MEXICO CITY – An intruder burst into Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s daily morning news conference Monday, approached him and spoke with the leader for a while before an aide accompanied the man into a back office to listen to his complaint.
It is not the first time that López Obrador's casual attitude toward his personal security has raised concern. López Obrador dissolved Mexico's 8,000-strong presidential guard unit, travels by road or commercial flights, and over the weekend endured a round of catcalls as he was leaving his seat in the economy section of a flight.
Journalists at Mexico City’s National Palace on Monday were surprised to see a man pop out from behind a room divider behind López Obrador in the vast conference hall and come close enough to touch the president while another official was speaking.
The president chatted with the man, who was wearing a coronavirus face mask, before referring him to Leticia Ramírez, who handles public contact for the president. Later Ramírez said the man, 31, from the northern state of Durango, was “desperate” because he could not get his life back together after being jailed for drug possession.
Ramírez said the man claimed the drugs had been planted on him, and that he had difficulty finding job opportunities and was not allowed to see his daughter after getting out of jail.
Ramírez said it was still under investigation how the man got into the National Palace, but acknowledged he had made it through the security detail, which includes metal detectors and guards. Journalists must show pre-approved ID cards and go through security screening to enter each weekday morning.
López Obrador, who enjoys pressing the flesh in crowds of supporters but has not been able to do so during the coronavirus pandemic, downplayed the incident.
“I just have my civilian aides, I don't have bodyguards, because he who has done nothing wrong has nothing to fear,” López Obrador said, referring to a plainclothes group that has sometimes had to push throngs of protesters away from the president's vehicle.
“Everybody runs risks, everybody,” the president said. “But I have always had contact with the people. I'm suffering with the pandemic because it's not allowed,” he said noting “it's not possible to shut yourself away, that's no life, people can't live locked up.”
Video posted on social media showed a small group of passengers seated several rows behind López Obrador shouting insults at the president as the commercial flight he was traveling in deplaned in Mexico City.
López Obrador also downplayed that incident.
“That's part of the job. Imagine if I were to worry about insults. I get insulted a lot,” he said Monday. “That's the difference between democracy and a dictatorship. When there is a dictatorship, people can't protest.”
López Obrador has visited some of the most dangerous parts of northern Mexico, where drug cartels hold sway, with few apparent security concerns. But unlike his predecessors, he has also abandoned the policy of trying to detain drug lords or attack the cartels directly.
Soon after he was elected in 2018, López Obrador said: “The people will protect me.”