At the start of this month, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, often referred to as AMLO, was sworn in as the latest president of Mexico and the first leftist leader to be elected since 2000. He entered office with a relatively high approval rating of 56 percent, considering the 24 percent approval rating of his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, upon leaving office. Following his official ceremony, López Obrador took part in a traditional indigenous ceremony in Mexico City’s Zócalo square (BBC News 2018).
In his inaugural speech, AMLO stated, “I no longer belong to myself, I belong to you, I belong to the people of Mexico,” echoing the populist rhetoric he employed on the campaign trail. In addition to multiple other promises, López Obrador maintained, “We will carry out a peaceful and orderly but also deep and radical transformation. Because we will put an end to the corruption and impunity that are blocking Mexico’s rebirth” (BBC News 2018).
However, many on both sides of the lobby are concerned that AMLO will either uphold or break his campaign promises, as the president hovers in a more centrist position than expected. Given the president’s bold pledges regarding crime, poverty and corruption, he risks alienating his supporters or further infuriating his adversaries.
López Obrador’s first decisions as president might well serve as an indicator of how he will perform while in office. As a reflection of his commitment to the people, AMLO signed a decree to open a truth commission to investigate the disappearance and murder of 43 students from Iguala in 2014 (BBC News 2018). The investigation was one of the president’s main campaign promises, and his swiftness in obtaining justice was a unifying decision; however, the decree was not necessarily highly contested by opposing parties, and therefore, while pleasing many Mexicans, does not clearly represent how AMLO will handle more heavily-debated issues.
One of these issues will likely be surrounding economic policies. López Obrador frequently criticized Peña Nieto’s decision to privatize Mexico’s energy sector, which the president says caused a drop in oil output (Diaz, Esposito 2018). Although he has said he would honor existing contracts, his state-first ideology has investors second-guessing their futures in the country, as it is unknown whether he will block future foreign contracts in the oil industry (Sheridan, Sieff 2018).
Mexicans will be anxious to see whether AMLO is able to follow through on a number of social programs benefiting the poor, who make up more than 40 percent of the country’s population. Some of these programs include a plan to double monthly payments to the elderly and to create paid apprenticeships for 2.3 million young professionals (Sheridan, Sieff 2018). He would also like to create a “low-tax special economic zone on Mexico’s northern border to act as the ‘final curtain’ to keep Mexicans working inside their homeland” (Angulo, Esposito 2018).
However, the president’s execution of his promises to cut unnecessary presidential expenditures have many considering that López Obrador is nothing more than an idealist lacking the experience and knowledge to carry his plans to fruition. Although AMLO’s decisions to cut his own salary by 60 percent, attend his inaugural ceremony in his aging Volkswagen in lieu of the armoured convoy and open up Los Pinos, the official presidential residence, as a public museum show his disapproval of the extravagant lifestyles of past public officials, his decision to sell the presidential plane acts as an example of hastiness behind some of Obrador’s plans (BBC News 2018). An analysis by Flight Ascend Consultancy revealed that Mexico will, at best, get $76 million less for the plane than what it paid for it in a best-case scenario, given the difficulty of bringing a highly-personalized aircraft to market (Martin, Johnsson 2018). The sale is reminiscent of Obrador’s similarly quick decision to discard the 13 billion USD airport project that was in the works - a decision that led the peso to sink 3.5 percent, the stock market to lose more than $17 billion USD in value and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to cut its economic growth forecast for 2019 (Martin 2018).
Aside from his financial responsibilities, AMLO will be charged for finding a solution to the growing violence throughout Mexico. He took office during the most violent period in the country’s recent history, with 2017 at a record 31,000 murders, and 2018 on track to surpass those figures. While the president stated that his policy would be 80 percent geared towards addressing the roots of insecurity and violence and refocusing the country on family values, having called the armed forces repressors and assassins (Martin 2018). However, many are feeling that AMLO is in fact aggravating the situation by, instead of reducing the military’s power, creating an entirely new branch of the military, the National Guard, to help keep order (Sheridan, Sieff 2018).
Many, including Duncan Wood, the director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, believe that such changes reveal “that AMLO’s number one priority is to consolidate power.” Wood writes that Obrador considers democratization and decentralization of authority the causes of “the government’s ability to bring order to the country” (Sheridan, Sieff 2018). The Human Rights Watch similarly criticized the move as a “colossal mistake” (Corcoran 2018).
The president also shocked the country when he proposed immunity for corrupt officials during an interview with El Universal (Corcoran 2018). His plan, which would exchange immunity for a pledge to end corrupt activities, was a complete flip from his campaign commitment to accurately place such officials on trial.
No matter what, López Obrador will have to take a stance not only on his country’s economic policies and security, but also on issues as varied as the migrant caravan at the border, the legalization of marijuana, and how to handle regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. Mexico and the entire world will be waiting to see if he is up for the challenge.
BBC News. 2018. “Mexico’s López Obrador sworn in as first leftist president in decades.” 2 December. BBC News Latin America. Available to read here: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-46415993 [Accessed 3 December 2018].
BBC News. 2018. “Mexico missing students: New president creates truth commission.” 3 December. BBC News Latin America. Available to read here: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-46434700 [Accessed 5 December 2018].
Diaz, Lizbeth & Esposito, Anthony. 2018. “López Obrador sworn in as President of Mexico.” 1 December. El Universal. Available to read here: https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/english/lopez-obrador-sworn-as-president-mexico [Accessed 3 December 2018].
Sheridan, Mary Beth & Sieff, Kevin. 2018. “AMLO inaugurated as Mexico’s president, vowing to transform the country.” 1 December. The Washington Post. Available to read here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/amlo-will-be-inaugurated-as-mexicos-president-vowing-to-transform-the-country/2018/11/30/d3014f4c-f267-11e8-99c2-cfca6fcf610c_story.html?utm_term=.3ae733a605a1 [Accessed 3 December 2018].
Martin, Eric & Johnsson, Julie. 2018. “Mexico Set for Loss on AMLO Sale of $219 Million Dreamliner.” 3 December. Bloomberg. Available to read here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-03/mexico-poised-for-loss-on-amlo-s-sale-of-219-million-dreamliner [Accessed 5 December 2018].
Angulo, Sharay & Esposito, Anthony. 2018. “Mexico new president vows to end ‘rapacious’ elite in first speech.” 1 December. Reuters. Available to read here: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-politics/mexico-new-president-vows-to-end-rapacious-elite-in-first-speech-idUSKCN1O031G [Accessed 3 December 2018].
Martin, Eric. 2018. “33 Days Before AMLO’s Inauguration, Investors Are Fleeing Mexico.” 30 October. Bloomberg. Available to read here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-30/33-days-before-amlo-s-inauguration-investors-are-fleeing-mexico [Accessed 3 December 2018].
Martin, Eric. 2018. “AMLO Lays Out Broad Plan for Addressing Violence in Mexico.” 14 November. Bloomberg. Available to read here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-15/amlo-lays-out-broad-plan-for-attacking-mexico-insecurity-crime [Accessed 3 December 2018].
Corcoran, Patrick. 2018. “What is Behind AMLO’s Security Policy U-Turn in Mexico?” 28 November. InSight Crime. Available to read here: https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/behind-amlos-security-policy-u-turn-mexico/ [Accessed 3 December 2018].