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Mexican president-elect seems to have strong support for agenda of change


Ronaldo Schemidt | AFP

John Burger - published on 07/06/18

Andrés Manuel López Obrador promises to focus on corruption, war on drugs, poverty and relations with US.

Mexico’s newly-elected president has set for himself an ambitious agenda of fighting corruption, turning around the country’s drug-fueled violence and bolstering the rights of migrants north of the border. If Sunday’s election results are any indication, he has most of his compatriots on board.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known by his initials, AMLO), who tried to win the nation’s highest office twice before, succeeded this time with 53 percent of the vote. He won 30 out of 31 states, including all the conservative states of the North.

The co-founder of the National Regeneration Movement (known by its Spanish acronym MORENA), López Obrador also made history by becoming the first presidential candidate in 90 years to win without the backing of one of country’s two traditional parties—the center-right National Action Party (PAN) or the populist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

López Obrador, 64, also will have strong support in Congress. His coalition, Juntos Haremos Historia (Together We Will Make History), won 310 out of 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 69 seats out of 128 in the Senate — and more than half of the governorships in play, according to the Texas Observer. The coalition also won the leadership of the nation’s capital, as the Observer reports:

Claudia Sheinbaum will become the first woman elected to govern Mexico City, the second-most important elected office in the country and a position AMLO held from 2000 to 2005. Sheinbaum left the center-left PRD along with AMLO and was one of the founding members of the Morena party four years ago

López Obrador seems to have the mandate he needs for the “profound changes” he spoke of in his victory speech Sunday evening, especially in the areas of fighting government corruption and poverty.

“I call on all Mexicans to reconciliation, and to put above their personal interests, however legitimate, the greater interest, the general interest,” he said. “The state will cease to be a committee at the service of a minority and will represent all Mexicans, rich and poor, those who live in the country and in the city, migrants, believers and nonbelievers, to people of all philosophies and sexual preferences.”

“His main objectives are socially conscious, socially oriented,” O. Hugo Benavides, interim director Fordham University’s Latin American and Latino Studies Institute, said from Puebla, Mexico, where he has been teaching for the past two weeks at the Jesuit Iberoamericano University. “I think people are very hopeful. I think they expect very strong socially-oriented policies to go into place, or at least to fight for that,” said Benavides, who has visited Mexico about 30 times.

“People try to define him as a leftist. That probably doesn’t exactly fit,” said Eric L. Olson, the Deputy Director of the Wilson Center’s Latin American Program, in an interview. “He does have a leftist following. Probably 20 percent to 25 percent of Mexicans view themselves as leftist of some sort and supported him. But his following and his victory were also made up of people from the middle class, the people who don’t identify themselves in that way but who are fed up with this ‘mafia of power,'” a phrase López Obrador often used during his campaign.

AMLO made corruption the number one issue, Olson said, speaking from Mexico. “People have a feeling that not only do they have corrupt authorities but they never pay a price for their corruption, that they get away with it. … So he positioned himself well on that issue, and I think people have high expectations that he’ll run a cleaner, more accountable government.”

Security is Olson’s area of interest, and he noted that López Obrador understands that Mexico has gone through an “incredibly violent period of time.”

“Last year Mexico had the most homicides in modern records,” he said. “People are frightened; they don’t have much hope in the government’s ability to deal with these problems. There’s a demand, an expectation from voters that he will somehow deal with the issues of crime and violence. He’s talked vaguely about that: about the need for social investment, the need for eliminating crime and corruption among police and prosecutors. All of those things are undeniable and valuable, but he hasn’t laid out a really specific plan on how he’s going to turn the corner on this.”

López Obrador’s administration is likely to try a different approach in the war on drugs. Olga Sanchez, who is likely to become interior minister, said the new administration would move quickly to reconsider the militaristic approach to fighting the drug cartels.

“As soon as we get in, we’re quickly going to take some dramatic decisions,” Sanchez told Reuters in an interview before the election:

She conceded that any shift, like the demobilization of the military troops fighting drug gangs, would need to be gradual. Longer-term goals, Sanchez added, include decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana and the cultivation of opium for medicinal purposes. To consider the possibility of negotiated peace, she said, her team has studied Colombia’s peace process with its biggest guerrilla group, which allowed rebel leaders to avoid prison. Aides have also begun planning legislation for “transitional justice.” Typically, such justice involves leniency for those who admit guilt, truth commissions to investigate atrocities and the granting of reparations for some victims. Any clemency, Sanchez said, would be aimed toward farmers, drug couriers and other non-violent lawbreakers caught up in the trade—not assassins.

“I think there’s a sense that because small farmers—campesinos—are poor and vulnerable, they become the lowest hanging fruit in the battle against drug trafficking,” Olson said. “Farmers may grow a couple of poppy plants, sell to supplement their meager income, or they may be engaged in small time trafficking, collecting small amounts from farmers and then moving it up to the next level. Those kinds of cases really jam up the prison system and the court system, and they’re not a very effective way to deal with the bigger problems or crime and corruption in Mexico. So he’s suggested some kind of an amnesty—not full prosecution of every little person who has a couple of poppy plants. … He’s not talking amnesty for the big kingpins but for the small farmers who are easy to throw in jail. … [This way] you refocus your resources on the more serious problems.”

López Obrador has said he is willing to meet with U.S. President Donald J. Trump to try to get him to abandon his idea of building a border wall. He has pledged to respect the rights of Central American migrants traversing Mexico on their way to the United States and to defend the rights of Mexican emigrants abroad. He would like Trump to help fund development programs in the region so people will not be forced by poverty and insecurity to emigrate, according to the Texas Observer.

Jordi Díez, professor of political science at the University of Guelph, wrote in the Conversation that despite a commodities boom in the 2000s Mexico is still dealing with a poverty rate of about 53 percent. “López Obrador has vowed to overhaul current taxation levels and to increase social spending through the resources saved by clamping down on the country’s grotesque corruption,” Díez wrote.

According to the Mexican constitution, López Obrador has one term of six years to get it all done. He takes office December 1.

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