Mexico incoming president rejects bodyguards: ‘The citizens will protect me’
He has just been elected commander-in-chief of a nation mired in an intractable drug conflict that has claimed more than 200,000 lives in little more than a decade.
But on Tuesday, Mexico’s incoming president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, claimed he would waive the right to close protection in a bid to stay close to the people.
“I don’t want bodyguards, which means the citizens will take care of me and protect me,” López Obrador, or Amlo, as he is best known, told reporters as he called on Mexico’s incumbent president, Enrique Peña Nieto, to discuss the transition.
Amlo, a 64-year-old leftist who trounced opponents in Sunday’s vote, was repeating an undertaking made on several occasions during his historic campaign – one of several promises designed to bolster his image as a man of the people who will rule for Mexico’s 53 million poor.
“I don’t want to go around surrounded by bodyguards. I want you to take care of me, I want the people to look after me,” Amlo told a rally in Hidalgo state in May.
José Antonio Crespo, a political analyst at Mexico’s Center for Economic Research and Teaching, called Amlo’s decision “an act of absolute irresponsibility”.
“It is a little demagogic to say: ‘I am just like anybody else, I have no privileges,’ when he isn’t just an average citizen, he is a head of state,” Crespo told the Associated Press. “A good part of the country’s stability and rule of law depend on his security and health.”
Amlo’s other populist pledges include:
- Refusing to live in Mexico City’s opulent 19th century presidential residence, Los Pinos (the Pines). “I won’t live in a mansion of any kind,” he told a recent gathering on the capital’s hardscrabble outskirts, promising to convert the building into an arts centre “for the Mexican people”.
- Selling the presidential plane and banning top officials from crisscrossing the country in private jets and helicopters. “All this is going to end … we cannot have a rich government and a poor people,” he said.
- Slashing his presidential salary and those of what he calls Mexico’s burocracia dorada (golden bureaucracy). “I’m going to earn half what Peña Nieto earns … and we are going to reduce the salaries of those who are on top so we can raise the salaries of those at the bottom,” Amlo pledged. “The teachers will earn more, the nurses, the doctors, the cleaners, the police, the soldiers, the marines … the campesinos.”
Amlo’s commitments have gone down well with voters furious at the extravagances and corruption of their ruling elite.
“We are so happy,” said Lucero Robles, a Mexican painter who took to the streets on Sunday night to toast his victory. “But we’ll be even happier when they put the presidential sash on him [in December].”