When Andrés Manuel López Obrador, popularly known as Amlo, was elected in 2018 as Mexico’s first left-wing president, he promised a lot. This includes eradicating persistent corruption in the country. And because such policies take root best when a symbol is attached to them, Amlo decided to sell the presidential plane, which was the flagship of its liberal predecessor Peña Nieto for 214 flights.
Amlo called the 200 million euro beast ‘Pharaonic’, especially because the ‘air bunker’ has a spacious presidential suite with double beds and a toilet room finished with striped marble, including a bathtub – extravagance that, according to the new president, did not suit a country whose half of the population lives in poverty.
Show me your plane ticket and I’ll tell you who you are, the new president must have thought, because at the same time he promised to avoid foreign trips as much as possible from now on and to settle for a simple economy class-ticket. He had the Boeing brought to America for sale and promised to invest the proceeds in education.
In mid-2020, after more than a year and a half in the US, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was flown back to Mexico. Reason: nobody wanted to buy it. The XC-MEX proved difficult to wear because with a wingspan of more than 60 meters it was too large for a private jet, while it would cost at least 13 million euros to rebuild the aircraft into a normal airliner.
When it also failed to sell the aircraft domestically, it was decided in 2020 to raffle the aircraft; a decision that once again turned out to be a gigantic sofa. After all, hardly anyone wanted to buy a ticket because there are hardly any Mexicans who can cough up the storage and maintenance costs of more than 3,600 per day.
To prevent further loss of face, the Mexican government decided to let the lottery go ahead, but instead of paying the plane a cash amount of 83 million euros. That amount would be divided into 100 lots and could later be settled with the treasury once the plane was finally sold.
And so, not long after, cheers erupted around José María Morelos y Pavón local kindergarten in El Nacimiento, a hamlet in the southern region of Chiapas. The happy parents decided to invest their joint price of €830,000 in a new roof for the school, among other things. Not long after, however, when a list of all 100 winners was published in a newspaper, they began to receive their first threats.
Members of Los Petules, a paramilitary organization operating in rural Chiapas, one of the country’s poorest states, claimed all of the prize money because they wanted to buy weapons from it. Los Petules was founded in the 1990s, when the Zapatistas, radical left-wing indigenous insurgents, took over part of the state. With the support of local authorities and landowners, the organization continues to sow terror among indigenous communities and left-wing activists.
At first, the parents involved ignored the threats, but when one of the fathers was first shot and women and children were also attacked a month ago, 28 indigenous families decided to flee their community. “We have lost a total of more than 250 head of livestock, our houses, refrigerators, grain crops, beans, chickens,” one of them, Marcelo Santiz, told EFE Agency earlier this week.
Spiral of Violence
The fact that López Obrador’s plane lottery leads to such an outburst of violence is particularly painful for the president. After all, one of his most important election promises was to put an end to the hopeless spiral of violence in which the country has ended up thanks to the drug cartels. In the first three years of his tenure, the sky-high crime rates have only increased. In 2020, nearly 35,000 Mexicans were murdered and the cartels still control a large part of daily life in several states. If violence is a national disease in Mexico, López Obrador has not yet proved to be a competent doctor.
This is also apparent from the handling of the lottery violence in El Nacimiento. Since their flight from the village nearly a month ago, the victims have appealed to both the state government and the public prosecutor in Chiapas, but local media say nothing has been done to resolve the situation.
The president has also made a new attempt to make money from his plane. For example, he has proposed to rent out the Boeing for weddings and other celebrations and parties.