Mexico’s populist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador was voted in on a pledge to stamp out corruption and largess that went all the way to the country's highest office.
So when he pledged to sell the presidential plane, with its marble bathrooms and king sized bed, it seemed like an easy win.
But the $218 million jet, purchased under a predecessor in 2012, lies on the tarmac after the latest failed bid to find a buyer in a saga that has exposed the socialist leader to ridicule and embarassment.
This week's attempt to raffle the plane during the country’s Independence holiday ended in predictable disaster.
For López Obrador, also known by his initials as Amlo, the plane is a symbol of the opulence and waste of the country's political elite, and he vowed to sell it and return the money to Mexicans during his 2018 campaign. After his landslide victory, the president put it up for sale and has been flying on low-cost commercial flights.
But it wasn’t that easy. The jet is a used and expensive luxury item with few potential buyers. After spending nearly two years parked for sale in California and spending almost the same amount of money for having it parked than he would have spent using it (about $1.5 million), Amlo decided in February he would just raffle it off during the September 15 Independence holiday. He even had to change the law in order to raffle an item instead of money through Mexico’s National Lottery.
Only the plane wasn’t his to raffle. It turned out the Mexican government hasn’t finished paying for it. Amlo moved forward with the raffle but decided to give out the cash equivalent of the jet’s market value of about $95 million instead of the actual plane, split it into 100 winning tickets.
He printed out 6 million lottery tickets worth about $24 each, twisted the arms of Mexico’s business elite into buying half of them for about $80 million, bought almost one million tickets with government money and handed them out to hospitals and schools one day before the raffle (only 3.8 million tickets had been sold).
Since the plane wasn’t sold on time, in order to pay for the prizes he took the $95 million from the Institute for the Return of Stolen Goods to the People (an institute that auctions seized assets from drug lords) and gave it to the national lottery. Many Mexicans were outraged, claiming the money should have been sent to hospitals directly, with clear spending tags and accountability amid the Covid-19 crisis.
“The plane wasn’t a problem. It had been bought years ago and was it just...there,” Carlos Bravo Regidor, a political analyst in Mexico City, told The Telegraph. “This is self-inflicted drama at its best.”
According to Mr Bravo, “what Mexicans are paying for is the cost of a symbolic statement instead of actually solving the plane problem.” The president “painted himself into a corner and tried to save face”.
Today, the plane is still parked at the President’s hangar in Mexico City’s airport. “We’re back at square one,” says Mr Bravo.