“The President, instead of canceling his tours and attending to the serious crisis caused by COVID-19, has prioritized meeting with the mother of a drug trafficker and the grandmother of a fugitive,” said a statement released Monday by a coalition of senators from the opposition National Action Party.

Journalist Pascal Beltrán del Río riffed on Twitter that the president had “failed to keep a healthy distance — in more ways than one.”

Since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 struck Mexico in late February, López Obrador’s response to the pandemic has been uneven, and at times baffling.

For weeks he openly ignored the advice of public health officials, embracing supporters and kissing children.

And he has continued his traditional weekend tours of the country, even as two Mexican governors have announced they are positive for COVID-19 and his undersecretary of health, Hugo López-Gatell, has begged Mexicans to stay home to contain the spread of the disease.

“This is the last chance we have. We can’t lose it,” López-Gatell said in a somber news briefing on Saturday. “We are saying to everyone: ‘Stay at home.’ It’s the only way to reduce this virus.”

On Saturday night, it looked like López Obrador might have turned a corner. He recorded a long video address in which he implored Mexicans to stay inside. “We have to be in our homes,” he said. “We have to maintain a safe distance.”

The next day, he traveled with a large caravan of people to the remote mountain town of Badiraguato, Sinaloa, in a region known for marijuana and poppy cultivation. The president, who was traveling with the state’s governor, said he was there to observe progress on construction of a new road.

At the entrance of the village of La Tuna, where Guzman was born, the government caravan stopped and López Obrador got out of his SUV and strode up to a shiny white pickup truck, where Guzman’s gray-haired mother, María Consuelo Loera Pérez, was seated on the passenger side.

“Don’t get out,” the president told her while shaking her hand. “I received your letter,” he said.

The president was also seen talking to Jose Luis Gonzalez Meza, a lawyer for the family.

At his daily news conference in Mexico City on Monday, López Obrador explained that Guzman’s mother had sent him a letter — for the second time — pleading for his help. She hopes to visit her son, who is in a maximum-security prison in the United States after being convicted last year on drug trafficking and murder charges, and wants the Mexican government to help convince the U.S. to allow her to make the trip.

The president said he would support her efforts for humanitarian reasons, but added that the decision of whether or not to admit Loera ultimately depends on the U.S. government.

He said he was moved by her predicament.

“Mothers have a special and sublime love for their children,” said López Obrador, who said she told him “that she has not seen him in five years and that she does not want to die without seeing him.”

The exchange shocked many in Mexico, some of whom were quick to note that the president’s visit coincided with the 30th birthday of Guzman’s son, Ovidio Guzman Lopez.

Last fall, Mexican federal forces briefly captured Ovidio at his home in the Sinaloa capital of Culiacan. But when Sinaloa cartel gunmen took control of the city, blocking exits out of town and taking hostages, federal forces decided to release Ovidio.

While some in Mexico praised the government’s decision to deescalate the situation in order to save civilian lives, others questioned whether Ovidio’s release was a sign of collusion between the government and the cartel.

López Obrador rejects those claims. He has repeatedly said that, unlike his predecessors, he doesn’t want a war with drug traffickers, saying their militarized approach didn’t work.

On Monday, he lashed out at his critics for turning the encounter with Guzman’s mother into a “scandal,” and said he some of his critics had done more to hurt the country than she had.

“Sometimes I have to shake hands, because it is my job,” he said. “How could I not give my hand to a lady? How am I going to leave her with her hand waiting?”


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