Mexico Update: 100 Days In, Progressive President Riding High in Polls

March 25, 2019

Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador's approval rating is through the roof—Laura Carlsen reports from Mexico City on what has been achieved and what has not

Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador's approval rating is through the roof—Laura Carlsen reports from Mexico City on what has been achieved and what has not


Mexico Update: 100 Days In, Progressive President Riding High in Polls

Story Transcript

LAURA CARLSEN: Welcome to Mexico Updates. I´m Laura Carlsen, coming to you from Mexico City.

The new government of Andres Manuel López Obrador marked its first one hundred days. The left-leaning leader who bucked trends to the right in the hemisphere by winning by a landslide in the July elections here generated high hopes both among his Mexican followers and in the world, where the faults of the neoliberal model are spurring a search for alternatives, even in the United States.

Let’s listen to a clip of Lopez Obrador:

[Clip of Lopez Obrador]

LAURA CARLSEN: After 100 days, has the government confronted the economic model? What are the major accomplishments and inevitable disappointments of the debut of what Lopez Obrador ambitiously calls Mexico’s “Fourth Transformation”?

These first days have really been a mixed bag. Let’s take a look at some of the top goals of the new presidency. Most are closely tied to US interests so they also reflect to what degree the left government in Mexico can, or is willing to distance itself from the nation’s historic dependency on the U.S., now ruled by the most extreme rightwing government in its history.

The first is Lopez Obrador’s hallmark: the fight against corruption. The first 100 days have demonstrated that he’s serious. His personal style of austerity, traveling in commercial airlines eschewing the opulent presidential jet, which is now up for sale, have broken with the Mexican adage “a politician who is poor is a poor politician” and the traditional practice of transferring as much public wealth into private pockets as possible during one’s time in office.

His government passed legislation to upgrade corruption to a serious crime, to give the state power to confiscate criminal property, and to more efficiently and aggressively prosecute money laundering. This means exposing the “legal” financial system where multinational banks found to be involved with Mexican cartels have so far gotten off with a slap on the wrist in US courts.

While the anti-corruption campaign has been presented as a moral crusade, it has an important economic function, due to the tremendous loss of public resources syphoned off to corruption from within and outside of government. The prime example is the recent offensive against fuel theft from the state-owned oil company PEMEX. Lopez Obrador calculates that the crackdown on fuel theft, if maintained, will save some 50 billion pesos, about 2.7 billion dollars, this year alone, while cutbacks on luxuries will add even more to public coffers.

The government’s counting on these savings and the resources recuperated to fund social programs. It’s a risky bet, since to date the anti-corruption windfall hasn’t come in and some of the promised programs are flailing or slow to get off the ground. It’s even more risky because criminals fight back to protect illicit businesses. The most dramatic example these days is the response of cartels involved in fuel theft following an army crackdown in the state of Guanajuato.

The second promise is to improve the lives of Mexican workers. This is where we see some real progress. Lopez Obrador increased the national minimum wage by 16 percent, and doubled the minimum wage on the U.S. border to begin to close the huge wage gap that’s a magnet for both immigration and offshoring. The president also announced the creation of more than 200,000 jobs in this period, a drop in inflation and an increase in consumer confidence. The changes have been gradual, with the blessing of Big Business, which has received compensation for wage hikes in the form of tax breaks and other incentives. The question now is what will happen to this apparently harmonious balance if or when the Mexican government takes bolder measures to confront labor exploitation and inequality?

In the third critical area, the news in not so good. In fact, it’s bad. Violence is increasing, in the country. The president’s proposal to create a National Guard under military command and legislate a permanent role for the armed forces in public security met with an outcry from citizen and human rights organizations. The Congress, despite being dominated by MORENA, Lopez Obrador’s party, made some substantial changes to demilitarize the Guard, but the government appears to be following the same war-on-drugs model exported by the US government and imposed by the many US law enforcement agencies operating in the country under the Merida Initiative.

The commitment to increase job and education opportunities for youth, and address the “root causes” of violence is important but won’t show results for a long time. So far, the war on drugs has led to some 250,000 people murdered and 40,000 disappeared. There is tremendous pressure from the US Embassy to continue to allow for its direct involvement in the country’s security and ramp up lucrative arms sales to Mexico. Despite promises, these 100 days did not show signs of breaking with this model.

Fourth: Mexican foreign policy under the AMLO administration reveals changes and inertias. In the Venezuelan crisis, Mexico’s progressive government adopted the historic policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, self-determination and diplomacy. The Mexican government, joined by Uruguay and the Caribbean nations, proposes a dialogue without impossible preconditions that could well be the only peaceful solution to the crisis, as Trump and Co beat the war drums.

