Every weekday at 7:00 am, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador stands before a microphone and talks — and talks, and talks — directly to “the people” as the journalists covering his daily news conference battle to stay awake.
This is the “mananera,” or morning press conference, an exercise in political communication unlike anything else in the world.
Falling somewhere between religious sermon and stump speech, the press conference has become a fixture in Mexico since the anti-establishment leftist known as AMLO took office a year ago, on December 1, 2018.
“Donald Trump has Twitter. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro prefers Facebook. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, have the radio. For AMLO, it’s the ‘mananera,'” said political scientist Luis Estrada.
“Yet even though this peculiar form of press conference is unique in the world, it has so far been imitated nowhere,” he added sarcastically.
Journalists begin lining up for Lopez Obrador’s press conference at 5:30 am outside the National Palace, on Mexico City’s central square.
Their eyes barely open, bracing against the cold, the gaggle of political reporters, foreign correspondents, bloggers, photographers and camera operators obediently line up, then file into the stone palace’s courtyard.
– ‘Buenos dias, Senor Presidente’ –
An hour later, after a perfunctory security check, they are granted access to the immense press room. But surprise: it is even colder there.
At 7:00, a female soldier barks a salute to the arriving head of state: “Buenos dias, Senor Presidente.”
Lopez Obrador, 66, flows into the room in a gray suit one size too big and installs himself at the lectern.
His silvery hair is neatly combed, his eyes glow. But he looks tired. Twelve months of pre-dawn work days — he already held his daily meeting with his security staff at 6:00 am — are taking their toll.
He does not even take a break for public holidays.
If he keeps up this schedule, he will have held around 1,500 morning press conferences by the end of his six-year term.
“Animo!” he tells the 100 or so journalists, which roughly translates as “Chin up!”