One year after his victory in Mexico, AMLO has little to celebrate

On Monday, after seven months in office, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador threw himself a party to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his victory at the polls. And not just any party. Mariachi music filled the air as thousands gathered in the Zócalo, Mexico City’s massive main square. El Universal newspaper showed police officers removing street vendors who weren’t selling merchandise related to the event or the man of the hour. López Obrador himself spoke for almost an hour and a half. Some of the country’s most prominent businessmen sat near the stage, listening attentively. After the proceedings, he led the crowd in a solemn rendition of the national anthem.

It was a strange affair.

There was no official need for the celebration. Mexican presidents are required to produce an “informe” — a detailed account of the administration after one year in office and each year thereafter — but certainly not after just a few months in charge. For most of the 20th century, during the one-party rule of the all-powerful PRI, presidents read the report in a nationally televised address, much like the State of the Union. But even the most histrionic versions of the speech were delivered in Congress, never in front of thousands in the public square, like a campaign rally. In 2008, in an effort to lessen the disproportionate protagonism of the Mexican executive, lawmakers eliminated the ritual.

López Obrador has done away with all restraint. In a way, though, the pomposity seems fitting. Mexico’s president has always fashioned himself as a revolutionary figure. He has labeled his government “Mexico’s fourth transformation” — a far-reaching regime change that will, through a combination of radical government austerity, honesty and the president’s sheer personal magnetism, usher in a new era.

No institution from what the Mexican president considers the universally corrupt ancien régime seems safe. He has put in place draconian budget cuts, including throughout Mexico’s public health system, causing pharmaceutical shortages, prompting delays in surgeries and jeopardizing overall medical attention. Not surprisingly, López Obrador’s ambitious government project has faced scrutiny. The overall verdict doesn’t lend itself to any sort of raucous festivity. The administration’s first seven months in office read like a stubborn succession of perplexing choices.

Mexico’s economy has entered hazardous territory. Before taking office, López Obrador organized a sham referendum to shut down construction of Mexico City’s state-of-the-art airport, a third of which had already been built. He then rolled back the previous government’s energy reform, which opened Mexico’s energy sector to private investment. López Obrador has also mismanaged Pemex, Mexico’s crucial state oil behemoth, canceling auctions for potential partners and betting on the construction of an ill-conceived refinery in his home state of Tabasco. Already facing the biggest debt of any oil company in the world, Pemex production has continued to slide along with the company’s bonds rating. Rather than change course, López Obrador has responded by berating credit agencies. Even after a number of accomplishments, such as much-needed labor reform, the economy remains stagnant, along with investment.

Meanwhile, crime in Mexico has not abated. The first trimester of this year was the country’s bloodiest on record. States that have long suffered from violence still endure scenes of carnage. The capital has also felt the consequences of the violent upsurge. The recent kidnapping and murder of a college student has shaken Mexico City, which had remained mostly isolated from the more extreme forms of violence plaguing other areas of the country. In response, López Obrador has turned to the military — like his predecessors — and hurriedly created a National Guard.

López Obrador hasn’t fared much better abroad. Under the threat of tariffs, he has offered President Trump — a man he promised to counter and confront — unprecedented concessions on immigration, forcing Mexico to take on responsibilities it is not remotely ready to assume. An isolationist at heart, López Obrador has also begun withdrawing Mexico from the world stage. Or at least himself. In an incomprehensible decision, he recently chose not to travel to the Group of 20 meeting in Osaka, Japan. Instead, López Obrador sent a letter. He had “urgent challenges to attend to” in Mexico, he wrote.

In true Trumpian fashion, López Obrador has fallen into the habit of openly confronting voices and news outlets that disagree with him, raising concerns for journalists in a country where the profession already faces terrible peril. Notimex, Mexico’s official news agency, recently announced it will begin “verifying” fake news items for “the service of all Mexicans”. López Obrador loyalists now host shows on Mexico’s state broadcasting system, where they dutifully interview government officials or mock the president’s critics in an awkward exercise of punch-down satire. When faced with evidence of the very concrete challenges he faces, López Obrador himself has taken to blaming his predecessors for leaving him “a pigsty” to deal with or claim he has “other data” to counter his critics’ narrative.

For now, though, most Mexicans seem willing to grant him the benefit of the doubt. More than 60 percent hold a favorable view of the president. Perhaps more importantly, a clear majority is still willing to go along with his explanation for Mexico’s troubles: 75 percent blame previous governments.

That gives López Obrador some leeway. But not as much as he might think. In the same poll, four out of every 10 people revealed they would feel personally disappointed if Mexico’s president led the country’s economy to a crisis. If it is to succeed, López Obrador’s “fourth transformation” will need much more that premature celebrations.

León Krauze is an award-winning Mexican journalist, author and news anchor. He is currently the lead anchor at KMEX, Univision's station in Los Angeles.

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