MEXICO CITY—Some welcomed the return of the left to the height of political power in Mexico nearly a year ago as a promising new chapter in the country’s history. Yet 12 months into Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s presidency, drug violence and attacks on freedom of speech have spiraled and the economy has stagnated, adding to the sense that Mexico is floundering. While all these challenges existed before AMLO—as he is better known in Mexico—took office, the bigger concern now is the way his government is seeking to address them.
There is no mistaking that this is a new era for Mexican politics. Gone are the globally minded, centrist administrations that swapped power in the years following Mexico’s transition from one-party rule to free elections in the 1990s. In their place is a self-styled champion of the people whose inward-looking economic vision harkens back to the country’s statist past. AMLO openly dismisses a role for experts and civil society in policymaking, calling them “neoliberal nostalgics,” while lacing his public rhetoric with an almost religious call of devotion to his presidency—all with the passionate approval of his unwavering political base.
“There is much about AMLO that is reminiscent of the populists that came through the Institutional Revolutionary Party in the latter half of the 20th century,” says Alberto Fernandez, a political analyst and columnist for the magazine Letras Libres in Mexico City, referring to Mexico’s former ruling party, the PRI. “But he’s also more individualistic than they were—he expects the public to believe in his personal moral vision rather than in the democratic institutions Mexico has been trying to build over the past two decades.”