MEXICO CITY – The SUV carrying Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was stopped and surrounded by a radical teachers’ group Friday, preventing him from leading his usual daily morning news conference.
The incident occurred in the southern state of Chiapas. López Obrador’s vehicle was allowed to procede after a couple of hours.
The president sat inside the vehicle and refused protesters’ demands that he hold a meeting with them then and there. In a live stream from inside the SUV shown at the press conference, López Obrador said he could not allow himself to be held hostage by special interests.
“I cannot allow myself to be blackmailed by anybody,” the president said. He was stopped just a few miles from the site where the news conference was to be held, and other officials already present carried on with the briefing in his absence.
But López Obrador also stressed that the incident was an example of his policy of non-violence and avoiding the use of force. He noted that he was stopped on a road in front of a military barracks, but would not call out the army to disperse the protesters.
“This is what (Nelson) Mandela did, this is what (Martin) Luther King did, this is what (Mahatma) Gandhi did, non-violence,” López Obrador said.
But the brief holding of the president was also an instance of how some of his own policies have backfired on him.
López Obrador has been kinder to radical teachers than any of his predecessors, endorsing their demands for less-stringent teacher evaluations and better conditions. Past administrations had cracked down on the radical teachers' union known as the CNTE, which has been known for blockading roads, railways and entire cities.
By Friday, even López Obrador admitted that the union leadership in some states had gone bad.
“In Chiapas state, and also in Michoacan, the leaderships have become special interests,” he said. “I cannot surrender to any special interest group.”
López Obrador has also refused to use the presidential jet, preferring to travel with a small unarmed security detail and using commercial flights and ground transport wherever he can.
His instructions to police, soldiers and the National Guard to avoid confrontations whenever possible has also given freer reign to drug cartels, vigilantes and other groups in some areas.
It was one of the few times that López Obrador has been absent from the unprecedented daily morning news conferences he has held almost every weekday since he took office Dec. 1, 2018.
When the president caught COVID-19 in late January, he handed over the news conferences to then-Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero for a couple of weeks before returning.