Thu, Feb 21, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Mexico president’s humble air travel a security nightmare

AFP, MEXICO CITY

Accompanied only by five unarmed aides and a small collection of amulets, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador makes police and flight attendants alike tremble when he embarks on air travel, always in economy class.

Lopez Obrador stops for photographs with everyone, allowing them to kiss, hug or even grab him by the waist.

“Of course, whatever photos you like,” the smiling president said to a woman trying to snatch a photograph with her smartphone as he walked to the airplane ahead of a trip to Sinaloa, the dangerous state made famous by narcotics kingpin Joaquim “El Chapo” Guzman.

Lopez Obrador’s acquiescence sparked a near stampede as others swirled around the president looking for their own memento.

All the while, there was no security to push back the throngs.

Mexico’s leftist leader has done away with the thousands of military escorts looking after the president and sent them to work “for the benefit of the people.”

The presidential jet, a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner bought for US$218 million, is now on sale in California. Lopez Obrador traveled to Sinaloa on a cramped Embraer jet.

“How can I board this plane when there’s so much poverty in Mexico,” he had said about the Dreamliner.

Now he travels with a small retinue of aides headed by Daniel Asaf, a restauranteur of Lebanese origin and former candidate for Mexico City’s legislature.

The security services might be in a fluster, but Lopez Obrador is the most popular president in the country’s history with an 80 percent approval rating, a Mitofsky poll found.

Part of that popularity comes from his campaign promises to reduce his own salary and those of the government’s top officials.

However, Mexico City’s airport police are less impressed with Lopez Obrador’s humble availability.

“When he has to cross the entire airport, it’s the worst,” an anonymous airport police officer said. “People pounce on him. If one day someone wants to do something to him, we won’t be able to stop them, because he doesn’t like being guarded.”

“He can’t continue like this, he has to use the VIP room,” the officer said.

On this journey, Lopez Obrador was heading to one part of Mexico infested with drug traffickers and violent gangs. However, he has no fear of being attacked, believing himself protected by an assortment of talismans.

“I have a lot of protection — this is a shield,” he told reporters, holding up an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Among his other protective amulets, Lopez Obrador carries a four-leaf clover and a US dollar given to him by a Mexican migrant.

Upon landing at Culiacan International Airport, Lopez Obrador was met by throngs of supporters and angry widows of police officers killed in the fight against drug traffickers.

After all the commotion of his humble journey, the president had no time for the waiting masses and was whisked away by the local governor’s security detail.

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