Mexico’s new president pledges ‘radical’ rebirth and ending of ‘neo-liberal’ policies
Mr Lopez Obrador said his government will not be “at the service of a rapacious minority”. (Reuters: Henry Romero)
Veteran leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been sworn in as Mexican president, vowing to see off a “rapacious” elite in a country struggling with corruption, chronic poverty and gang violence on the doorstep of the United States.
- New leftist president promises higher wages and zero tolerance for corruption
- A major challenge will be managing relations with US President Donald Trump
- US consulate hit by grenade attack ahead of inauguration
Backed by a gigantic Mexican flag, the 65-year-old took the oath of office in the lower house of Congress, pledging to bring about a “radical” rebirth of Mexico to overturn what he called a disastrous legacy of decades of “neo-liberal” governments.
“The government will no longer be a committee at the service of a rapacious minority,” said the new president, who is often nicknamed AMLO.
Nor would the government, he said, be a “simple facilitator of pillaging, as it has been”.
Mr Lopez Obrador pictured at a traditional indigenous ceremony. His presidency will mark a turning point in one of the world’s most radical experiments in opening markets and privatisation. (AP: Moises Castillo)
The Trump factor
A major challenge facing Mr Lopez Obrador is managing relations with Mexico’s top trading partner, the United States, after repeated broadsides by President Donald Trump against Mexico over illegal immigrants crossing the US border.
Mr Lopez Obrador repeated he was seeking to contain migration through a deal with Mr Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to foster development in Central America and Mexico.
President Donald Trump, speaking during a rally in August, has repeatedly condemned illegal immigration from Mexico. (AP: Carolyn Kaster)
Mr Lopez Obrador also reaffirmed plans to create a low-tax special economic zone on Mexico’s northern border to act as the “final curtain” to keep Mexicans working inside their homeland.
He said Mr Trump had treated him respectfully since the July 1 election, and thanked US Vice President Mike Pence and Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump for attending the ceremony.
‘Sewer of corruption’
The first leftist to take office in Mexico in a generation also tried to reassure business after markets slumped since the July 1 election on worries about his policies, including the abrupt cancellation of a $13 billion new Mexico City airport.
Mr Lopez Obrador reiterated investments in the country of 130 million people would be safe, and to respect central bank independence.
Saying his government would make savings by stopping losses from the public purse into the “sewer of corruption”, he promised not to raise national debt or taxes.
But he promised higher wages for the poor and zero tolerance for corruption in his administration.
Mexico has more than 70 indigenous communities, and Lopez Obrador has pledged to end centuries of poverty and marginalisation for them. (AP: Christian Palma)
Making 16 references to “neo-liberal” policies in his speech, he vowed to abolish the “regime” he said it had created.
He blamed the government of his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto, for causing a plunge in oil output by opening the energy industry to private investment.
Instead, he vowed to ramp up public investment to rescue state oil company Pemex, which is suffering from heavy debts.
Mr Pena Nieto sat impassively two seats to the left of Mr Lopez Obrador during the sustained attack on his economic legacy, at times touching his face, wiping his brow with his hand and taking occasional sips of water.
“There were few signs in AMLO’s speech that the full reality of governing has sunk in thus far,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Centre’s Mexico Institute.
“Markets will be deeply concerned about the future of the energy sector and the overly ambitious infrastructure plans without any way of paying for them.”
Still, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim said he was reassured by the speech, saying to reporters that there was “no doubt” Mexico remained a safe place to invest.
“What is needed, as he said, is to generate jobs and combat poverty. The best investment is to combat poverty,” he said.
Grenade attack on US consulate
Meanwhile, Mexican authorities are investigating an apparent grenade attack on the US consulate in the city of Guadalajara, underscoring the security challenges facing Mexico’s new president.
The attack took place ahead of Mr Lopez Obrador’s swearing in.
No one was killed or injured in the attack and Mexican authorities are investigating the matter.
Demonstrators hold up placards during a protest against the border wall on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez earlier this month. (Reuters: Jose Luis Gonzalez)
The state is the home base of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which US and Mexican authorities consider one of the most powerful gangs in Mexico.
The gang’s leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, or “El Mencho”, is on the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s most wanted list.
Tackling unprecedented violence
More than 25,000 murders, a record, were logged in 2017. Over 10,000 were registered between July and October, the bloodiest four-month period since modern records began in 1997.
Mr Lopez Obrador, who plans to create a militarised nationwide National Guard to tackle crime, dedicated several minutes of the almost 90-minute-long speech to praise the armed forces, saying they had never been part of the “elite” or an “oligarchy”.
He addressed critics who fear he could change the constitution to stay on longer than his six-year term permits to oversee what he calls the “fourth transformation” of Mexico. He would under no circumstances seek re-election, he said.
He also reiterated he would hold a recall referendum during his administration, and would leave office early if he lost.
Reflecting his austere manner, Lopez Obrador arrived at Congress in a modest white Volkswagen sedan with little visible security, in contrast to the lifestyles of his predecessors.
He has also dissolved the thousands-strong presidential guard that many Mexicans associate with a distant political class, opting instead for a small group of unarmed bodyguards.
Some have criticised the move as irresponsible.
In another symbol of change, the doors of what had been the official presidential residence, Los Pinos, were thrown open to public visitors on Saturday.
Mr Lopez Obrador has said he will save money by living in an apartment in the presidential palace.
Mr Pena Nieto returned to Mexico from a G20 summit in Argentina on Saturday morning, on the last official flight for his Boeing Dreamliner presidential plane, which Mr Lopez Obrador is selling.