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

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during his daily press conference.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during his daily press conference at the National Palace, in Mexico City, June 22, 2022 (AP photo by Marco Ugarte).

More than three and a half 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. 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 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 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 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. 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. AMLO was also criticized for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic—or rather his lack of response. But so far his failure to deliver on promises of radical transformation 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. Will AMLO’s embrace of the military undermine efforts to hold the armed forces accountable for past human rights abuses? Will he 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.

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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 and more recently his energy reforms. He has also taken steps to address rampant corruption, with mixed results.

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.

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.

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

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