But in its bilateral relation with the US, the country hasn’t been as bold. The meeting a few days ago between Jared Kushner and the Mexican president indicates how and why AMLO has been reluctant to confront the anti-Mexico government of Donald Trump.

Two issues were on the table—Lopez Obrador’s proposal for US investment in southern Mexico and Central America, and immigration. On immigration, the Lopez Obrador administration signaled its unwillingness to stand up to Trump by accepting the Remain in Mexico program to house central American asylum seekers as they await their cases in the US– in violation of refugee rights. At the same time, the administration has stated it will develop immigration policies that guarantee the rights of migrants and refugees, offering humanitarian visas, job opportunities, an end to abuse and expanded services for Mexicans in the US. We’ll have to wait to see how the contradiction between staying on Trump’s good side and defending migrant and refugee rights plays out. At some point soon it will become impossible.

The nod to Trump on immigration reflects Mexico’s economic dependence on the US. Rumors say it was a quid pro quo for the new NAFTA.

Jared Kushner not only represents the Trump administration, now that daddy’s let him play diplomat, he also represents high finance. The threat of global financiers undermining the Lopez Obrador government is a limitation that heavily affects the promise of economic reform. The major rating companies recently downgraded PEMEX, the state-owned oil company, and reduced Mexico’s growth forecast, politically motivated actions that affect foreign investment.

Mexico’s president has made megaprojects that rely on foreign investment– like the Train Maya and the border free-zone– the center of his development plans. it’s classic neoliberal model, dependent on massive amounts of foreign investment. That’s why in the bilateral relationship, the Lopez Obrador administration is asking the US government for oxygen—and in return promises not to breathe too loudly.

In all this, President Lopez Obrador isn’t concerned about tarnishing his leftist credentials. With an 86% approval rating at 100 days, he doesn’t have to worry about labels. All eyes are on him as the only large country run by a progressive government in the Hemisphere. His main concerns aren’t structural reforms, but survival and legacy.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from this period, it’s this: The Mexican people have to remain mobilized and organized, not just to defend their government from attacks from the right—and there’s already ample evidence of that—but to defend their own causes and hopes within the government.

There’s a lesson in the rise of the right in Latin America: No lasting, progressive social transformation ever got handed down from above, or without the active participation of the people.

Thanks for joining us.

Welcome to Mexico Updates. I´m Laura Carlsen, coming to you from Mexico City.

The new government of Andres Manuel López Obrador marked its first one hundred days. The left-leaning leader who bucked trends to the right in the hemisphere by winning by a landslide in the July elections here generated high hopes both among his Mexican followers and in the world, where the faults of the neoliberal model are spurring a search for alternatives, even in the United States.

Let’s listen to a clip of Lopez Obrador:

VIDEO

After 100 days, has the government confronted the economic model? What are the major accomplishments and inevitable disappointments of the debut of what Lopez Obrador ambitiously calls Mexico’s “Fourth Transformation”?

These first days have really been a mixed bag. Let’s take a look at some of the top goals of the new presidency. Most are closely tied to US interests so they also reflect to what degree the left government in Mexico can, or is willing to distance itself from the nation’s historic dependency on the U.S., now ruled by the most extreme rightwing government in its history.

The first is Lopez Obrador’s hallmark: the fight against corruption. The first 100 days have demonstrated that he’s serious. His personal style of austerity, traveling in commercial airlines eschewing the opulent presidential jet, which is now up for sale, have broken with the Mexican adage “a politician who is poor is a poor politician” and the traditional practice of transferring as much public wealth into private pockets as possible during one’s time in office.

His government passed legislation to upgrade corruption to a serious crime, to give the state power to confiscate criminal property, and to more efficiently and aggressively prosecute money laundering. This means exposing the “legal” financial system where multinational banks found to be involved with Mexican cartels have so far gotten off with a slap on the wrist in US courts.

While the anti-corruption campaign has been presented as a moral crusade, it has an important economic function, due to the tremendous loss of public resources syphoned off to corruption from within and outside of government. The prime example is the recent offensive against fuel theft from the state-owned oil company PEMEX. Lopez Obrador calculates that the crackdown on fuel theft, if maintained, will save some 50 billion pesos, about 2.7 billion dollars, this year alone, while cutbacks on luxuries will add even more to public coffers.

