TEPIC, Mexico – Mexico's president-elect kicked off a nationwide tour Sunday with his new head of security in tow: a restaurant owner named Daniel Asaf who will coordinate a civilian brigade in lieu of the Mexican equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office Dec. 1, introduced Asaf to reporters at Mexico City's international airport before departing for Tepic, capital of the western state of Nayarit. He said Asaf will organize 20 civilian assistants who will rotate five at a time to accompany him so he can interact with voters without getting squashed.
The wildly popular Lopez Obrador enjoys engaging with everyday Mexicans and is mobbed daily by well-wishers. He shakes hands. He poses for pictures. And he pauses to listen to pleas that range from tearful requests for assistance locating kidnapped or missing loved ones to humble requests for jobs.
Lopez Obrador reiterated his desire to continue "collecting the feelings of the people" via direct contact with Mexicans.
Standing before a cheering crowd of thousands in Tepic later in the day, Lopez Obrador lambasted the way the 8,000-strong official Mexican security force cordons off presidents.
"You are all going to take care of me," he shouted to the crowd. "The people will take care of me."
Many Lopez Obrador supporters, though, are concerned for his safety. The incoming president has vowed to tackle corruption, which could pit him against powerful vested interests that some fear might seek to harm him.
Myrna Manjarrez, a teacher who applauded Lopez Obrador in Tepic, thinks his personal security plan is dangerous but doable with the help of regular Mexicans.
"It can work because he's a person who is very attentive with the public. He's a likable person," she said.
Manjarrez expressed gratitude that Lopez Obrador plans to do away with mandatory skills testing and evaluations for teachers.
Bernardo Narvaez, a retiree who attended the rally, hopes Lopez Obrador changes his mind and incorporates professional bodyguards once he becomes president.
"He and the people close to him should find a way to take care of him and protect him as much as possible," said Narvaez.
Mexico is a dangerous place for politicians. More than 145 politicians — most local figures — have been killed in Mexico over the past year.
Mexico had 25 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017. By comparison, Honduras and El Salvador, two of the deadliest countries in the world, have homicide rates of around 60 per 100,000.
Associated Press writer Sofia Ortega reported this story in Tepic and AP writer Amy Guthrie reported from Mexico City.