Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador defended surrounding the national palace with giant barricades ahead of feminist protests Monday, saying they would prevent violence.
At his daily press conference, Lopez Obrador played a video of people throwing Molotov cocktails at last year’s demonstration, saying the 3-meter high barricades would avoid confrontations with riot police and stop injuries. In a show of defiance, activists spray-painted the barriers with the names of women killed in hate crimes, classified in Mexico as femicides.
Female activists will protest against soaring gender violence in Mexico, which saw murders of women rise dramatically over the past five years. Lopez Obrador has stoked the outrage by refusing to condemn a candidate for governor from his party who has been accused of rape. The president has consistently dismissed feminist opposition to his government, suggesting the growing movement is being infiltrated by cynical conservatives who oppose him for ideological reasons.
“We have to take care of women, and we have to take care of those who are going to protest, even if they do so violently, because imagine if a firecracker or Molotov cocktail exploded – we don’t want that” Lopez Obrador said.
Mexico’s feminist movement gained international attention last year through a national strike and the takeover of a national human rights office.
Lopez Obrador has come under fire for declining to disavow Felix Salgado Macedonio, the candidate for governor of Guerrero in June 6 elections who has twice been accused of rape. Salgado has denied the accusations. Last night, protesters projected the words “A Rapist Will Not Be Governor” and “Legalize Abortion Already” on the walls of the national palace, right behind the barricade.
Over 500 politicians and supporters of the president’s Morena party denounced Salgado and called for his removal in a letter. One member, activist Estefania Veloz, announced Monday she was leaving the party. Celebrities like singer Julieta Venegas and actor Gael Garcia Bernal have called on the president to stop criticizing the protest movement.
The president, whose leftist roots have made his clash with feminists all the more unusual, defended his record on gender equality Monday, noting that half of his cabinet is female. “That has never happened, it’s never been seen in Mexico,” he said.