Andrés Manuel López Obrador rode a wave of popular support during his first 100 days – but the jury’s still out on Mexico’s future.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, best known as AMLO, is unlike any leader Mexico has seen in recent history. Openly hostile to big business, an advocate for government intervention in all sectors of Mexican life, a nationalist and anti-establishment to his core, AMLO has kept his campaign promises during his first 100 days in office, and people love it so far. He’s hugely popular and transforming the political landscape in Mexico.
But as AMLO seeks to reshape the world’s eleventh largest economy in his image, there are strains everywhere. Roberta Jacobson, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere and now Senior Advisor to Albright Stonebridge Group, joins Peter Schechter and Muni Jensen at Altamar to explain why the country could be in for a bumpy ride.
“We have to go back to the old line about someone telling you who they are: believe them,” says Jacobson. AMLO is doing exactly what he said would, often in dramatic fashion. Although Mexico in recent years has hawked itself as investor-friendly and open-for-business, AMLO kicked off his presidency by cancelling plans to build a new airport and suspended oil bids and then auctions for renewables. “You’ve got a situation that I think had begun as mutually convenient and beneficial…to something that is much more wary, if not downright hostile right now,” says Jacobson.
Jacobson notes that AMLO “continues to demonize the business community” and has moreover “moved onto the regulators, some of the very independent institutions that I think the business community desperately wants to see in Mexico in order to safeguard investments and level the playing field.” Still, she points out, “The business community in Mexico is not monolithic. It’s very diverse, and it’s got a lot of international players,” who along with smaller Mexican businesses may welcome a new set of rules that isn’t skewed to the country’s traditional captains of industry.
Perhaps the biggest surprise so far from AMLO’s presidency is his positive relationship with President Trump. Jacobson doubts it can last, especially with elections in 2020 looming large for Trump, and Mexicans too tempting a target to rally his base. “I think this is a bromance that is destined to sour. I can’t see that López Obrador and Trump continue to be in sync on critical issues like migration, like security, like counter-narcotics, as I see each of them having to defend their positions with widely differing constituencies.”
Inside Mexico, AMLO faces little competition from an opposition wracked by fragmentation and corruption scandals. “There isn’t anybody else out there who has any standing to really speak to the corruption issue, which was number one in Mexico,” highlights Jacobson. “To the extent that AMLO continues to defend all of his actions and explain them as anti-corruption measures they will be popular.”
Jacobson pointed out that AMLO faces little domestic pressure to join the majority of countries pushing to oust Nicolás Maduro from power in Venezuela. She predicts that López Obrador will follow a non-interventionist foreign policy, adopting the “old Estrada Doctrine of staying out of something that other democratic countries in the hemisphere and elsewhere believe is critical…I think he is very much a domestic president.”
No doubt, AMLO is an anomaly in Latin America. Many countries in the region have shifted right, and the Chavista experiment is imploding in Venezuela. So far, López Obrador is holding true to his leftist populist roots – but Jacobson does not consider him to be in the same mold as Chavez. He is charting his own course, one uniquely Mexican but that also risks a lack of control by democratic institutions: “His biggest weakness is his non-institutional tendencies and to view civil society or any criticism as personal. I think that could be his Achilles heel.”
Listen to more of Roberta Jacobson’s analysis of AMLO’s Mexico, 100 days in – available for download here.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons