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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?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

More than a year after taking office in December 2018, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, has struggled to deliver on his campaign promises to deliver radical transformation, including tackling corruption and reforming the country’s drug war. Meanwhile, he has often found himself playing catchup to U.S. President Donald Trump, whose quixotic threats linking trade and immigration have forced AMLO’s hand when it comes to Mexico’s efforts to block immigrants from crossing into the United States.

The most recent crisis came in May 2019, when Trump unexpectedly announced he would be imposing a series of increasing trade sanctions unless Mexico managed to stop all migrant flow across the border—a virtual impossibility. Trump ultimately granted a reprieve, but only after Mexico apparently reaffirmed earlier pledges to try to stem migration, including deploying security forces to the country’s southern border. This is not a permanent solution, though, and the migration issue will continue to dog AMLO’s presidency so long as Trump remains in office.

Trump has not entirely upended AMLO’s agenda. The Mexican leader has taken steps to rethink Mexico’s drug war, including seeking to redirect the Merida Initiative—a $3 billion annual U.S. aid package that pays for Mexico’s drug war—to use the money for development, while also calling for the decriminalization of all drugs in Mexico. AMLO has not gained as much traction in his efforts to curb his country’s rapidly rising murder rate, though.

Despite his difficulties with Trump, AMLO remains broadly popular. 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. This has some worried that Mexico is about to deviate from its open market trajectory, a concern that was exacerbated by the public and acrimonious resignation of the country’s respected finance minister in July 2019. More recently, AMLO has been criticized for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic—or rather his lack of response.

WPR has covered Mexico in detail and continues to examine key questions about future developments. How will AMLO address the country’s spiraling security crisis? Will opposition parties regroup to serve as a viable political counterbalance over the course of his administration? And will AMLO ultimately pay a political cost for his dismissive approach to the coronavirus pandemic? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.

Our Most Recent Coverage

AMLO’s Justice Reforms Risk Undoing Mexico’s Progress

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration was forced to postpone the unveiling of a new criminal justice reform bill in February, after leaked drafts of the legislation circulated online. Experts claimed the proposal would mark a dangerous regression for due process and human rights in the country.

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Domestic Policies

With no real 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, including shutting down illegally tapped gas pipelines across the country.

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 are soaring, 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.

U.S. Relations and Foreign Policy

Mexico’s relations with the United States figure prominently among AMLO’s challenges. Despite having promised to make Mexico’s approach to migrants more humane, AMLO has given in to pressure from the Trump administration to secure Mexico’s southern border and allow asylum-seekers at the U.S. border to await the outcome of their cases in Mexico. He has also been criticized for what has appeared to be a lackadaisical approach to foreign policy.

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