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World News

Mexico's president urges final flurry of sales for plane 'raffle'

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s government on Monday made a final push to sell lottery tickets for the value of the last president’s luxury jet, amid criticism the plan had failed despite a government department spending about $24 million on tickets.

A Mexican lottery salesman shows lottery tickets for a Mexico luxury presidential plane for sale at a raffle ticket booth as Mexico's government on Monday made a final push to sell lottery tickets for the value of the last president's luxury jet, in Mexico City, Mexico September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Nearly 70% of tickets have been sold ahead of a so-called “raffle” on Tuesday that will give 100 winners close to $1 million each, a Mexican lottery official said at President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s morning news conference.

The total prize money of 2 billion pesos ($95 million) loosely represents the value of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner used by prior President Enrique Pena Nieto that Lopez Obrador has cast as a symbol of excess and corruption in a country where about half the population lives in poverty.

After Lopez Obrador failed in initial attempts to sell the plane, he opted to hold a lottery aimed at raising 3 billion pesos ($142 million) for hospital supplies, as officials continue efforts to offload the customized jet.

Enough money had been raised to cover the prizes, Lopez Obrador said. But with just over 2 billion pesos raised, the government appeared well short of its goal of gathering money for health.

“I urge everyone, everyone, to keep buying tickets,” Lopez Obrador told his regular news conference on Monday. Sales will close a couple of hours ahead of the 4 p.m. announcement of winners on Tuesday, the day before Mexican Independence Day.

Lopez Obrador said last February he was confident all 6 million tickets, at 500 pesos a piece, would be sold.

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There were signs that the effort was not so simple, and several newspaper columnists said not enough had been raised to make the program worthwhile.

The federal Institute of Health for Wellness distributed tickets to 951 public hospitals, saying they should use any prize money for medical equipment. Yet, at a cost of nearly 500 million pesos, critics questioned why the funds weren’t allocated directly for immediate needs.

“To save lives, public policies and budgetary designations should stem from knowledge and data, not from chance and propaganda,” former health minister Salomon Chertorivski wrote on Twitter.

The director of housing agency Infonavit in a video presentation urged staffers above a certain salary level to buy between five and 12 tickets each before Sept. 4 and show their receipt to managers, television station Televisa reported.

An Infonavit employee who bought nine told Reuters the “invitation” seemed unfair.

“Many colleagues felt it was an obligation,” said the employee, who asked not to be named. “We are fortunate to have jobs, but that doesn’t mean we should have to buy tickets.”

When asked if government workers had to chip in, Lopez Obrador said participation was voluntary.

Some lottery participants said they were proud to support a good cause.

Gerardo Diaz, 63, a cook in the northern border city of Tijuana, said if selected, he would frame the winning ticket - which bears the image of the 80-seat Dreamliner - to show his grandchildren.

“So that when they see it, they know we were part of making history in Mexico,” he said. “What’s more, today I’m going to go buy another ticket.”

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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