MEXICO CITY (CN) — For President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his supporters, his daily morning press conferences have been a clear sign of the transparency of his administration. But a recent study reveals the president's messaging on some of the most pressing issues facing Mexico has been misleading.
The study published Wednesday by government watchdog Causa En Común (Common Cause) reveals that over half of López Obrador’s statements on matters of public security and justice could not be corroborated by the government entities they concerned.
“There is an information labyrinth in the government, and the government inevitably has to face up to it,” said journalist Javier Solórzano, who spoke at a webinar hosted by Causa En Común to present the data.
Solórzano, who has also worked in the government’s National Transparency Institute, said that after more than three years of morning press conferences and the data-driven investigations of Causa En Común and other organizations, “it can’t be possible for us to not have clarity on one of the biggest problems in the country, which is justice, impunity and security as the core of our problems.”
The nongovernmental think tank México Evalúa (Mexico Evaluates) reported in October 2021 that the rate of impunity in the country is nearly 95%, while a quarter of all arrests in Mexico are illegal.
Causa En Común analyzed 764 of the president’s daily morning press conferences during the period running from December 2018 to the same month in 2021 — the first half of López Obrador’s six-year term. From those, they identified 420 conferences containing statements concerning public security.
The organization made a total of 1,976 information access requests to six governmental entities related to public security, including the Secretariat of National Defense, the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection and the National Guard.
Only 43% of the responses received coincided completely with the information given by the president in his morning conferences. The report notes that such agreement between the president and the corresponding governmental agency does not indicate veracity of the information.
The other 57% of responses ranged from partial agreement of information (11%) to information withheld due to concerns of national security or personal privacy (1%).
Responses that failed to receive corroboration due to incompetence by the government official dealing with the request made up the largest set of these (15%). Other reasons included lack of information (13%), information different from the presidential declaration (11%) and irrelevant responses (6%).
In his morning press conference on Wednesday, López Obrador said that his government is the victim of a “dirty war” carried out by an “industry of lies” made up of “the mafias of economic and political power.” The presenters of the study argued that this industry has a different magnate.
“The difficulty of getting information through transparency is based on the president’s improvisation,” said Luis Estrada, a political scientist and director general of the political communication consultancy SPIN-TCP.
“He seeks however he can the situation that favors him, even if it has no basis in reality,” said Estrada, who added that there are no public parameters by which the president’s statements can be evaluated.
López Obrador’s revilement of previous administrations also contributes to this problem of transparency, Estrada said. López Obrador claims that, unlike his predecessors, he conducts daily meetings on security before his press conferences.
These meetings indeed took place in previous administrations, Estrada said, but by saying that he does conduct them and those before him didn’t, López Obrador positions himself voice of truth on the matter.
One effect of this discourse in Mexican society is the relatively new and widespread trust of the military among the president’s base. Widely reviled less than a decade ago for its role in drug trafficking and incidents like the disappearance of 43 teachers college students from the rural town of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, the military is now viewed by a majority of the president’s supporters as being less corrupt than civil security forces.
Courthouse News’ reporting on López Obrador’s militarization of the country and the military's role in projects normally reserved for civil society, such as Mexico City’s new airport, has found that a large majority of his base believes that his security strategy has made Mexico a safer place in general. Security experts, however, have said that violence in Mexico is at record-high levels.
Causa En Común executive director María Elena Morera said that pulling the military away from conflicts with organized crime and using it to deal with situations like natural disasters has indeed lowered the amount of violent incidents involving the armed forces. But this has allowed criminal groups to flourish and bring entire communities or regions under their control.
“The information labyrinth of this government creates propaganda and misinforms, which has not given people the chance to form an opinion on the militarization and militarism underway,” she said. “López Obrador’s morning press conferences are not a mechanism of transparency.”
Courthouse News sent multiple requests for comment to the office of the presidency but did not receive a response. President López Obrador did not broach the topic in his Thursday morning press conference.
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