Families of Mexicans missing amid the country's violent drug war are turning up pressure on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador as they demand he find answers to their whereabouts.
Dozens of protesters surrounded López Obrador’s motorcade on Monday after the president finished speaking at a press conference at a military base in the state of Veracruz. They blocked his vehicle and clamored for him to step out of his official vehicle and listen to them. Some held signs with images of their loved ones who have disappeared.
“Help bring them home,” read one of the banners.
After their demands were ignored, a woman protesting said: “You meet with El Chapo’s mother, bastard, but not with us,” referring to López Obrador's shaking hands with the mother of convicted drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in March while visiting the northwestern state of Sinaloa.
He has defended the greeting, calling the kingpin’s mother a “respectable old lady” and blaming his critics for trying to stir up a scandal. He has said his greeting of Guzmán's mother was a humanitarian act that didn't mean anything else.
López Obrador said on Tuesday that he didn't engage with protesters in Veracruz in order to keep a "healthy distance" from others during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I couldn't, due to the healthy distance, exposing myself or exposing them; I am very sorry that this happened, this situation is very uncomfortable," he said during a press conference in the state of Tlaxcala.
Previously, López Obrador was criticized for breaking coronavirus protections by shaking hands with Guzmán's mother.
The government estimates there are 61,000 missing people in Mexico, the vast majority of them victims of the country’s grinding war with powerful drug gangs that have grown more violent.
But tensions between the family members of the missing people and the Mexican government keeps escalating as violence has continued to spiral and homicides reached a new record last year in spite of López Obrador’s promise to lower them.
Tensions have also flared following budget cuts to the Executive Commission for Victims — a government office created to aid those who have been victims of criminal acts and human rights violations — as well as poor leadership from the office tasked with helping the families of the missing, protesters told the Mexican newspaper El Universal.