Bangkok Post

Mex­ico’s pres­i­den­tial plane — any tak­ers?

The pres­i­dent has called the jet ‘an in­sult to the peo­ple,’ but has failed to sell it or give it away. Some have called the spec­ta­cle a sym­bol of his lead­er­ship

- NATALIE KITROEFF Latin America News · Politics · Mexico · Andrés Manuel López Obrador · Boeing · Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars · Washington · Politics of Mexico · Robin Hood · Felipe Calderon · Enrique Peña Nieto · Beijing · Donald Trump · Mexico City

Even be­fore he was elected, Pres­i­dent An­drés Manuel López Obrador pointed to Mex­ico’s pres­i­den­tial plane as a sym­bol of all that was wrong with the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment in Mex­ico, where lead­ers lived lav­ishly amid a pop­u­la­tion in dire need.

The $130 mil­lion (4 bil­lion baht) jet was an “in­sult to the peo­ple,” he said, “an ex­am­ple of the ex­cesses” of the coun­try’s for­mer lead­ers. If elected, he would sell the plane, Mr López Obrador said, and re­turn the pro­ceeds to the peo­ple as part of a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of Mex­ico that would em­power the dis­en­fran­chised, end

The Boe­ing 787, with its king size bed and tread­mill, does not lend it­self to com­mer­cial use.

cor­rup­tion, and root out in­equal­ity.

Since win­ning in a land­slide in 2018, he has tried to sell, raf­fle, or oth­er­wise use the plane — Mex­ico’s Air Force One — to raise money for so­cial causes. Each time, he failed, as re­al­ity in­truded: The mar­ket for sec­ond-hand cus­tomised jets is small, and a Boe­ing Dream­liner’s up­keep would ruin an or­di­nary ci­ti­zen. Over time, the pres­i­dent’s ef­forts to make good on the prom­ise have grown more elab­o­rate, ex­pen­sive and just “too weird,” said Dun­can Wood, di­rec­tor of the Mex­ico In­sti­tute at the Wil­son Cen­ter, a re­search cen­tre in Washington, DC. “If this was an episode of Black Mir­ror,” he said, re­fer­ring to the dystopian tele­vi­sion show, “it wouldn’t make it to the screen.”

The raf­fle was to be held last Tues­day. But the prize, af­ter all, is not the plane — it’s cash. Among the big­gest par­tic­i­pants is the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment, which spent nearly $24 mil­lion (755.1 mil­lion baht) to buy tick­ets and then gave them to hos­pi­tals, for a chance at win­ning sore­lyneeded funds.

His per­sis­tence says much about the show­man­ship that has char­ac­terised his pres­i­dency, and how chal­leng­ing it has been for him to make good on a grand vi­sion when con­fronted with the com­plex­i­ties of the real world. Two years into his ten­ure, Mr López Obrador has a mixed record on the trans­for­ma­tion he promised, and his high ap­proval num­bers are drag­ging in the face of a pan­demic, an eco­nomic re­ces­sion and surg­ing vi­o­lence.

The pres­i­dent is car­ry­ing out ma­jor in­ves­ti­ga­tions into cor­rup­tion scan­dals, but now his own brother may be in­volved in one. He cut bud­gets so much that some min­istries are strug­gling to pay their elec­tric bills. Yet he’s fun­nelling money into an oil re­fin­ery and other pet in­fras­truc­ture pro­jects.

Per­fect tim­ing for a spec­ta­cle, crit­ics say, es­pe­cially one that puts him back in the Robin Hood role, tak­ing from the na­tion’s rich and giv­ing to its poor. “Part of it is to keep alive the idea of the abu­sive po­lit­i­cal class of the past,” and his gov­ern­ment as “the aus­tere ones,” said Car­los El­i­zondo, a gov­ern­ment pro­fes­sor at Tec­nológico de Mon­ter­rey. “But along the way, he’s got­ten en­tan­gled in an in­creas­ingly ridicu­lous exit strat­egy.”

The pres­i­dent has been rail­ing for years against this plane, which was or­dered by for­mer Pres­i­dent Fe­lipe Calderón, ar­gu­ing that the money should in­stead be in­vested in im­prov­ing con­di­tions in Mex­ico. Mr Calderón’s suc­ces­sor, En­rique Peña Ni­eto, was later crit­i­cised for us­ing the plane to take his fam­ily mem­bers on lav­ish trips, in­clud­ing one to China with his wife’s makeup artist. Af­ter a spate of cor­rup­tion scan­dals, Mr Peña Ni­eto left of­fice in 2018 as one of the least pop­u­lar pres­i­dents in Mex­i­can his­tory.

Mr López Obrador took di­rect aim at the plane in one of his cam­paign ads, say­ing “not even Don­ald Trump” had a pres­i­den­tial jet like this one. As soon as he took of­fice, he be­gan try­ing, with great fan­fare, to off­load the jet. He speaks about it reg­u­larly in the hours-long news con­fer­ences he holds every morn­ing — one of them held in front of the Dream­liner parked in its hangar. As pres­i­dent, he makes a point of fly­ing com­mer­cial.

But of­fers didn’t ex­actly start rolling in for the Boe­ing 787, which, with its king size bed and tread­mill, does not lend it­self to com­mer­cial use. When he raised the spec­ta­cle of a raf­fle, Mex­i­cans flooded so­cial me­dia with memes about what they would do if they won the plane and sud­denly had to pay for its main­te­nance, gas and park­ing.

Con­fronted with the ques­tion­able wis­dom of giv­ing an air­liner to a reg­u­lar ci­ti­zen, he nixed the idea. He’d hold the raf­fle, he de­cided, but would in­stead give away 100 prizes of nearly $940,000 each. To pro­mote the new scheme, he in­vited busi­ness­men to a din­ner in which he served tamales and passed around a sign-up sheet so they would pledge to buy tick­ets.

“He still has sup­port for break­ing with the past and get­ting rid of the plane,” said Ig­na­cio Marván, a pro­fes­sor at CIDE, a univer­sity in Mex­ico City. “He found a way out, so he keeps the sup­port and doesn’t get crit­i­cised for go­ing back on the de­ci­sion, which is the raf­fle.”

And yet, af­ter all the time and re­sources spent try­ing to get rid of this plane, it re­mains parked in its hangar in Mex­ico, await­ing a suit­able buyer.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Mex­ico’s Pres­i­dent An­drés Manuel López Obrador holds a news con­fer­ence in the pres­i­den­tial hangar, with the pres­i­den­tial plane in the back­ground, in Mex­ico City.
Mex­ico’s Pres­i­dent An­drés Manuel López Obrador holds a news con­fer­ence in the pres­i­den­tial hangar, with the pres­i­den­tial plane in the back­ground, in Mex­ico City.
 ??  ?? An­other shot of the in­te­rior of the pres­i­den­tial plane.
An­other shot of the in­te­rior of the pres­i­den­tial plane.
 ??  ?? The in­side of the plane’s cock­pit.
The in­side of the plane’s cock­pit.
 ??  ?? The in­te­rior of the pres­i­den­tial plane.
The in­te­rior of the pres­i­den­tial plane.

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