The Washington Post

Mexico’s president shares a supposed photo of a mystical elf on Twitter


Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s claim that he has photo evidence of a mythical elflike creature set the internet alight. It also left many wondering: Why was he tweeting this?

“Everything is mystical,” López Obrador wrote on Twitter over the weekend with a picture of a veiled creature with glowing eyes perched in a tree. He said it was an “aluxe” — a mischievou­s being in Maya lore.

While the president, known as AMLO, has a reputation for being a bit eccentric — with rambling, hours-long daily news conference­s and a belief that religious amulets could ward off covid — his elf tweet achieved a new level of whimsy.

“Even by AMLO standards, I think it was received as one of his most bizarre sort of interventi­ons,” said Pablo Calderón Martínez, a professor of politics and internatio­nal relations at Northeaste­rn University London.

López Obrador said Saturday the photo was taken “three days ago” by an engineer working on his expansive and expensive Mayan Train project.

But the photo appears to be more than two years old. A seemingly identical image was posted on Twitter on Feb. 9, 2021, by a man who said the creature, which he described as a witch, was spotted in the northern state of Nuevo León. A reverse image search showed that the photo had been circulatin­g for at least a few days before that; an Indonesian news site published an article two years ago saying the picture was taken Feb. 4, 2021.

It left many wondering why the president of Mexico felt the need to share it on Twitter. Did he believe it was real? Did he know the photo was probably more than two years old? Was it a genuine nod to Maya culture, or were there other motivation­s?

The answer, so far, is as elusive as an aluxe.

“The whole episode is weird,” Calderón Martínez said. “Who knows what the real intentions are?”

Among the possibilit­ies, Calderón Martínez said, was that López Obrador wanted to distract from a recent controvers­y that is likely more serious than an elf sighting: Tens of thousands of Mexicans took to the streets Sunday to protest a law that threatens to weaken the country’s national electoral institute, a pillar of Mexico’s young democracy. A spokesman for López Obrador did not respond to a request for comment.

“If you throw a dead cat on the table, everyone’s going to be talking about the dead cat on the table, right?” Calderón Martínez said. “So that’s what he does. He starts talking about the aluxe, the mystical elf in the forest.”

The tweet also brought attention to López Obrador’s signature Tren Maya project, an ambitious and controvers­ial attempt to revitalize southern Mexico, a region long forgotten by other leaders. López Obrador is from southern Mexico.

López Obrador said the photo was taken in the constructi­on zone of the Tren Maya, a $15 billion project to create a tourist train line to connect the resorts of Cancún, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen — destinatio­ns popular with foreign tourists — to the Maya sites and communitie­s in the country’s most impoverish­ed region.

The project has divided Mexico; constructi­on has involved gutting a football field-wide gash through the Maya Forest and dismantlin­g and removing tens of thousands of artifacts. The second picture in AMLO’S tweet showed what he described as a pre-hispanic sculpture in the area.

An aluxe, according to Yucatán Magazine, is “similar to a Celtic leprechaun.” They’re thought to be invisible beings that appear when they want to help — or scare — humans. “Anyone who’s ever adventured through the jungles of Yucatán,” the magazine reported, “has had aluxes (aLoo-shez) as traveling companions.”

Thought to be represente­d in small clay figurines found throughout the region, they’re so entrenched in the region’s history that researcher­s from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropolo­gy and History held a ceremony asking for their permission to conduct archaeolog­ical work in the 1990s, according to the Yucatán Times.

Whatever López Obrador’s intentions, Calderón Martínez said, it wasn’t a mistake. The populist is “very careful in what he says, and what he tweets. … It’s all part of his message and his appeal.”

Benjamin Smith, a professor of Latin American history at the University of Warwick in Britain, said the tweet could further fuel ongoing rumors that López Obrador, 69, has dementia or is otherwise unfit to govern.

“At the same time, he’s also quite a savvy political player,” he said. “I suppose you could see it as a clever way to show that the Mayan Train is in some way approved of … by the Mayan gods or something.”

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