AP Explains: Mexico’s president raises hopes, ruffles feathers one year later
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office one year ago, vowing to transform Mexico. He has focused on austerity and fighting corruption, because corrupt, high-living politicians have angered Mexicans perhaps more than anything else. He pledged a presidency close to the people, without privileges for officials, with punishment for the corrupt, with safety and economic wellbeing for all. One year later, how is AMLO, as he is known, doing?
HAS HE BEEN WORKING HARD?
López Obrador’s daily schedule in his first year includes almost super-human efforts for a 66-year-old with past heart problems and high blood pressure. He has never once sat down in the course of 255 morning news conferences, each lasting an average of about two hours. In over 500 hours of answering questions from the press, he has never been seen taking a sip of water. Once a fan of greasy roadside restaurant, has even stopped posting photos of himself eating.
HAS HE BROUGHT PROSPERITY TO MEXICO?
Mexico may be no richer, but the wealth may be spread around a little better. The first three quarters of his administration were marked by zero growth in GDP. López Obrador has raised the minimum wage, though it is still a paltry $5 per day. What he has done is target the poorest sectors, especially indigenous people, with scholarships, training programs, farm subsidies and payments to the elderly.
HAS HE BROUGHT MEXICO’S CRIME AND VIOLENCE UNDER CONTROL?
López Obrador says he meets with his security cabinet every morning at 6:00 a.m. and calls the anti-crime effort his top priority. But Mexico’s murder rate actually inched up 2% in the first 10 months of his first year in office, to historically high levels. In November, drug cartel gunmen slaughtered three women who held U.S. citizenship and six of their children.
He has also been criticized for ordering the army and the new National Guard force to avoid confrontations, but he says his strategy is to solve the underlying social problems that lead people into crime. Under López Obrador, the detention of drug lords has fallen, and seizures of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines are all down in the first 10 months of his administration, compared to the same period of previous years.
HAS HE LIVED UP TO HIS AUSTERITY PLEDGE?
He cut his own salary, refused to live in the sprawling presidential compound, and takes commercial, tourist-class flights. He has cut perks for government employees and set up auctions of luxury goods seized from drug traffickers and tax cheats, giving the proceeds to Mexico’s poorest towns. The downsides of his austerity are budget cuts that run so deep hospitals for a time were running short of medicine and staff. The head of the environment department publicly complained that his agency’s 2020 budget was less than half of what it was in 2015. There were also steep cuts for the judiciary, the federal electoral agency and the federal freedom of information agency.
HAS HE BEEN CLOSE TO THE PEOPLE?
Almost too close. He travels by highway whenever possible; he put the presidential jet up for sale and likes to stop and shake hands with people on the highway. But he has sometimes been out of contact with the rest of the government because of spotty cellphone coverage in rural Mexico. He has since had a satellite phone system installed in one of his tour vehicles, but at key moments, like a massive drug cartel gunfight in Culiacan in October, he has appeared out of touch because he was on tour.
He constant tours the country: he has visited over 80 rural hospitals in farming hamlets across the nation, along with 19 indigenous communities and dozens of towns and cities. This contrasts to his number trips abroad: exactly zero since he took office.
HAS HE MAINTAINED GOOD RELATIONS WITH THE US?
Yes, though that has meant cracking down on Central American migrants travelling through Mexico, to please President Donald Trump. Trump had threatened to slap tariffs on Mexican goods unless he did so. Right now, López Obrador would dearly like the U.S. Congress to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, but that is being held up by Democratic concerns about Mexico’s still-lax labor standards. His policy change on Central American migrants has shocked some people. He once welcomed them into Mexico, and now tries to keep them out, albeit under U.S. pressure.
HAS HE BROUGHT MEXICO TOGETHER?
Not really. Mexico is quite polarized. López Obrador is accustomed to using strong language, especially toward conservatives, who he has called “hypocrites,” “corrupt,” “miserly,” “arrogant” and “two-faced know-it-alls.” He’s been almost as hard on what describes as the conservative “frivolous press,” which he claims has “distorted everything.” He has called some media outlets “our adversaries” and “pimps.” Oddly, in 255 news conferences since he took office Dec. 1, Lopez Obrador has rarely said a harsh word about the drug lords.
While several polls suggest his approval numbers have dropped perhaps 10 percentage points from their peak soon after he took office, López Obrador continues to get approval from about two-thirds of the population.