As the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, got close, the man who has made of the National Palace his home gets entrenched in his imponent dwelling behind a kilometres-long barricade, the symbolic significance of which shouldn’t go unnoticed: the protection of his illustrious self from the rage and pain which inevitably follow the unpunished rape, disappearance and murder of thousands of people, and an obstinate refusal to see, to listen and to engage in dialogue.
Women soon made of that impassable sign of silence and scorn a memory wall. It is hard to think of anyone who saw—either in person or in video or photograph— that barricade transfigured as memorial, as a call for justice, as the testimony of grief and, no doubt about it, of love too, and didn’t quiver. That memory wall is in itself a triumph of the spirit of humanity over violence, and over the corruption and apathy of a collapsed justice system.
Did the Mexican president leave for a moment his fort in order to contemplate, in the two senses of the word, that wall: with his eyes and his attention? He clearly didn’t, but here I am fantasising a bit with the possibility that this man, who believes that everything that happens and matters in Mexico is referred to himself, had the capacity of contemplation, and what the consequences might be. What would have happened if he had seen those women spontaneously organised after the barricade’s erection, with their facemasks, painting the names of thousands of hurt and murdered women, sticking up photographs, surrounding them with flowers, beneath the ominous headline “Victims of feminicide”? I want to think that he would have quivered too, and that the enormous gesture of solidarity, much bigger than the wall, would have managed to move him.
I am imagining an hypothetical parallel reality, in which the president of a country in which feminicides come to dozens of thousands since the 1990s, would be incapable of saying, with that bitter half-smile of his, that those women intent on turning indifference into an appeal for memory and into the very voice of the victims are “conservatives”, “infiltrators”, reactionaries politicking to undermine the glory of that Fourth Transformation that, in its leader’s head, is always written in capitals.
But he is capable, and he says all this. The barricade, he adds, was for protection. For preserving peace, because he is against violence. So am I, and the women who march in the streets to demand a stop to the shedding of blood of women and girls, and to call for justice for committed crimes, are rising up against violence, precisely.
Some definitions of violence: violence is the murder of an average of ten women per day. Violence is rape, intimidation, abuse of power and sexual abuse against women and young girls. Violence are the degradation and humiliation inflicted on the bodies of living women and, on occasion, on their corpses. Violence is kidnapping and disappearance. Violence is the lack of justice, for decades, for thousands and thousands of victims, which makes of Mexico one of the countries in the world where being a woman is most dangerous. Violence is the fact that crimes against women are on the rise instead of diminishing, and that impunity prevails despite the government’s promises about not tolerating anymore this state of affairs. Violence is to make public the images of the victim’s mutilated body. Violence is to ignore the accusations and history of women in risky situations until they end up murdered. Violence are the discrimination, exploitation and social exclusion of women and girls, endorsed by the acceptance of the status quo and silenced by impunity. Violence is the contempt for the female body. Violence is the sexualisation of the abuse of power. Violence is the complicit silence in the face of the executions of women that became visible in Ciudad Juárez since the 1990s, and which were later spread to other states, as well as the indubitably collective blame of such crimes, which couldn’t have happened or still go unpunished without complicity from high up.
Violence is to pretend that seeking justice after a feminicide and the inexpressible brutality of a crime is less important than the farce of the raffle for a presidential plane (“because this is history”, the president said then, before posing for the triumphant raffle picture). Violence is to smile and say that “there is no impunity anymore for anybody” in a country where around 3,000 women are murdered every year, and in which their relatives’ ordeal of looking for justice often ends up precisely in impunity and silence. Violence is to deem unimportant the calls for help of women who are being attacked.
Violence, to defend, then ratify, the candidacy for governor of a man accused of rape and sexual aggressions against women. Violence, to say ya chole (“enough of that!”) when such a defence of the indefensible is questioned.
Mr. López Obrador could have spared the National Palace barricade, that symbol of deaf ears, cowardice and closed doors, and refused instead to accept Félix Salgado Macedonio’s candidacy for governor of the state of Guerrero for the Morena party. He could have spared so much vain verbiage proclaiming his respect for women. He could engage in dialogue with the victims’ relatives, show that he cares about their grief, that he cares about the carrying out of justice, that he cares about putting an end to violence. Instead, the president of Mexico stares once more into his mirror, deformed by dint of excessive use, and concludes, again, that the protests are an attack against him and against the 4T. This issue, to him, has nothing to do with the bodies of women who suffer assault, with extinguished lives, with life beneath the constant pall of fear that is the daily bread for women in Mexico. He doesn’t want the matter to be mentioned; he says he doesn’t want media campaigns “with expert analysts pontificating, passing sentence, judging”, and he adds: “We suffered that for years. One attack after the other. Therefore, how can I not be suspicious and act cautiously?” Once again, the matter at hand vanishes and is transmuted into the president’s person and his government.
Mexico’s president tells us that the accusations against Salgado Macedonio should be settled through the law, yet the people of Guerrero have the right to support him as candidate. He doesn’t seem to understand that accepting in his party the candidacy of a man accused of rape and sexual aggressions constitutes an endorsement, from the topmost seat in power, of such crimes and the contempt for women which is one of the unquestionable causes of the protests.
His infamous ya chole speech came accompanied by his well-known paranoia: “I remember that even the conservatives were in last year’s feminist movement. They disguised themselves as sympathisers with the feminist movement—the most reactionaries, retrogrades, the most opposed to liberties, the most authoritarian appeared”, not to defend women’s rights, he claimed, but because “they were against us”. It seems that there is no criticism, denunciation or social movement in Mexico that the president cannot divert towards the only subject dwelling in his head: those who are against him.
