Is The U.S. Meaningful To Andrés Manuel López Obrador After 90 Days As President Of Mexico?

By Rodrigo Cervantes
Published: Friday, March 1, 2019 - 5:05am
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2019 - 11:28am

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Andrés Manuel López Obrador
López Obrador Office of Public Affairs
Andrés Manuel López Obrador celebrating his election as president of Mexico on July 1, 2018, at the Zócalo square in Mexico City.

MEXICO CITY — On March 1, the president of Mexico celebrates his first 90 days in power. A long-standing leftist politician and one of Mexico’s oldest presidents, he has been equally compared to U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln — and Donald Trump. But what’s his take on the United States, and what can be expected from the future of bilateral relations?

The name of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (or AMLO) is not new in Mexican politics. The former mayor of Mexico City ran three times for president, until he finally made it last year.

Thousands of his supporters chanted “the people united will never be defeated” at his inauguration on Dec. 1 in Mexico City’s main square. And they truly believe AMLO conquered decades of fraud, corruption and abuse.

Many polls show that AMLO has gained high popularity records. But behind the austere man that promises big changes, critics and opponents see a messianic populist and an old-fashioned nationalist.

“He is a moral preacher, he’s a religious leader, and I believe that he lives around power, that’s the only thing that matters to López Obrador,” said Macario Schettino, an analyst and researcher at the Tec de Monterrey University in Mexico City.

For Schettino, AMLO´s economic mistakes can be clearly seen in his support for the fallen, state-owned oil company and the cancellation of a new international airport in Mexico City. 

“We are talking about a complete loss of money, and all this is only to cement his religious connection with the voters”, Schettino said.

According to the columnist, AMLO´s approaches seem similar to some from president Trump: protectionist and authoritarian.

“The moment that we are leaving in the world is a moment of fear, of anguish, and people want someone that saves them, so populists are winning power, Trump is an example and López Obrador is another,” Schettino said.

But this is not well seen by foreign investors.

Macario Schettino
Rodrigo Cervantes/KJZZ
Macario Schettino is a columnist, economics analyst and researcher at the Tec de Monterrey university in Mexico City.

“When you are in a country where the dictum of the president defines the complete policy, that sounds like authoritarian, and there is no authoritarian countries where money can be safe,” the analyst said.

Schettino said AMLO confronted Trump as a candidate, but now he just keeps his distance and even uses similar political strategies, like polarization.

“He doesn’t want any problem with Trump. He doesn’t even understand what Trump is doing,” Schettino pointed.

And AMLO has insisted that his government won’t interfere in U.S. policies.

“We won’t take any stance [on the border wall discussion in the U.S.], but we do demand respect”, AMLO said during a conference.

He later stated he doesn’t want to talk about his American counterpart., although he added some historical thoughts.

“Abraham Lincoln was a Republican; the president who decided to invade Mexico [in the 1800’s] was a Democrat, and there were more deportations with president Obama than with Trump, so far,” AMLO said.

Amy Glover is a dual citizen and CEO of Speyside, a public affairs consulting firm. She said AMLO knows that the less said with Trump, the better. 

“There’s a huge history there between the two countries and a huge affinity, but I think it’s really going to run on a different level than it has been in the last 20 years,” said Glover.

For Glover, AMLO is a nationalist whose agenda focuses on Mexicans who haven’t been able to advance in the global economy.

“For the López Obrador administration, international issues are now a low priority,” Glover said.

The consultant thinks the U.S.-Mexico relationship has been reduced to distant conversations about Central American migration, while both administrations are longing for the 1950s and 1960s prosperity.

Amy Glover
Rodrigo Cervantes/KJZZ
Amy Glover is a political analyst, columnist and partner of a public affairs consulting firm based in Mexico City.

“Nationalism is coupled with a sort of isolationism, and I think that both countries are hearkening back to those glory days, which are unrepeatable,” said the analyst.

Glover says the revised Canada-Mexico-U.S. trade agreement, known as USMCA, has turned into a domestic issue for the U.S. and is not in AMLO’s list of priorities.

But Glover says some investors are nervous with the uncertainty and mixed messages coming from AMLO. And in an international economy, Mexico will have to create a positive environment for them.

“I think we’re still on a fairly early phase where there is a lot of question marks,” the analyst said. “The hope is that, if things don’t start to work, he’ll make some changes in the cabinet, and he will take a more pragmatic approach”.

AMLO still has six more years in power. Mexico’s constitution doesn’t allow presidential re-election.

3 Months Of Controversies

Some of AMLO’s decisions and postures have divided public opinion in Mexico since he took office in December 2018. Here are some of the questions he is facing:

Popular support or reject? AMLO adds to the official inauguration ceremony at the Congress a public celebration with music and speeches at Zócalo square, Mexico City’s main plaza. The celebration includes supposed representatives of indigenous communities recognizing him as leader with a ritual. This infuriates several indigenous groups, including the Zapatistas, who reject the ceremony.

Old friends or new friends? AMLO decided to include in his cabinet former members of the PRI party, the supposed nemesis of Morena. Among the “PRIístas” is Manuel Bartlett, who many — including AMLO in the past — accused him of being the mastermind behind an alleged electoral fraud in the late 1980s. AMLO promises to end corruption, but said he will not go after anyone from previous administrations.

Gas crisis or energy opportunity? Nearly a month after his inauguration, many Mexican states face gas shortages, followed by an oil duct explosion in the state of Hidalgo where hundreds died. While experts blame shortages and the explosion to the government’s inefficiency, AMLO’s administration blamed it on fuel thieves, panic shopping of gas and corruption in previous governments. His government also plans to build a new refinery, despite the financial state of almost broken, state-owned gas company, Pemex.

Freedom of speech or censorship? AMLO holds daily press conferences and is open to questions, which is an unprecedented act of public openness in Mexican presidencies. However, AMLO has criticized members of the press and international financial ratings institutions that question him, by calling them “servants of the elites” or “members of the mafia in power”.

Saving money or losing resources? AMLO says he will lead with austerity. He turns the presidential residence into a museum and puts on sale the presidential plane. AMLO flies on commercial airlines, got rid of the presidential security and vehicles and cut his own salary, as well as from other public officers. However, his administration also orders massive layoffs from government offices and to stop financing public nurseries and, instead, offers cash to impoverished parents. 

Better or unnecessary spending? AMLO also decided to stop the construction of a new airport in Mexico City for alleged corruption, but has not presented any proofs. He also plans to build a tourist train in the South. Despite criticisms, tourism funds previously used for the Formula One races and the NFL games in Mexico are cut and might be destined for this project.

Militarization or better protection? As part of his national security plan, he favors the creation of a military guard, a project his party (Morena) rejected during the past administration and that many consider the militarization of the country.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador
Protoplasmakid/CC BY-SA 3.0
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) at a rally in Mexico City in 2012.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador
López Obrador Office of Public Affairs
Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador
López Obrador Office of Public Affairs
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador or AMLO during a rally in the state of Campeche, Mexico.
Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador met with high-level U.S. delegation in Mexico City.
Morena/ Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador campaign
White House adviser Jared Kushner (from left), U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. State Secretary Michael Pompeo, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met in 2018 with Mexico’s then President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Office of the President of Mexico
Office of the President of Mexico
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador explaining the government´s strategy to use trucks instead of pipelines for fuel during a conference.
President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with members from Mexican business groups
Morena - National Regeneration Movement
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (center) in a meeting with members of Mexico's Consejo Coordinador Empresarial and other business groups.
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador
López Obrador Office of Public Affairs
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador with Manuel Bartlett, head of the Mexican National Commission of Electricity (CFE).