Women marching on International Women’s Day have clashed with police at barricades surrounding the National Palace in Mexico City, where officers fired pepper spray after the protesters attempted to tear down a metal wall.
Sixty-two officers and 19 civilians were injured, said Marcela Figueroa, an official of the city’s police agency. The Mexico City government “categorically denied” using any kind of gas against protesters.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador installed the metal barricade – described as a “peace wall” by his spokesperson – in advance of the protests, saying he wanted to protect government property from vandalism.
But the wall proved a provocation for women, who accused the president – famed for travelling with light security through corners of the country controlled by drug cartels – of fearing the feminist movement and turning a cold shoulder to concerns such as rampant sexual violence and a daily toll of 10 femicides. At least 939 women were victims of femicide last year in Mexico, official data shows.
“Where were you when I was being raped,” a woman was heard shouting at police amid the mayhem.
López Obrador’s has had a tense relationship with the feminist movement, which he has accused being manipulated by conservative opponents and influenced by foreign ideas.
“We want him to protect us the same way he’s protecting these buildings,” said Vania Palacios, 19, who carried a sign reading: “Fight today so not to die tomorrow.”
Protesters wrote the names of femicide victims on the barricade after it was installed on Friday and later covered it with flowers. They also projected slogans on the National Palace – a seat of power since Aztec times – reading: “Mexico femicide” and “legal abortion now”.
Another slogan carried the allegation “a rapist will not be governor”, a reference to Félix Salgado Macedonio, who is running for office in the southern Guerrero state, with López Obrador’s backing. Salgado has denied sexually assaulting five women and no charges have been laid against him.
The president, who is often referred to as Amlo, has faced criticism from women in his Morena party, who have called for him to sack the candidate.
For his part, Salgado drew outrage on Monday when he tweeted his “admiration” for women and lauded their struggle.
“This president has lied to us,” said Teresa Ramírez, a protester pinning up posters of Amlo and Salgado with the slogan: “Not one vote for Morena.”
“We thought he’d have responses, but he’s just mocked us – especially on women’s issues.”
Women have proved a thorn in Amlo’s side. He has identified as a leftist and branded his opponents conservatives, but he has often preached morals and values and tilted conservative on social issues.
He has cut funding for daycares and women’s shelters and promoted families as a solution for pandemic hardships, even as domestic violence soared.
On Monday, he falsely claimed that women’s protests didn’t occur until he took office.
“We have a saying in Spanish, ‘when you’re quiet, you look prettier.’ And he seems to subscribe to it,” said Maricruz Ocampo, an activist in the city of Querétaro. “We feminists have decided that we don’t look better when we’re quiet because when we’re quiet nobody sees us and nobody listens to us.”
Many women had expressed hopes for Amlo’s administration, Ocampo said, and he promoted women with feminist sympathies to key positions – along with appointing a gender-balanced cabined. But he hasn’t acted on issues such as abortion and his allies on the state level – which includes a party founded by evangelicals – have mostly preferred not to raise sensitive social issues.
“For many feminists, it seemed like a government was arriving that would take up their agenda,” said Bárbara González, a political analyst in Monterrey. “But not only has Amlo antagonised the movement … he’s always portrayed it as manipulated and lacking legitimacy.”
At his daily press conference on Tuesday, Amlo said: “These protests against the government under the flag of feminism... in reality, they are driven by conservatives whose interests and privileges are threatened.”
He also accused correspondents from The Guardian, New York Times and El País of being “representatives of companies that participated in the looting of Mexico.”
He offered no proof to back up his claims.