Recently he has also talked about the “simulation about feminism”. It was when he gloated over his ignorance about the meaning of the term patriarchal pact, which he immediately followed by entering the labyrinth of his demagogy and his vanity, invoking the “pact” that he has already broken, “the pact against Mexico”. He then explains to us that that patriarchal pact thing is an imported expression: “copies. What do we have to do with that? We respect women, every human being. But conservatism gets onto that as well. In the case of Guerrero with Félix, since he’s the candidate, all the composition [sic].” […] “Why to have it in all the media, accusing us of being against women? Well, no, we are in favour of women’s rights”. Then he reminds us that most public servants in his government are women, and concludes: “Since when conservatives become feminists? Then all this is interesting because of the role media play, how they want to affect us, the constant attacks, the misinformation, the manipulation. I am a humanist and that’s why I respect feminism, and we aren’t like the conservatives. I have no weight on my conscience.”
The whole of this nonsensical speech is documented in press and videos, and it’s the confirmation, in case we needed it, that from the narrow ideological cage in which the president has shut himself up, protected by walls much thicker and unbridgeable than those he had erected around the National Palace, he’s incapable of realising that the indignation about the systemic violence against women in Mexico and the call for justice come from all segments of society, and that women’s protest, far from being a campaign aiming at the imposition of an ideology, is the unstoppable cry of a country tired of counting the dead and looking for disappeared people; the cry of women who have paid with harm against their own body, or that of their daughters, mothers, sisters, friends, the high price of that patriarchal pact that López Obrador discredits with disdain because, to him, it’s imported, irrelevant stuff, even when the raped, mutilated and murdered bodies go on piling up, and the victims are so many that their names filled the memory wall all along the National Palace façade.
Worryingly, in his recent diatribes about the supposed media complot against him, the president dodges the only question that matters here: why his party accepts and ratifies the candidature for governor of a man accused of rape. If in these circumstances Mr. López Obrador has “no weight on his conscience”, we can only conclude that it is rather conscience itself that is absent.
I think it’s laudable that there is gender parity in the current government, and no doubt there must be women there, and men too, committed to the struggle against gender-related violence and to the construction of an effective system of justice. I know that several Morena representatives were vocal about not allowing Salgado Macedonio to take part in the elections, and that at least one of its militants has even resigned because of this. The problem is, apart from atrocious, complex; its roots certainly precede by far López Obrador’s administration, and we’ll have to listen to those women in his cabinet who have been so quick to defend the 4T’s position with regards to violence against women to understand the work they’re doing. Disposition to listen and to engage in dialogue must exist, by principle, both in sympathisers and critics. However, it is clear that the current government is quite far from consolidating that effective system of justice that is so urgently needed, or from fulfilling its promises about the prevention of violence, including that which is gender related. The number of victims keeps on growing, rather than diminishing. This is as far as concrete facts are concerned.
There are also the symbolic facts, those which are laid down through language, gestures, words. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in his unfortunate confrontations with a feminist movement he doesn’t understand and which he seems to perceive only as a threat to his person and his party, once and again sends a message of contempt towards that movement, of a negative to dialogue and an insulting indifference in the face of thousands and thousands of corpses.
Unfortunately, that indifference is nothing new. On several occasions López Obrador has shown a disdainful attitude towards the victims of violence or their relatives, despite the grandiosity of his discourse when he claims that in his government there will always be dialogue, and that he will never hide. Last year, for instance, he refused to receive Javier Sicilia and members of the Le Barón family, representatives of the Hike for Truth and Justice, at the Palacio Nacional, “to avoid making a show”; the same applied to the families of feminicide victims who were stationed at the Zócalo demanding to be seen directly by him. They were received by the Ministry of the Interior, but not by the president, because he had “many issues to go through”.
Such an attitude was already foreshadowed in 2017, when López Obrador was Morena’s leader before becoming president. During a visit to New York for a migrants’ rally, he called Antonio Tizapa, father of one of the 43 Ayotzinapa disappeared students, “a troublemaker”, when he asked the politician about his relationship with Iguala’s mayor, José Luis Abarca, and Guerrero’s governor, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, at the time of the crime in Iguala. In the video that documents the incident, Tizapa is showing a t-shirt with the faces of the disappeared students. López Obrador laughs at him, insists on accusing him of provocation, and then tells him: “Shut up”.
For this man, now the president of Mexico, all those of us who demand justice and an end to rampant violence, including the victims’ parents, are that: troublemakers. In a country where victims’ relatives dig the earth with their hands looking for the bodies of the disappeared; where crimes against women and girls are on the rise, with impunity in many cases, the president, rather than offering a serious response to our questioning and showing at least one gesture expressing not only understanding of the problem’s gravity as a head of state, but simple human solidarity, discredits the demands, the protests, the cry born out of grief and impotence, as his opponents’ conspiracy; he invalidates the calls for help to emergency services made by women in danger, and shuts himself up behind barricades of all sorts, physical and mental, so as not to hear anything that isn’t his own voice.
Last 8th of March Andrés Manuel López Obrador should have walked out of Palace to stand in front of the memory wall, read the names that kept on growing in white letters covering the metal, try to understand the grief and rage of the women who wrote those names, and the care of the hands that surrounded them with flowers. He should have tried at least to imagine the pain of a harmed body, the horror and pointlessness of a life snuffed out through violence, the void left by a disappeared human being, the desolation of the victims’ relatives. And multiply all that by the thousands. If he had done that, horror, solidarity and compassion would have made him take the side of the feminists, open to them the doors, at least symbolically, of the National Palace, and inform during his mañanera sessions, without demagogic nonsense, of the concrete progress being made in human rights issues and justice for the victims, as well as of the strategies that his government is following to put an end to this untenable empire of violence. If he had only opened his eyes, that would be his fixed idea.
But that’s not what happened. The president chooses to build barriers, of metal and contempt, to make his echo chamber more and more impenetrable.