MEXICO CITY — For a leftist president with a “man of the people” image, it seemed a great idea.
Sell the presidential jet, and use the proceeds to help poorer Mexicans.
But a year later, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador still hasn’t found a buyer for Mexico’s version of Air Force One. The government bought the Boeing 787 for $218 million eight years ago. As it sat unused last year, its maintenance and storage costs surpassed $1 million.
And so the president has come up with a new idea: raffle off the plane.
“There would be 6 million tickets, you see, each one would be 500 pesos” or around $25, Lopez Obrador said at his daily news conference Friday.
The total haul, he said, would be around 3 billion pesos, or roughly $150 million. The winner would receive “servicing for the plane for one or two years.”
The internet took it from there.
By Friday night, dreaming up new uses for the presidential jet had become a sort of national sport. The Twitter hashtag #AvionPresidencial had been used more than 65,000 times. It was followed by #NoEsBroma (It’s not a joke) and #SiMeGanoElAvion (If I won the plane).
Memes showed the plane parked in working-class neighborhoods and poking out of modest garages.
“Mama! Move your station wagon so I can park my plane” wrote one Twitter user, with an image of the jet superimposed on a parking spot occupied by a battered family car.
“I can imagine myself arriving back in the neighborhood!” tweeted another user, depicting the massive plane on a narrow street in front of rows of modest apartment buildings.
“If I won the plane, I’d live in it. It’s bigger than my apartment,” an artist tweeted about the 187-foot-long aircraft. “The tough part will be paying for the damn parking.”
The prestigious magazine Letras Libres launched a short-story competition. Entries had to begin: “When I woke up, I discovered I had won the presidential plane.”
Of course, winning the raffle would carry some downsides, the news site Animal Politico advised readers. Even if they acquired the plane with just a $25 ticket, they’d have to spend around $1 million a year on maintenance, taxes, crew and gas.
“If you’re thinking of entering the raffle, hurry up and fill your piggy bank,” it counseled.
Nonetheless, the idea was on everyone’s minds. When Lopez Obrador traveled to the southern city of Oaxaca on Friday afternoon, Gov. Alejandro Murat greeted him and announced: “We have our 500 pesos for a ticket.”
Not everyone was amused, however.
Denise Dresser, a prominent political scientist, tweeted that the president had managed to turn the country’s attention away from problems like crime, chaos in the health system, and a controversial new justice reform.
“For a leftist president with a ‘man of the people’ image, it seemed a great idea. we are losing sight of what’s relevant/important,” she wrote.
Mexican authorities said the raffle was just one of several ideas for disposing of the jet. Other proposals included selling it, renting it or handing it to the U.S. government in exchange for medical equipment for hospitals, officials said.
The president’s own transportation minister seemed taken aback when journalists asked him whether the raffle was likely to occur. “I don’t think so,” said Javier Jimenez Espriu. Pressed further, he said, “I think there are other possibilities we are closer to.”
Lopez Obrador came to power in December 2018 vowing to help the poor, who make up around half the population. He turned the presidential residence into a museum, slashed senior officials’ salaries and sold off helicopters and official planes, opting instead to fly commercial. Such gestures have buoyed his popularity, now at around 70%.
The jet was a ridiculous luxury, he said, with a conference room, bedroom and private bath. The Dreamliner, which normally carries up to 280 passengers, was redesigned to transport 80.
“Imagine, even Donald Trump doesn’t have one of these,” Lopez Obrador said Friday afternoon.
Lopez Obrador’s government has enlisted the help of a U.N. technical-assistance agency to figure out the market value of the plane, which was set at $130 million. That’s more than most buyers have been willing to spend.
The plane fiasco doesn’t appear to have done much damage to Lopez Obrador’s popularity. But critics pointed to it as a sign of how some of his populist decisions have backfired.
By Saturday morning, another hashtag was trending: #MejorRifaLaPresidencia — Let’s raffle off the presidency instead.