By Blog Writer Sophia Esquenazi
Following elections on July 1, 2018, Andrés Manuel López Obrador became the new president of Mexico, set to serve a six-year term. Many are now wondering what the left-leaning populist will achieve in a nation with a history of corruption, violence, and slowing economic growth. While some believe that he will diminish Mexico’s ongoing strife, others are hesitant as to how much he will improve the country’s situation from that of past President Peña Nieto’s administration.
The appeal behind López Obrador emerged primarily from his claim to reduce corruption and crime in Mexico. With increasing levels of violence in recent years, many have looked to Obrador as the solution to this dire problem.
Just last year, Mexico experienced it's deadliest year on record, with colossal homicide rates. Government statistics revealed that there were 25,339 homicides in 2017, up 23% from 2016 and the highest number since 1997, the year that the government began tracking the data. Additionally, in this election alone, 132 candidates or politicians were killed in various states in Mexico.
Throughout his campaign, Obrador repeatedly stressed the concern of violence and cited corruption within the government as the source of the problem. As a member of the National Regeneration Movement, a political party in Mexico, he asserted that his primary goal was to eradicate corruption from the country. Furthermore, when asked in an interview by The Washington Post if he believes that authorities are corrupt, the third-time running candidate responded: “Yes. In all levels of government. To confront criminals we need to finish with corruption. If we don’t do this, there is no hope… Violence in Mexico has its origins in the lack of development and corruption.”
Additionally, he underscored the need to address social and economic inequality, a growing problem within the country. Among the many promises of his campaign, some included lowering the salaries of senior bureaucrats, selling the presidential planes, turning the presidential palace into a public park, and promising $7.5 billion for youth job training and aid to the elderly. He expressed that this increase in spending on social programs is expected to increase development, ultimately diminishing inequality.
Although intended to spur economic growth and improve employment, these actions raise the question of how the social programs will be funded without further harming the economy. While seemingly favorable promises, many have argued that López Obrador has not backed up his ideas with concrete policies for achieving the aforementioned goals.
Many of those who voted for him grew up in the midst of violence, corruption, and economic difficulty, making this candidate an appealing option for president, as this is what he was aiming to eliminate. Michael Lettieri, a Mexico scholar and research fellow at the Washington DC-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs think tank, expressed: "I hesitate to say that all of Lopez Obrador's support comes from simply an outrage vote. Certainly it's an outrage vote and maybe this is concentrated in more urban intellectuals, but there's also a hope vote. There's a vote for Lopez Obrador that's because there's optimism that there can be change."
Mexico relations with the U.S. following this election must also to be watched closely. The new president plans to create a constructive relationship with President Trump and has vowed to work with the U.S. Currently, the two countries are important trading partners, spending $600 billion annually in trade. About 16% of U.S. exported goods go to Mexico. The United States is also Mexico’s largest trade partner. Following López Obrador’s win, Trump tweeted his congratulations and expressed, “I look very much forward to working with him. There is much to be done that will benefit both the United States and Mexico!”
The positions that the newly elected president has taken on these various issues has raised concerns that his actions will mirror those of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s former socialist president who greatly infringed on democracy within his country. In his third bid for presidency, López Obrador was successful, however, Mexico’s future is still unclear regarding its political, social, and economic struggles.
Sources and further reading:
- By Azam Ahmed and Kirk Sempl, ‘Mexico Elections: 5 Takeaways from López Obrador’s Victory’, The New York Times (2 July 2018)
- Patrick Gillespie, ‘Mexico reports highest murder rate on record’, CNN (22 January 2018)
- Lally Weymouth, ‘Interview with Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador’, The Washington Post (18 May 2012)
- Susannah Cullinane, ‘Who is Mexico's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador?’CNN (2 July 2018)
- Associated Press, ‘Mexico's Lopez Obrador promises $7.5 billion for aid to the elderly and job training for youth’, Los Angeles Times (4 July 2018)
- By Paulina Villegas, ‘Disenchanted Youth May Tip Mexican Election to López Obrador’, The New York Times (25 June 2018)
- Ray Sanchez, ‘Mexico's presidential election: Five things to know’, CNN (27 June 2018)
- Carmen Sesin, ‘Can Mexico's new president change the course of strained U.S.-Mexico relations?’, NBC News (10 July 2018)
- CBS/AP, ‘Leftist candidate runs wave of frustration to win Mexico election’, CBS News (2 July 2018)