President upsets Mexicans with plan to end long weekends

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador

FILE In this Nov. 13, 2019 file photo, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador smiles during his daily morning news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City. The Mexican president closed out 2019 with a Dec. 31 video message in which he recounted his administration’s successes in its first year, including rooting out corruption, and highlighted its challenges, foremost surging violence. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has floated a strikingly unpopular proposal to end the practice of creating long weekends by moving national holidays around.

López Obrador is a student of Mexican history, and he was irked because few people appeared to remember that Wednesday is the anniversary of the Feb. 5, 1917 adoption of the country’s Constitution.

The official holiday was moved to Monday this year to allow Mexicans three continuous days off. That is similar to the U.S. practice of celebrating Memorial Day or Washington’s birthday on the nearest Monday.

López Obrador said it is a bad practice because it leads people to forget what they were celebrating, even though he acknowledged the three-day weekends were popular.

“I know this is going to be controversial, but I believe that, if you don’t know where you come from, you’ll never know where you are going,” López Obrador said. “For us, history is fundamental, it is life’s teacher.”

So López Obrador said that by the start of the next school year, in August or September, he will insist that holidays be celebrated on their actual historical date. That drew waves of disapproval on social media, where Twitter users bemoaned losing their long weekends.

The hashtag #conlospuentesno — roughly, “don’t mess with long weekends” — became the number one trending topic on Twitter in Mexico. One user posted a photo of a handshake between hands labelled “conservatives” and “progressives,” with the saying: “Today there are no divisions, today we are all united, don’t mess with long weekends.”

Isra Piatrov reflected the feelings of many in Mexico — where many still work a 48-hour week — when he wrote on Twitter that “we live in a country with some of the longest working hours, where a large number of people spend an hour getting to work, and the long weekends provide a break.”

José Manuel López Campos, president of the Confederation of National Chambers of Commerce, Services and Tourism, said doing away with long weekends could hurt families and the economy and lead to school and workplace absenteeism, even as Mexico needs to become more productive and competitive with the impending new trade agreement with the United States and Canada.

“The idea of moving those non-work days to the previous Monday aims to put order to the days of business and foment social tourism, as well as creating greater conditions of well-being for workers and students,” López Campos said.

He also said it would affect the November Revolution Day long weekend that has become synonymous with what’s known in Spanish as the “good weekend,” when retailers offer discounts and credit terms and extend hours to kick off the holiday shopping season — something akin to “Black Friday” in the United States. Last year’s “good weekend” yielded about $6.5 billion in economic activity, López Campos said.

It is not the first time López Obrador’s proposals have polarized Mexico. His decision to avoid confrontations with drug cartels, cancel a partly built airport project, build new oil refineries and raffle off the presidential jet have angered many conservatives.

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