Mexico’s Amlo riding high 10 months after election

Venezuela

When Mexico’s populist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected by a landslide in July, some analysts warned that he could quickly lose support once in office, especially if he failed to deliver on his ambitious promise of delivering a “radical transformation” of his country.

Four months after his swearing-in, his approval ratings range between 60% and 86% and are the envy of many other leaders in the hemisphere.

But how has the 65 year old commonly referred to as Amlo fared so far and what problems has he been able to tackle?

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Just weeks into the top job, Amlo announced that he had launched an operation to fight widespread theft from oil pipelines, a nationwide problem costing the Mexican state about $3bn (£2.3bn) each year.

A sign warning of a pipeline is seen at the site where a fuel pipeline, ruptured by suspected oil thieves, exploded in the municipality of Tlahuelilpan, state of Hidalgo, Mexico January 22, 2019.
Fuel thieves have ruptured pipelines which in some cases has led to deadly explosions

Besides deploying thousands of troops in the operation, his government also shut down major oil pipelines that criss-cross the country. Almost immediately, shortages of fuel in major cities were reported, causing massive queues at petrol stations.

Nevertheless, polls showed Mexicans supported the crackdown, and normal fuel supply has since been restored.

Official figures suggest the move has significantly reduced the amount of oil being illegally siphoned off daily, from 81,000 barrels in November of 2018 to 4,000 in the first months of 2019.

“We joined forces, and we worked together and we were able to make progress,” he said in a speech marking his 100 days in office.

‘Peace and love’ for Trump

In spite of early predictions of an impending bruising ideological clash between the US and Mexican leaders, Mr López Obrador has insisted that he wants relations with President Donald Trump to remain on a friendly footing.

Amlo has sought an attitude of “peace and love” towards his northern neighbour despite recent public threats by Mr Trump that he would “close the border” with Mexico if the Mexican government failed to stop Central American migrants reaching the United States.

Mexican officials estimate some 900,000 migrants – mostly from Central America – will make their way through Mexico towards the US border by the end of 2019.

A migrant caravan from Central America proceeds towards Tapachula from Ciudad Hidalgo, after crossing the Guatemala border into Mexico, while en route to the United States on October 21, 2018
The issue of migrants crossing Mexico on their way to the US has strained relations

“We have to help [the Trump administration], because Central American migrants cross through our territory and we have to deal with that migration in an orderly and legal way, and at the same time we have to protect the human rights (of migrants),” Mr López Obrador said on 1 April.

Following President Trump’s complaints about migrant caravans heading towards the US, Amlo’s government started providing temporary humanitarian work visas to thousands of Central Americans thereby somewhat reducing the number of those continuing north to the US.

Failure on the murder front

One area where President López Obrador has yet to make an impact is on Mexico’s soaring murder rate. This reached a new annual record in 2018 with 28,839 violent homicides across the country, a 15% increase over 2017.

Relatives and friends of a victim of an attack carry a coffin at a funeral in Minatitlan, Veracruz State, Mexico, on April 21, 2019
The murder rate has continued to rise

The murder rate has continued to climb since Amlo came to power. In the first quarter of 2019, 8,493 murders were reported, an increase of almost 10% compared with the same months in 2018, according to Mexican government data.

In a speech he gave on 11 March, Amlo acknowledged that “the population is currently in a defenceless state”.

“Violence, as we have said many times, cannot be fought with violence (…), the construction of a better, more just and more humane society is the starting point of our public safety policy,” he said.

In a move approved by Mexico’s Congress, the president has created a new security agency, the National Guard, to enforce his strategy to reduce crime and violence related to Mexico’s powerful drug cartels.

‘Austere’ presidential style

Mr López Obrador has promised to cultivate a more “direct” relationship with Mexicans and often breaks security protocols to shake hands and take selfies with people.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, President of Mexico pitches the first ball prior a friendly game between San Diego Padres and Diablos Rojos at Alfredo Harp Helu Stadium on March 23, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico.

He travels around the country on commercial flights after putting Mexico’s Dreamliner presidential plane up for sale arguing that it was too lavish for the leader of a country where millions live in extreme poverty.

On his first day in office he also ordered the presidential residence, Los Pinos, to be opened to the public and turned into a cultural centre.

Mr López Obrador and his family will continue to live at their middle-class home in Mexico City’s Tlalpan neighbourhood until his youngest son finishes elementary school in mid-2019.

After that, they plan to move to a midsize apartment near his office at Mexico’s National Palace, from where he says he will continue to work towards a “fourth transformation” in Mexico’s history, following its 1810 independence, the 1854-1857 liberalising reforms led by then-President Benito Juárez, and the wars of the 1910-1920 Revolution.