Mexico today will inaugurate its first leftist president since the country transitioned to a full democracy in 2000. The outgoing Enrique Peña Nieto, whose 26 percent approval rating took another dive after he awarded Jared Kushner Mexico’s highest honor, will be replaced by the 65-year-old Andrés Manuel López Obrador, better known as AMLO.
AMLO swept to victory during July elections, winning 53 percent of the vote and a majority in Congress with a leftist populist platform. He’s made a series of high-profile promises which have further endeared his populist credentials, including slashing his own salary, selling the presidential plane and pledging to get rid of his presidential bodyguards.
But the new president will also confront a series of extremely difficult challenges, from the drug war to how to deal with US President Donald Trump. Here’s a rundown of some of the most pressing issues facing AMLO now that he’s in office:
The Drug War & Security
Ever since former Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug cartels in 2006, Mexico has been stuck in what can only be described as a low-intensity conflict. More than 150,000 people have died and despite the capture of kingpins like El Chapo, homicide rates have continued to tick upward.
AMLO has proposed a radical re-think of Mexico’s heavily militarized strategy for dealing with the cartels. Instead he wants to improve police salaries, probe possible regulation for drugs like marijuana and poppy (used to make opium) and improve opportunities in neighborhoods where cartel activity is common.
It’s an ambitious plan but one that might already be running into trouble. Earlier in November, lawmakers from his National Regeneration Party proposed creating a National Guard to keep soldiers on the streets for the foreseeable future.
Dealing with Trump & the Border problem
AMLO’s relationship with Trump began in a surprisingly cordial manner — last month he wrote a letter to Trump saying that he hopes, “to reach a friendly understanding and mutual respect with you, with your people and with the great nation that you represent.” However the disagreements are likely to come thick and fast, most notably with immigration.
AMLO has promised humane treatment for migrants passing through Mexico, but the sanctuaries currently housing thousands near the U.S. border creaking under the pressure and accusing the Mexican federal government of not providing enough support. AMLO faces a dilemma; if he continues to support migrants making their way to the U.S., he faces Trump’s ire. But if he cracks down on them, he risks reneging on his campaign promise never to “do the dirty work of foreign governments” in removing migrants from Mexico.
AMLO’s promise to get rid of the presidential plane and his bodyguards might seem outlandish, but they feed a wider fury over the endemic corruption in Mexico’s political system. AMLO not only plans to lead by example with his frugal lifestyle, but he also wants to strengthen the separation between the various branches of government, as well as Mexico’s central bank, and increase financial transparency.
The logic goes that this will not only increase Mexicans’ trust in the government, but it will also free up funds which previously would have been siphoned off by politicians for lavish personal spending.
It’s a bold plan but one likely to run into some real-world difficulties. This week for instance there was dismay when AMLO welcomed some politicians into his party who had previously been linked to corruption probes.
In keeping with the theme, AMLO here has again offered a bold plan. He wants to increase the salaries of public workers like nurses and teachers, launch 2.3 million apprenticeships for young people and grow the country’s GDP by at least four percent annually.
His leftist economic style has worried the market, with stocks falling to their lowest level since 2014 earlier this week over concern that AMLO would scrap bank commissions.
AMLO did manage to avoid one major economic headache earlier this week though, when outgoing President Nieto signed, along with Trump and Canadian President Trudeau, the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, replacing NAFTA, which allows AMLO to wash his hands of claims that he is responsible for more globalization in the Mexican economy.