A federal lawmaker came under heavy criticism on Thursday after he refused to wear a face mask while speaking at a session of the National Electoral Institute (INE).
Labor Party Deputy Gerardo Fernández Noroña, never one to shy away from a controversy — or create one, removed his mask when he was given the opportunity to speak, prompting INE president Lorenzo Córdova to remind him that the protocols of the institute make the use of face masks obligatory while inside its premises.
“I know that you want me gagged,” Fernández responded. “I will speak without a gag. Besides I drink a lot of water, I use a lot of energy when I’m speaking.”
The deputy, who is currently the secretary of the energy committee in the lower house of Congress and the Labor Party’s new representative at the INE, attempted to justify his decision to remove his mask by asserting that he wasn’t sick, pointing out that he was at an appropriate distance from other participants and saying that the space where the session was being held was ventilated.
Fernández also noted that Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, the government’s coronavirus czar, has questioned the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of the virus.
The INE representatives of the National Action Party (PAN) and the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) among others protested Fernández’s obstinacy and demanded that he follow the mask rule or otherwise remove himself.
INE officials called a recess, allowing attendees to leave and subsequently join the session virtually. Fernández remained in the INE meeting room, the only person to do so, and proceeded to speak without a mask once the session resumed.
After the conclusion of the session, Córdova took to Twitter to once again point out INE’s rules with regard to face masks.
“In light of the events that occurred in the general council session today, it’s important to remember that the protocols for the return of face-to-face activities at INE during the Covid-19 pandemic mandate the obligatory use of face masks,” he wrote.
Former PRD deputy Fernando Belaunzarán lumped Fernández together with United States President Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and President López Obrador, all of whom have played down the threat of the coronavirus and largely eschewed the wearing of masks.
“Trump, Bolsonaro, AMLO and his minion Noroña [are all] against face masks and science. … The fight is against obscurantism. Not even 100,000 official [Covid-19] deaths (about 300,000 real ones) make them correct [their positions],” he wrote on Twitter.
San Luis Potosí state Deputy Pedro Carrizales, a former gangster better known as “El Mijis,” also weighed in on the issue.
“How can we ask people to respect the rules when our deputies fight against complying with them?” he asked his 167,000 Twitter followers.
Similarly, Citizens Movement Deputy Martha Tagle said that lawmakers must respect the coronavirus rules and set an example for others.
Addressing Fernández’s refusal to wear a face mask at his regular news conference on Friday, López Obrador said that “the most important thing is freedom.”
“People have to decide freely [what to do] and have confidence in [their fellow] Mexicans because they always act wisely, the people are wise,” he said.
His remarks came a day after he presented a government ethical guide, which provides advice about how people should conduct themselves in their personal relationships and society.