The government’s counting on these savings and the resources recuperated to fund social programs. It’s a risky bet, since to date the anti-corruption windfall hasn’t come in and some of the promised programs are flailing or slow to get off the ground. It’s even more risky because criminals fight back to protect illicit businesses. The most dramatic example these days is the response of cartels involved in fuel theft following an army crackdown in the state of Guanajuato.

The second promise is to improve the lives of Mexican workers. This is where we see some real progress. Lopez Obrador increased the national minimum wage by 16 percent, and doubled the minimum wage on the U.S. border to begin to close the huge wage gap that’s a magnet for both immigration and offshoring. The president also announced the creation of more than 200,000 jobs in this period, a drop in inflation and an increase in consumer confidence. The changes have been gradual, with the blessing of Big Business, which has received compensation for wage hikes in the form of tax breaks and other incentives. The question now is what will happen to this apparently harmonious balance if or when the Mexican government takes bolder measures to confront labor exploitation and inequality?

In the third critical area, the news in not so good. In fact, it’s bad. Violence is increasing, in the country. The president’s proposal to create a National Guard under military command and legislate a permanent role for the armed forces in public security met with an outcry from citizen and human rights organizations. The Congress, despite being dominated by MORENA, Lopez Obrador’s party, made some substantial changes to demilitarize the Guard, but the government appears to be following the same war-on-drugs model exported by the US government and imposed by the many US law enforcement agencies operating in the country under the Merida Initiative.

The commitment to increase job and education opportunities for youth, and address the “root causes” of violence is important but won’t show results for a long time. So far, the war on drugs has led to some 250,000 people murdered and 40,000 disappeared. There is tremendous pressure from the US Embassy to continue to allow for its direct involvement in the country’s security and ramp up lucrative arms sales to Mexico. Despite promises, these 100 days did not show signs of breaking with this model.

Fourth: Mexican foreign policy under the AMLO administration reveals changes and inertias. In the Venezuelan crisis, Mexico’s progressive government adopted the historic policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, self-determination and diplomacy. The Mexican government, joined by Uruguay and the Caribbean nations, proposes a dialogue without impossible preconditions that could well be the only peaceful solution to the crisis, as Trump and Co beat the war drums.

But in its bilateral relation with the US, the country hasn’t been as bold. The meeting a few days ago between Jared Kushner and the Mexican president indicates how and why AMLO has been reluctant to confront the white supremacist and anti-Mexico government of Donald Trump.

Two issues were on the table—Lopez Obrador’s proposal for US investment in southern Mexico and Central America, and immigration. On immigration, the Lopez Obrador administration signaled its unwillingness to stand up to Trump by accepting the Remain in Mexico program to house central American asylum seekers as they await their cases in the US– in violation of refugee rights. At the same time, the administration has stated it will develop immigration policies that guarantee the rights of migrants and refugees, offering humanitarian visas, job opportunities, an end to abuse and expanded services for Mexicans in the US. We’ll have to wait to see how the contradiction between staying on Trump’s good side and defending migrant and refugee rights plays out. At some point soon it will become impossible.

The nod to Trump on immigration reflects Mexico’s economic dependence on the US. Rumors say it was a quid pro quo for the new NAFTA.

Jared Kushner not only represents the Trump administration, now that daddy’s let him play diplomat, he also represents high finance. The threat of global financiers undermining the Lopez Obrador government is a limitation that heavily affects the promise of economic reform. The major rating companies recently downgraded PEMEX, the state-owned oil company, and reduced Mexico’s growth forecast, politically motivated actions that affect foreign investment.

Mexico’s president has made megaprojects that rely on foreign investment– like the Train Maya and the border free-zone– the center of his development plans. it’s classic neoliberal model, dependent on massive amounts of foreign investment. That’s why in the bilateral relationship, the Lopez Obrador administration is asking the US government for oxygen—and in return promises not to breathe too loudly.

In all this, President Lopez Obrador isn’t concerned about tarnishing his leftist credentials. With an 86% approval rating at 100 days, he doesn’t have to worry about labels. All eyes are on him as the only large country run by a progressive government in the Hemisphere. His main concerns aren’t structural reforms, but survival and legacy.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from this period, it’s this: The Mexican people have to remain mobilized and organized, not just to defend their government from attacks from the right—and there’s already ample evidence of that—but to defend their own causes and hopes within the government.

There’s a lesson in the rise of the right in Latin America: No lasting, progressive social transformation ever got handed down from above, or without the active participation of the people.

Thanks for joining us.