Mexican presidents come and go but the great majority of them, in their failure to govern the nation properly, have left behind infamous phrases that over decades have imprinted their style of governance.
Going from the forefront, in just two weeks in January President Enrique Peña Nieto has uttered two of these phrases which make people cry, but are so funny that they will join the dictionary of Mexican mischievous remarks. It must be pointed out that not just uttered by Peña Nieto, but all the infamous phrases below were said in absolute seriousness.
President Peña Nieto went into history after asking the people of Mexico “What would you have done?” if you were president but had to increase taxes on fuels? At that moment, thousands of outraged Mexicans were out on the streets demonstrating their disgust with the clearly inflationary hike, an increase that will surely dislodge the economics of many a poor family.
Then, for the cherry on the cake and in his vested interest to kill oil company Pemex, he announced last week that “The hen that laid the golden eggs dried up, it is just running out (of oil)”.
First, it was not a hen but a goose that laid the golden eggs. Anybody who’s read children’s literature knows that, but then, people are asking, what does President Peña Nieto know about literature? But the real query being made to Peña Nieto by dozens of opinion leaders is not if Pemex is dead – I’d say not just yet –but who killed it? All fingers point to Peña Nieto’s much touted Energy Reform he shoved down the throats of Mexicans in 2013.
For those two phrases alone Peña Nieto now has a place in history for impish remarks.
Fortunately, there is a collection of milestone phrases in the history of presidents and all were phrases made exactly when their popularity had fizzled and they were no longer wanted as presidents but they had to finish their terms.
Though these remarks are popular and imprinted in history, Excelsior columnist and historian Gerardo Galarza made a summary of some of them in his Sunday column. I give him credit for the idea of writing this column as some of the remarks are quoted in his article. As for the translation, and some of the prank sayings, those are mine.
The initiation of popular phrases began during the spurious presidency of General Álvaro Obregón, who invented official modern corruption after describing that “nobody can withstand a cannon shot of 50,000 pesos.” The pesos he was talking about in 1922 were made of pure gold.
Previous to that another phrase referring to corruption was coined from Porfirio Díaz, who ruled Mexico during 30 years, and every time there was someone criticizing his presidency he’d would say: “This chicken wants its corn.”
Another phrase came from a folksy character friend of former President Miguel Alemán (1946-1952) named César Garizurieta and nicknamed “The Possum” (El Tlacuache) who after serving under his buddy Alemán for six-years he was laid off by the next Administration of Adolfo Ruiz Cortínez and went into unemployment. He said “Living outside of the (federal) budget is to live in error.”
Ruiz Cortínez himself had a famous saying when he was being badmouthed by unionist workers for his lack of support for them. Upon seeing him besieged and constantly and coarsely offended, he just commented, “A President has to know how to eat live toads without frowning.”
President Luis Echeverría (1970-1976) uttered a phrase worthy of the best humor of Groucho Marx. Upon commenting upon a political mishap of the age, he said “This neither benefit us nor damages us, but the exact opposite.”
Echeverría was succeeded by scholar and highly cultured law professor Jose Lopez Portillo, who upon the discovery of oil rich wells Cantarell and Chicontepec (Peña Nieto’s dry hen) summoned the nation “to manage our wealth.” When Lopez Portillo left the nation bankrupt in 1982 he pleaded “I will defend the peso like a dog” which won him the moniker of “the dog” and the palace he built for himself at Chapultepec Heights was called “Dog Hill.”
Carlos Salinas (1988-1994) was beleaguered by left wingers who demanded he listen to them. He recalled the phrase of the blind deaf and dumb three Hindu monkeys by telling opponents, “I neither see you or hear you” as he was being blamed for stealing the 1988 election (which of course, he did) and “usurping” the presidency from opposing candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas.
Salinas – what’s new? – left the nation bankrupt and his successor Ernesto Zedillo is remembered for telling former U.S. President Bill Clinton his most famous phrase: “Ain’t got no cash.” (“No tengo cash”).
Vicente Fox (2000-2006) was a prolific wisecracker. He used to call women “two footed washing machines” and when telling a crowd he asked them to demand things from him and one voice came out of the multitude and said, “Lend me one hundred pesos.” Fox seriously retorted, “why me?” But his most infamous prank was in Monterrey during a diplomatic luncheon attended by most of American continent presidents, among them Cuban Fidel Castro.
Upon being pressured by the security personnel of George W. Bush to remove Castro from the dining hall Bush was going to lunch at, Fox simply told Castro: “You have lunch and then you split.” Definitely Castro didn’t think it was funny.
There came presidential candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador who thought Fox’s remarks were not funny and even as Fox was president López Obrador shouted at the President: “Shut up, chachalaca” or hush you chatterbox.
In any case many a Mexican politician has made really infamous remarks and surely as of now on President Peña Nieto has joined the impish remarks hall of fame.
Oil may have dried up, but Mexican good humor will subsist.