Almost five years after taking office in December 2018, and with just over a year left in his term, 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. Instead, during his first two years in office, 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 blocking migrants from crossing into the United States.
Trump did not entirely upend AMLO’s agenda. The Mexican leader took initial 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 administration of U.S. President Joe Biden. 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. And although some expected that Biden’s more conventional approach to a full range of bilateral issues would present AMLO with more of a challenge than Trump’s dual fixation on migration and trade, so far bilateral relations have been characterized by continuity rather than change.
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AMLO remains broadly popular in Mexico. His pledges to reduce inequality are hailed, even as his economic policies have enhanced state intervention in the economy, deviating from the open market trajectory of his predecessors. His state-centric energy reforms, in particular, have undermined Mexico’s climate commitments with regard to renewables, while also damaging ties with Washington. And the growing role of the military in the effort to rein in drug-related violence, but also in a range of other activities unrelated to security, has caused concern. So far AMLO’s failure to deliver on promises of radical transformation has not put a significant dent in his approval ratings. And he is poised to remain a central figure in Mexican politics even after his term ends, with his ruling Morena party’s candidate the front-runner to win next year’s presidential election.
WPR has covered Mexico in detail and continues to examine key questions about future developments. Will AMLO’s embrace of the military undermine efforts to hold the armed forces accountable for past human rights abuses? Will relations with the U.S. under the Biden administration remain smooth? And will he maintain his influence over Mexican politics after he leaves office? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.
Our Most Recent Coverage
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s international agenda in the month of September has been emblematic of his foreign policy across his entire five years in office: ineffective, inconsistent and often invisible. That lack of focus is why AMLO has seen many of his foreign policy sorties simply fall to the wayside.
With no real political opposition and a press that regularly caves to pressure, AMLO has been 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 and more recently his energy reforms. He has also taken steps to address rampant corruption, with mixed results.
- Why Mexico’s surprisingly strong economic performance might not last, in Mexico’s Latest Economic ‘Moment’ Might Be Just That
- Why the race to succeed AMLO has played out within his ruling Morena party, in AMLO’s Successor Will Be Anointed Long Before Mexico’s Elections
- Why AMLO’s attempt to rein in Mexico’s independent election watchdog agency was a step too far, in AMLO’s Electoral ‘Reform’ Has Mexico in the Streets
- Why Mexico’s state-run oil company, alone among the world’s major producers, has not benefited from the recent windfalls in global oil markets, in Mexico’s Pemex Could Be Another Casualty of AMLO’s Energy Nationalism
Drug War and Violence
Mexico’s long-standing war on drugs, with the support of Washington, has neither slowed the flow of illicit substances into the U.S., nor reduced violence in Mexico. AMLO took office with plans to address the root causes of drug use and violence. But he has since embraced his predecessors’ reliance on the military to tackle drug-related crime and violence.
- Why Mexico is leading the trend of increasingly militarized approaches to security, in Latin America Is Embracing—and Empowering—the Military
- What the leaks from last year’s hacktivist attack on Mexico’s military revealed, in Latin American Hackers Seek Accountability for State-Sponsored Violence
- Why a historic truth commission report does not guarantee accountability for the families of 43 missing students who disappeared in Ayotzinapa eight years ago, in Accountability for Mexico’s Ayotzinapa Massacre Won’t Come Easy
- Why AMLO’s about-face on Mexico’s militarized approach to the war on drugs is a step in the wrong direction, in AMLO Doubles Down on Mexico’s Failed Security Policy
U.S. Relations and Foreign Policy
Mexico’s relations with the United States under Trump figured prominently among AMLO’s challenges. Some expected that Biden’s more conventional approach to the full range of bilateral relations could end up being tougher to manage than Trump’s fixation on just two issues—migration and trade. But so far, the two leaders have steered clear of any major disputes, while cooperating on continuing to limit migrants’ access to the southern U.S. border. More broadly, AMLO has also been criticized for what has appeared to be a lackadaisical approach to foreign policy as well as a partisan bias in regional relations.
- What a recent spike in U.S.-Mexico trade says about the changing patterns of globalization, in Friend-Shoring Is Already Reshaping Global Trade
- How Mexico contributes to Washington’s failed border policies, in Biden Is Rebranding Trump’s Border Policies, Not Dismantling Them
- How AMLO’s desire to expand Mexico’s regional leadership risks hobbling an effective free trade platform, in AMLO’s Regional Leadership Ambitions Could Sink the Pacific Alliance
- How Mexico is using the U.S. courts to counter the influx of illegal weapons from across the border, in Mexico Turns to ‘Lawfare’ to Tackle Its U.S. Gun Problem
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2019 and is regularly updated.