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The women, the palace and the power

Things are getting worse for women in Mexico, but President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is in denial.
Jorge Ramos is the co-anchor of Univison's nightly news and host of Al Punto and Real America.
A woman places a flowers on a metal fence surrounding the National Palace ahead of the International Women's Day, in Mexico City on March 7, 2021. Crédito: Claudio Cruz/AFP via Getty Images

In honor of Nevenka, brave pioneer when no one was listening.

Luisa Antonia. Cristina. Susana. Odalys. Larissa. Dulce. Jarid. The names of some of the victims of femicide in Mexico were on the metal fence protecting the National Palace, where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador works and sleeps. The evening before, the words “MEXICO FEMICIDE” had been projected onto the face of the palace. Mexican women were shouting their message: Stop killing us. But the president never understood.

The numbers are brutal.

Last year, 967 women were murdered in Mexico, according to official figures – the only ones available. That number is virtually the same as the 969 femicides reported in 2019. Both numbers, for the first two years of López Obrador's presidency, are more than double the 426 femicides reported in 2015. Conclusion: Things are getting worse for women in Mexico.

And that's exactly what thousands of women wanted to tell the president on Monday, March 8. Please, do something to make them stop killing, harassing and mistreating us. But the president heard something different. He believed that a strange mixture of his conservative opponents had conspired to attack him. Again.

“Violence should not be met with violence. It was a clear, shameless provocation,” he said during a news conference the day after the protest, which left dozens of demonstrators and police injured. And then, with a single phrase, he tried to discredit a protest with many legitimate demands. “A lot of falsehoods. A lot of hypocrisy. A lot of manipulation.”

With that, the president put himself on the wrong side of history. He should have stood with the women, and he did not.

We have to admit that López Obrador has a well developed nose for politics. After decades of abuses, thievery and corruption by the PRI and PAN governments, he understands here's a lot of social resentment in Mexico and that he has to behave, above all else, as a moral leader.

That's why he decided not to live in Los Pinos and turn it into a museum. That's why he flies on economy class, not a government airplane that cost tens of millions of dollars. That's why he did not want to be vaccinated before the majority of Mexicans. That's why, as he rightly says, the poor come first. And that's why he has the approval of 59 percent of Mexicans, according to a Mitofsky poll.

But he was wrong on women.

It's truly difficult to understand why the president loves to defend Félix Salgado Macedonio, his party's candidate for governor of Guerrero, who stands accused of at least three sexual assaults, according to the New York Times. Far from remaining neutral, he branded the criticisms of the candidate as a “media lynching” and, tired of news media questions about the case, he uttered two words he might regret for the rest of his life: "Ya chole" – a Mexican expression of discomfort.

More than 2,500 women did not remain silent after that outburst. “In Mexico, the National Palace is protected before women are protected from killers and rapists,” they wrote in an open letter to the president. “We demands a national security strategy on gender … We also demand that he break the patriarchal pact under which he has defended the alleged rapist Félix Salgado Macedonio and supported his official candidacy until today. We live in a country where each day 11 women and minors are murdered. Ninety-seven percent of all femicides go unpunished. Every four minutes, a woman is raped.”

We can't say "Ya chole" to all this.

During an interview in 2017, I asked the then-presidential candidate López Obrador if he was a feminist. But he did not answer the question directly. “I respect women,” he told me. “Women deserve to go to heaven.”

The president does not have to be a feminist to protect Mexican women. He has nine women in his cabinet, more than any other government in Mexican history. That's why it's so unfathomable that he did not stand with the women at this important time. And, in the end, he did not dare break that “patriarchal pact” – to protect machismo – that so many women have asked him to break.

His mistakes in this crisis make him look like he's stuck in the past. But he still has time to set things right. First, by withdrawing his support for Salgado Macedonio. And then by taking concrete steps to stop so many women in Mexico from being killed, raped and harassed.

Yes, that's a lot to ask for. But that's why 30 million people elected him president: to protect the lives of all women and all men. The time for promises, excuses and blaming others is over. It's time for results. Mexican women will stand in front of the palace, in front of the power, until they see a change.