Mexico May Really Raffle Off Its $130 Million Presidential Jet

(Bloomberg) -- When Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador first floated the idea of raffling off the luxurious presidential plane he never uses, most Mexicans laughed it all off as a joke.

Three weeks later, it seems he was serious -- maybe. AMLO, as he’s known, has said he’ll announce on Friday if he really will sell 6 million lottery tickets, for about $27 each, to people eager to get in on what is called the Presidential Airplane Jackpot for the country’s version of Air Force One.

Mexicans have been riveted by details that Lopez Obrador doles out at his daily press conferences. The latest: He said he might give low-income kids a ride in it before it’s auctioned off.

Or, he also said, the government, which has been hunting around for a buyer, might have landed one and, well, so much for the much-hyped raffle.

As the country waits, hashtags like #It’sNoJoke and #IfIWinThePlane are trending on social media, where Mexicans poke fun at the president and plot out where they’d travel if they bought winning tickets, assuming they could afford the cost of fuel and hiring a pilot. And where to park the thing?

The satirical website Reporte Mendigo had an idea, running a story with this headline: AMLO Announces Narco Cartel Interested in Buying the Presidential Plane.

It all has the feeling of a reality TV show whipped up by the president for another boost to his man-of-the-people popularity. Not everyone’s buying it.

“Who wouldn’t want to win a plane?” said María del Rosario Rubio, a nurse in Mexico City. “But what would you do with it?“ She won’t be in line for a ticket if they go on sale. “It’s fine he wants to raffle it, but it’s not viable.”

The plane in question is a 787 Dreamliner that Mexico agreed to pay Boeing Co. $219 million for when it was ordered in 2012. The country has already lost almost $90 million on the investment, according to the most recent asking price of $130 million.

Lopez Obrador has been trying to unload it since his inauguration in December 2018, purposely opting to fly commercial -- and in economy -- to illustrate his commitment to frugality.

It was on the block for more than a year, but there were no takers, and Mexico plans to fly it home from California, where it has been housed in a rented hangar.

According to Lopez Obrador, the government was foolhardy to purchase the state-of-the-art Dreamliner to ferry the president around a country where millions live in poverty. Under previous administrations, he has said, “while people don’t have enough to cover their basic expenses, public officials lived a life full of luxuries and privilege.”

The raffle promotion is the latest of several unorthodox maneuvers by the nationalist leader that have helped maintain a cult of personality but has also gotten him into some hot water with the business community.

But for the raffle to work, AMLO would be leaning on the private sector he has at times maligned. He said he plans to meet with business leaders next week -- to ask them to buy raffle tickets for their employees.

That may be a tall order. Julio Galindo Perez, who leads the business group Coparmex in the state of San Luis Potosi, told the El Universal newspaper that what Lopez Obrador is doing is “irresponsible and a joke” and tarnishes the presidency. “We shouldn’t be playing along with this game.”

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