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Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes questions from journalists. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes questions from journalists at his daily press conference the National Palace, Mexico City, March 8, 2019 (AP photo by Marco Ugarte).

Can AMLO Deliver on His Vision for Mexico’s Future?

Monday, Jan. 24, 2022

Three years after taking office in December 2018, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, has struggled to make good on his campaign promises to deliver radical transformation, including tackling corruption and reforming the country’s drug war. Meanwhile, he often found himself playing catchup to former U.S. President Donald Trump, whose quixotic threats linking trade and immigration forced AMLO’s hand when it came to Mexico’s efforts to block immigrants from crossing into the United States. AMLO has had to reboot relations with the U.S. under President Joe Biden, whose more conventional approach to a full range of bilateral issues could prove to be more of a challenge than Trump’s dual fixation on migration and trade.

Trump did not entirely upend AMLO’s agenda. The Mexican leader has taken steps to rethink Mexico’s drug war, while also calling for the decriminalization of all drugs in Mexico. But from cracking down on migrants passing through Mexico on their way north to successfully renegotiating the updated NAFTA trade deal, AMLO’s presidency in many ways became inextricably linked to Trump, with whom he developed surprisingly amicable ties despite their many differences. That friendliness, combined with a series of moves that undermined security cooperation with the U.S. on drug enforcement, had many observers wondering whether AMLO would pay a political cost under the Biden administration. Instead, both leaders have adopted a pragmatic approach that has put relations back on a solid footing, without entirely resolving some of the tensions in the relationship.

AMLO remains broadly popular in Mexico. His pledges to reduce inequality are hailed, even as uncertainty surrounds some of his economic policy proposals. Though he has made efforts to reassure the private sector, he has also called for greater state intervention in the economy, deviating from the open market trajectory of his predecessors. But his failure to deliver on promises of radical transformation have begun to erode the electoral coalition he rode to victory in 2018, particularly among younger Mexicans. More recently, AMLO has been criticized for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic—or rather his lack of response. But so far it has not put a significant dent in his approval ratings.

WPR has covered Mexico in detail and continues to examine key questions about future developments. How will AMLO address the country’s persistent security crisis? Will he ultimately pay a political cost for his dismissive approach to the coronavirus pandemic? And how will relations with the U.S. develop under the Biden administration? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.

Our Most Recent Coverage

AMLO’s Energy Reforms Would Set Mexico Back 50 Years

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s proposed energy reform bill is still awaiting legislative action, but it is already generating tensions with the United States. Washington’s main objection is the limitations the bill would place on investment by U.S. companies in Mexico’s renewable energies sector. But by prioritizing carbon-intensive and polluting energy sources in Mexico’s power grid, the bill would also contravene the pledges Mexico made in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

[SPECIAL OFFER: Want to learn more? Get full access to World Politics Review for 12 weeks for just $12 and read all the articles linked here to get up to speed on this important issue.]

Domestic Policies

With no real political opposition and a press that regularly caves to pressure, AMLO is in the driver’s seat when it comes to pushing forward with a range of policies that his supporters call progressive and his critics say could reverse the country’s economic gains. While his economic policies have dominated most discussions, he has already moved to fulfill a campaign promise to undo his predecessor’s education reform initiative. He has also taken steps to address rampant corruption, with mixed results.

U.S. Relations and Foreign Policy

Mexico’s relations with the United States under Trump figured prominently among AMLO’s challenges. But Biden’s more conventional approach to the full range of bilateral relations might end up being tougher to manage than Trump’s fixation on just two issues—migration and trade. More broadly, AMLO has also been criticized for what has appeared to be a lackadaisical approach to foreign policy.

Drug War and Violence

Mexico’s long-standing war on drugs, with the support of the United States, has neither slowed the flow of illicit substances into America, nor reduced violence in Mexico. The country’s homicide rates remain high, even as the security force AMLO created to tackle the problem is now being deployed to the country’s southern border to try to deter migrant arrivals. AMLO has not shifted from his plans to address the root causes of drug use and violence, though, a process that will take time—and funding, which may be in short supply if the United States does not go along with his shift in emphasis.

[SPECIAL OFFER: Want to learn more? Get full access to World Politics Review for 12 weeks for just $12 and read all the articles linked here to get up to speed on this important issue.]

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2019 and is regularly updated.