MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador tried to focus attention Monday on the high number of women in his cabinet, and not on a day of protests over the fact he has refused to break with a governorship candidate accused of rape.
Thousands of women marched in Mexico City Monday to mark Women’s Day, focusing the spotlight on López Obrador’s contradictions. A progressive who cites his long record of social struggle and says “the poor come first,” the president is also a social conservative who leaves abortion largely to state legislation and says the family is the center of society.
“He should start really fighting, but for the women of Mexico,” said marcher Ana De la Toba, a 39-year old Mexico City lawyer.
Those contradictions were on display in Mexico City’s vast central plaza, after the government erected tall steel anti-riot barricades in front of the National Palace and activists quickly adorned the structures with flowers and the names of female murder victims.
The president said the barriers were meant to protect buildings and monuments in the colonial-era downtown that have been spray-painted with graffiti in past feminist demonstrations, but marchers weren’t accepting that.
“Why do they want clean monuments, in a country awash in blood?” the marchers chanted.
Some marchers broke through barricades and smashed plate-glass windows at a hotel downtown. Later, others damaged centuries-old tile on a landmark building with hammers and some protesters battled police in the main square with rocks, bottles, metal poles, spray paint and streams of flame from lit aerosol cans.
Sixty-two officers and 19 civilians were injured during the incidents, said Marcela Figueroa, an official of the city’s police agency.
“Half of the cabinet are women,” López Obrador said at his daily morning news conference. “That was never seen before in Mexico.” Nevertheless, old habits die hard; During the same news conference, the president referred to one female reporter as “corazón,” roughly “sweetheart.”
Last week, the president sought to deflect criticism of his support for party’s candidate for the governorship of the southern state of Guerrero, Félix Salgado, who has been accused of rape by two women, though he has not been charged. López Obrador said the issue should be left up to voters in Guerrero, and claims it is being brought up by his foes, “the conservatives.”
“All of a sudden, the conservatives are disguising themselves as feminists, very strange. Why? Because they see it as an opportunity to attack us,” the president said.
Attention focused on the barricades erected in fronts of the colonial-era National Palace where López Obrador lives and works. The president himself once led protests in the same plaza. The president said the barriers were to prevent attacks with incendiary devices on the historic palace, which occurred at a women’s march last year.
“The barricades were put up because the conservatives are very upset,” López Obrador said. “They infiltrate all the movements to create provocations ... they were planning to vandalize the National Palace.”
The president said two women had been found with gasoline bombs at a workshop in an upscale Mexico City neighborhood, saying, “I am sure ... they were put up to this.”
Salgado has not been charged because prosecutors say the statute of limitations ran out on one of the accusations while another remains under investigation. His lawyer has denied the accusations.
López Obrador’s Morena party has scheduled a rerun of an internal poll to see whether Salgado should remain as the candidate, and a group of female Morena legislators publicly called on him to resign.
Authorities estimated there would be almost 100 women’s marches in cities and towns throughout Mexico. Some local and state authorities designated squads of female officers to provide security at the marches.