Winds of change in Mexico | Daily News

Winds of change in Mexico

Another newcomer challenging the Establishment has arisen on the international stage, this time in Central America. Mexico’s pivotal Presidential Election held on Sunday ended with a massive victory for the former Mayor of Mexico City Andrés Manuel López Obrador — a populist nationalist representing the left-wing political party Morena that he founded just four years ago. This was the largest-ever election in the country with almost 90 million eligible voters and 18,000 open positions, with the Presidential race dominating the headlines and commanding the most attention of voters.

Obrador, affectionately called AMLO after his initials, had a simple message that resonated widely with the electorate – he would do everything possible to end drug and gang related violence, corruption at all levels and rampant poverty. His ascension to the presidency marks a major change for a country that has been led by the same two political parties for almost 90 years.

It reflects widespread disillusionment with outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto and the ruling PRI Party. Mexico’s other main party, the conservative National Action Party (PAN), also came under criticism for not tackling widespread violence and ingrained corruption. (Obrador will not take office until December 1, leaving Nieto at the helm for five more months)

There was another reason for Obrador’s popularity among voters. He has pledged to demand respect from US President Donald Trump, whose hardline stance on building a wall at the Mexican border and immigration from South America in general had strained relations between the two countries, perhaps to their lowest level in decades. Mexico has already ruled out paying for the wall and this policy is unlikely to change under Obrador. But in a sign of goodwill, Trump on Sunday night congratulated López Obrador for the win.

“Congratulations to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on becoming the next President of Mexico. I look very much forward to working with him,” Trump tweeted. “There is much to be done that will benefit both the United States and Mexico!”.

Indeed, the coming months will offer a clearer picture of how López Obrador will handle his new role. Obrador drew huge support from Mexicans, as hundreds of thousands flooded stadiums, city plazas and rally venues to hear him speak. His challenge is to make that popularity last throughout his term, which is no means easy given the huge challenges ahead.

Obrador was frank enough to admit that main problem facing Mexico is corruption - a “cancer that is destroying this country.” His foreign policy will no doubt pivot on the US and he has offered no clues on links with other countries. In fact, he has maintained an almost obsessive focus on addressing internal issues, saying: “The best foreign policy is domestic.” He has thus promised increased pensions, educational grants for youth and more support for farmers.

Tackling violence should be his other main concern. Almost 110,000 Mexicans have been murdered since Nieto took office at the end of 2012. This year’s election campaign was one of the bloodiest in recent memory, leaving more than 130 candidates and others dead including Arturo Gomez, Mayor of Petatlan in the State of Guerrero. In the clearest sign linking official corruption with violence, the entire policy force of the city was disarmed and detained on suspicion. At the other end of the spectrum, Mexico badly suffers from a shortage of police personnel to tackle crime, with at least 116,000 positions unfilled. In the meantime, lawmakers have passed an “Interior Security Law” giving the military an official role in policing.

In fact, the military has had some success with cracking down on drug cartels under a directive of President Felipe Calderon in 2006. Since the crackdown on drug cartels began, many important drug kingpins have been arrested, leaving gangs to fight among themselves and fragment. That has lead to more, smaller gangs who are competing over the existing drug trade infrastructure and looking for new business. The dreaded Sinaloa cartel formerly headed by the captured kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, has invested heavily in the production of Fentanyl, a new synthetic opioid considered to be 50 times stronger than heroin.

Among the new gang ventures are robbing freight trains, extorting money from civilians and illegally extracting oil, or “huachicoleo”, a phenomenon that has gone up by 790% in the last five years. Many politicians are said to be involved in this ring – 12 mayors from Puebla State were arrested last year on suspicion of involvement in fuel-stealing.

Obrador will have his hands full dealing with all these problems for the next six years. He is under no illusion that it will be a walk in the park – he told voters that “we are dealing with a country at war”. He has an opportunity to reshape and rebuild the nation, a task that has so far eluded his predecessors. If he can end the violence and tackle corruption, economic growth will naturally follow for the second largest economy in Latin America. At the politically young age of 64, Obrador could be just the right man to lead Mexico beyond 2024. 


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