Mexicans Have High Hopes for Newly-Elected Progressive President Lopez Obrador

Interview with Laura Carlsen, director of the Center for International Policy’s America’s Program, conducted by Scott Harris

Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador was sworn in as Mexico’s new president on Dec. 1, pledging to end corruption and impunity, and work to transform the nation on behalf of the poor majority. The former mayor of Mexico City, known as AMLO, won his third bid for the presidency in a landslide vote on July 1, ushering in a new era as Mexico’s first leftist president in some 70 years.
Lopez Obrador and his National Regeneration Movement party, MORENA, vowed to end decades of neoliberal economic policy that the populist president believes has exacerbated inequality. Other major challenges the new leader will confront include a record murder rate linked with a militarized drug war, and major disagreements with U.S. President Donald Trump over Washington’s hardline immigration policy.
While AMLO maintained a high approval rating of 56 percent as he entered office, his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto, leaves the presidency with a historically low public support. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas program at the Center for International Policy, who talks about Lopez Obrador’s hopeful first days in office and Mexico’s dramatic break with the past.

LAURA CARLSEN: Here in Mexico, there’s a five-month period between the election and the inauguration, which is really long. And so, during that time we saw a real different form of a style of governing than we’ve seen in the past as well, even before he took office, because he really hit the ground running. He was already announcing plans, getting his team into place, having daily meetings, receiving all kinds of complaints and petitions from the citizenry.

More than 20,000 people were received with everything from, you know, from “Please use a guard because we don’t want you to get assassinated” to resolving land conflicts in small communities in the southern state of Oaxaca. So there was all kinds of hopes that government could actually solve problems, which I think, you know, in many ways we haven’t seen for a long time. Much of the reason that he was elected was because people had gotten to the point where they looked at government and they really believed that government only caused problems. And the violence, the economic inequality – those problems have become so severe in Mexico that people were willing to take a chance on a new kind of government.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Laura, from the election results, it seems the public has invested a lot of hope in Lopez Obrador and his presidency. As someone who’s been observing Mexican politics for decades now, how would you gauge the promises that AMLO has made during his campaign versus what the public expects from him?

LAURA CARLSEN: So far, we’ve seen some contradictions. The expectations are really high and it is inevitable that there will be some disappointments. It’s inevitable that there will be some mistakes. There already actually have been, including a the kind of a lack of coordination between the MORENA-run Congress and the president and some real jittery financial markets that have have reacted strongly against some of the announcements that the new government has made and they’ve had to rectify, including one had to do with bank commissions, stating that bank commissions would be frozen. In Mexico, the banks gouge clients almost worse than anywhere else in the world with commissions and fees and all that kind of thing. But the markets responded severely when they announced that law and they had to kind of take a step back from it.

The biggest contradictions so far have been that the promise to change the model, the security model, became a plan concretely to create what they call the National Guard. Now, a national guard, the civil national guard has existed mostly just in theory in Mexico, but this is a military national guard and so many people, including myself, who have worked on the security issue and strongly believe that the war on drugs should be ended and that the fight against against organized crime should be demilitarized within Mexican territory –we’re very disappointed in and are watching to see what happens with this specific proposal. Some of his supporters claim that he’s still planning to demilitarize and that this is just kind of a stopgap measure as they begin to bring organized crime under control with other measures included in a broader picture, including a more aggressive attack against money laundering, looking at (interdiction) and the use of drugs as a health issue and especially providing social programs that will provide education and jobs for young people.

So it’s kind of, it’s really more of a medium to long-term package, but the idea that it will continue to be so militarized is disturbing to many people. The other real sensitive point has been brought up many times: How will he fund these social programs that he’s promised? They include scholarships for young people, new schools, new health clinics, pensions for the elderly, pensions for differently abled. There’s a lot of support also for the countryside for rural production, because the countryside in Mexico has been kind of slowly dying as a part of the economy for a long time now. So there’s a lot of promises that have to do with government- sponsored social programs and it’s not clear where the monies come from.

Lopez Obrador said that just rolling back the corruption will release millions and millions and millions of pesos worth of funds, which is probably true, it’s been estimated that it’s an enormous percentage of the economy that goes into corruption, but the numbers of, you know, what’s planning to be spent and what they’re likely to get – especially since some of those measures are more long-term: recovering money that’s gone to corruption or a new fiscal program in taxes is going to be one of the biggest challenges.

For more information on the Center for International Policy, visit and for the Center for International Policy’s Americas program, visit

Executive producer: Scott Harris
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