Mexico Pipeline Explosion Tests New President

The New York Times

MEXICO CITY — Word spread quickly: free gasoline. It was spewing from a pipeline, through a hole punched by fuel thieves. People — as many as 900, by some estimates — flocked to the rupture, many carrying containers to fill. But just as quickly, the apparent windfall on Friday turned to disaster when the pipeline exploded in flames, killing at least 89 and wounding scores more. Amid the national lamenting, some Mexicans have insisted that the victims had only themselves to blame: They were breaking the law, pilferers taking what wasn’t theirs, and had put themselves in harm’s way.
But the man steering the nation’s response to the incident, President Andrés Manuel L?pez Obrador, has rejected that view, arguing that the people were compelled to participate by the poverty and unemployment caused by past government policies. “We have the conviction that the people are good, that they are honest, that if they arrived at these extremes, these practices, it’s because they were completely abandoned” by the state, he said at a news conference over the weekend. His cabinet has followed suit. “We are not going to victimize the communities,” said Alejandro Gertz, Mexico’s attorney general.
The disaster, which occurred in the state of Hidalgo just north of Mexico City, has become a major early test of the policy and leadership of Mr. L?pez Obrador, who took office on Dec. 1. The president’s response has revealed a central tension as he has sought to walk a difficult tightrope between two longstanding vows: being tough on crime and corruption wherever it occurs, and lifting up the poor and marginalized — even those who sought to steal the nation’s oil.“This is where he gets into trouble,” said Jaime L?pez Aranda, a security analyst in Mexico City. “The poor come first, they are good. But they were basically stealing.”

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