Mexican President López Obrador takes office, promises to break with neo-liberalism

Andrés Manuel López Obrador was inaugurated Dec. 1 as president of Mexico, raising hope among tens of millions of Mexicans that his presidency will finally begin to resolve the deep economic and social crises created by his neo-liberal predecessors of the last 35 years.

López Obrador, 65, is a longtime leftist leader who won the presidency after three runs. In his first try, 2006, widely-suspected fraud and less than a 1 percent vote difference between him and the right-wing candidate Felipe Calderón, deprived him of victory. In response, AMLO (as he is popularly referred to) formed the National Regeneration Movement — MORENA, as a coalition of groups to resist the fraudulent outcome and mobilize his many supporters. He lost again in 2012, and in 2014 López Obrador registered MORENA as an official party. Finally, on July 1, he won the presidency with a decisive majority, gaining 30 points more than the second-runner.

López Obrador was sworn in at the Mexican Congress before the Deputies and Senators in the morning. His speech criticized the policies of outgoing president Enrique Peña Nieto, as well as those of past presidents, which include the massive sell-off to private hands of the country’s more than 1,700 nationalized industries starting in 1983, and the 1994 NAFTA free trade agreement. This historic surrender of Mexico’s economic sovereignty and AMLO’s challenge to the political status quo helped yield him the highest presidential vote ever.

The new president told the legislators, “Regarding the political economy in the neoliberal period from 1983 to the present, it has been the most inefficient in the modern history of Mexico. In this time the economy grew 2 percent annually. Because of that and with the enormous concentration of income in the hands of a few, the majority of the population has been impoverished until they must search for survival in the informal sector, or emigrate massively from the nation’s territory or take the path of anti-social conduct.”

López Obrador further described the tragedy for Mexico. “Mexico is the originator of corn, that blessed plant, but we are now the nation that imports more corn than anyone in the world. Before neo-liberalism, we produced, and we were self-sufficient in gasoline, diesel, gas, electrical energy. Now we buy more than half of what we consume.”

He announced a series of proposals that he also listed later, in his “100 points” speech to more than 150,000 people gathered outside the National Palace in the evening.

But he touched on some of these proposals before the Congress and 900 invited guests, 400 of them international. Among them are:

  • Cancel the highly unpopular educational reform imposed by Peña Nieto
  • Create the National Institute for Attention to Indigenous Peoples
  • Immediate program of medical attention and free medicine in the marginal regions of the country, and universal health care throughout the country before his term is half over
  • An increase in the minimum wage above the rate of inflation
  • 2.3 million youth to work as apprentices in workplaces, companies and various productive and social labor, with a minimum salary of 3,600 pesos monthly
  • 10 million scholarships to students in all levels, development of sports, artistic, science and technological activities
  • Doubling of the pension and making it universally available for all seniors
  • The same pension granted to 1 million people with disabilities and other capabilities
  • To change Article 3 to the Constitution guaranteeing free university education and create 100 public universities in 2019

Among the Latin American leaders present at the swearing were Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel, Bolivian president Evo Morales, President Lenin Moreno of Ecuador, Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales and others. Venezuela’s president Nicólas Maduro did not attend the swearing in in Congress but he attended the AMLO’s rally at the Zócalo. U.S. Vice-president Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump also attended.

After a formal luncheon with the heads of state and other leaders, López Obrador appeared on the balcony of the National Palace at the great Zócalo plaza to address the tens of thousands of people gathered. Police estimates were 160,000 present.

First, leaders representing the 68 indigenous and Black Mexican nations opened the event with a ceremony in which they handed over their deeply revered “bastón de mando,” a ribboned baton that for the holder it signifies, leader of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. It has never been presented to a president before. With a purifying ceremony and the audience of thousands following the turn to the east, west, north and south, one of the women said the baton will help him “rule by obeying the people.”

Then AMLO spoke for two hours. His 100 points speech was sweeping in its vision and scope of programs, environmental, public transportation, industrial and agricultural development, including a reversal of the disastrous agricultural policies that seriously weakened Mexico’s ability to be self sufficient.

Many of these points challenge powerful business interests that will seek to subvert the program López Obrador laid out in his speech. Mexico is a capitalist society and its state is fundamentally an instrument of capitalist class rule. Whether or not these pledges are implemented depends not only on AMLO, but on the mobilization of the working class and people’s movements in support of a progressive reorientation of the country’s economy and government.

López Obrador has stated that some of the financing for projects for the poor will come from reducing the exorbitant salaries of government officials. Some observers see this as being insufficient to cover the cost. He has promised not to raise taxes for one year. He has also promised to landowners that there will be no expropriation of land. López Obrador said he is committed to a popular referendum at the mid-point of his term, as to whether he should continue as president.

Federal action for the Central America refugees

AMLO issued an executive order on his first day to help the 6,000-plus refugees at the Tijuana border, who traveled from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through Mexico seeking asylum in the United States. They have suffered torrential rains, illness and poor shelter conditions in the border city because of their size in this ill-prepared town, and the refusal of Trump’s government to grant them entry.

AMLO’s directive calls for federal, state and local institutions, together with the Home Secretary’s office (Secretaría de Gobernación) and Baja California governor, to assure proper shelter, food and safety. Up to now, under Peña Nieto, the federal government had not supported the migrants, leaving the state and city governments and sympathetic population to extend their assistance.

Mexico-U.S. relations

López Obrador’s plans and promises, if even partially realized, represent a significant challenge to U.S. imperialist demands and corporate interests in Mexico. Trump’s racist and hostile threats toward Mexico were answered by Peña Nieto with a submissive attitude, angering many Mexican people. Days before he left office, Peña Nieto awarded the Aztec Eagle, Mexico’s highest civilian honor, to Jared Kushner, to the derision of many political commentators and popular disgust.

Publicly, López Obrador expressed his appreciation for what he termed Trump’s “respectful treatment” since his July 1 election. Given the extreme racism and hostility of Trump toward Mexico, AMLO’s statement was seen as a diplomatic gesture, given that some of his speeches was sharply critical of Washington.

But after all the ceremony, what looms largest and heaviest is U.S. imperialism’s growing aggression toward all of Latin America. Not one of the progressive governments that has been part of the ALBA alliance, among them Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, has been free from damaging sanctions, coup plots and militarist plans as the United States seeks to reverse all the gains in the region won since the start of the 21st century. The hallmark of ALBA has been recovery of each nation’s material resources, economic and social cooperation, solidarity and resistance to U.S. imperialism.

The last country to join ALBA was Honduras in 2009. It paid for that “crime” with a military coup. López Obrador’s public speeches today regarding his position on international relations is a return to Mexico’s historic respect for other countries’ sovereignty. Echoing the words of the great Mexican leader Benito Juárez, “respect of sovereignty is the way to peace (el respeto al derecho ajeno es la Paz).” This is extremely important for Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and all Latin America and the Caribbean.

For the people of Mexico living in their homeland, for the 6 million Mexican undocumented in the United States and millions more who are permanent residents, for the Central American refugees, for the oppressed peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, for the progressive Latin American governments, there is a renewed sense of optimism in the new mandate of President López Obrador.

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