Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexicos new president, has gotten off to a fast start. This is a dramatic change from past administrations, but its no surprise, given that AMLO, as he is known, has been waiting for over 12 years for this moment. Now that hes in power, López Obrador hasnt hesitated to shake things up.
- One of the most visible changes is AMLOs new early morning news conference: Nearly every day at 7 a.m. he appears live on YouTube to let the country know what hes up to. Yes, it takes him some time to answer questions (I dont speak fast, he once told me), but I havent heard of a journalist not being allowed to ask him something. The contrast to former President Enrique Peña Nieto who never dared to hold a news conference that included open questioning is huge.
These morning sessions are a welcome breath of fresh air. I wonder if AMLO will be able to remain as open to the public as he is now for the remainder of his six-year term. A presidents tolerance for being challenged is inversely proportional to the time he has spent in office. And already he gets upset sometimes, as when he dismisses his media critics by calling them fifí (snobbish). In any case, the primary duty of journalists is to confront those in power, and López Obrador is in power now.
The new president has repeated his message We must put an end to corruption so many times it would be difficult to find a single Mexican who hasnt heard it. AMLO has certainly set a good example by flying economy class, putting the governments fleet of jets up for sale and opening up Los Pinos, the famously luxurious presidential residence, to the public. Populist? Yes, but consistent nonetheless.
AMLO has also required that his Cabinet members declare their assets, the first time they have been called upon to do so in Mexican history. This is a wise way to root out corruption, since an official whose wealth seems to dramatically increase will have to answer to a public who knows how much money the person had at the beginning of AMLOs term.
López Obrador has been so eager to get things done that he even organized a public referendum on the construction of a new airport in Mexico City before his inauguration, and without a reliable vote-counting system in place. And yes, huachicol (fuel theft) is a national disgrace. But AMLO has moved so fast to fight it that hes only produced new problems: The decision to transport fuel by tanker trucks instead of pipelines, which are so vulnerable to thieves, resulted in dire fuel shortages.
AMLO understands the power of symbolic gestures and straightforward rhetoric. And he uses these tools wisely, whether hes discussing the Fourth Transformation (his campaign slogan), the Mayan Train (a 930-mile train line stretching across the countrys southeast), or just talking up the subsidies he has promised to millions of senior citizens.
The AMLO honeymoon is in full swing. Voters have no regrets; López Obrador would likely win again if another election were held today. The president wields an army of outraged digital volunteers ready to fight anyone who dares criticize their leader online. This is a president with particularly faithful supporters.
But watch out, because hard times are ahead.
Even though López Obrador has decided to end the war against drug lords, Mexicans are still being killed. Impunity prevails. And if the creation of AMLOs new crime-fighting National Guard results in a more militarized country, there will be even more deaths. He will lose the benefit of the doubt granted to new presidents if dead bodies start piling up by the thousands in official statistics.
As for his foreign policy, López Obrador has managed to keep President Donald Trump at bay. AMLO largely ignores the bully to the north, while Trump himself, under siege at home, turns his attention elsewhere. For now.
AMLOs reluctance to condemn the brutal dictatorship in Venezuela is, I think, a profound error. Standing up to Nicolás Maduro’s fraud and his human rights violations is by no means the same thing as backing a potential military invasion or supporting Trump. As the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said, Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Recognizing Maduro as Venezuelas legitimate president and hiding behind the 1930 Estrada Doctrine, which forbids meddling in other countries, as an excuse is an ethical and diplomatic mistake, and reveals a complete lack of solidarity with the Venezuelan people.
AMLO is moving forward, Mexico is changing and nobody seems to miss Peña Nieto.
Times have changed.