Things That Matter

From Record Cartel Violence To A Slumping Economy, Mexican President AMLO Has Had A Rocky First Year

Mexican President Andres Manual Lopez Obrador (AMLO) has been in office for one year, but many feel his administration has been overshadowed by cartel violence despite a few wins for Mexico’s poor. AMLO, as he is nicknamed, secured a win in 2018 by promising to end corruption, stabilize the economy and improve social services. 

But under AMLO homicides continued to increase, as they had been for ten years, to 35,000 so far in 2019. Cartel violence has caused 200,000 deaths in a decade, according to Al Jazeera. His supporters say AMLO cannot be blamed for inheriting Mexico’s long history of organized crime-related violence. 

AMLO has been dealt with several violent blows to his campaign.

“We cannot pin the current security dynamics entirely on AMLO because they have been built up over a long period of time,” Eduardo Moncada, a political scientist at Barnard University, told Al Jazeera.

The killing of a family of at least nine Mormon dual citizens of the U.S. and Mexico, six of which were children, by cartels in November, reignited fears of increasing violence in the country. The failed arrest of Ovidio Guzman, notorious Sinaloa drug lord El Chapo’s son, has created the appearance that AMLO isn’t tough enough on crime. 

When Guzman was arrested by police, the Sinaloa cartel retaliated by setting dozens of cars on fire and taking security officials hostage, 13 people died. ALMO was forced to release Ovidio. In October, over a dozen police officers were killed by the same cartel. ALMO does not want to meet violence with violence.

“We are never going to opt for war, for confrontation using force,” Lopez Obrador said in a news conference following the Mormon killings. “What matters to us are people’s lives.”

Many have begun to question the effectiveness of AMLO’s “hugs not bullets” approach.

Donald Trump announced that Mexican cartels would be designated “terrorist” groups, much to the chagrin of Mexico. 

“Since 1914, there hasn’t been a foreign intervention in Mexico and we cannot permit that,” Lopez Obrador said in response. “Armed foreigners cannot intervene in our territory.” 

AMLO pledged to end the militarized approach to dealing with cartels, choosing to focus on addressing poverty instead. The president created a new civilian National Guard and wants to give low-level criminals amnesty. While many are wondering if his approach is the right one, as violence continues, analysts have said the hostile tactics of the past 13 years under President Felipe Calderon were a complete failure, according to Al Jazeera. 

“He is threading the needle between being a pragmatist with a complicated reality, and being true to his leftist roots,” Moncada said. 

AMLO’s constant placating to Trump has immigrants rights groups worried. 

To avoid tension with the United States, AMLO deployed thousands of National Guard officers to the Southern border to prevent illegal crossings. 

“The government of Lopez Obrador reacted in a way that many did not expect,” Carlos Peterson, Mexico senior analyst for the Eurasia Group, told Al Jazeera. “He wants to avoid any conflict so he has been caving into Trump’s demands.”

He also agreed to the U.S. policy of Migrant Protection Protocols which requires migrants to stay in Mexico while awaiting immigration court hearings in the United States. 

“The move has forced thousands of migrants, among them families with young children, to live for months in crowded shelters in high-crime border cities or on the streets,” according to Al Jazeera. 

The Mexican economy has also slowed after AMLO decided to cancel a $13 billion airport in Mexico City and scrapped a plan to allow private capital into the oil and gas industry. AMLO made Mexico the only country to sign USMCA, the trade deal to replace NAFTA, which has not even been ratified by US Congress. Many wonder if AMLO’s foreign policy is taking too many leads from the Trump administration, and at what cost? 

AMLO is still considered a champion of the poor and has had many wins. 

A year into his six-year term, AMLO’s fate remains up in the air. With nearly half of Mexico’s population living in poverty, AMLO has created new structural and social welfare programs. He turned the decadent presidential compound into a public park, decreased his security detail, sold the presidential jet, and cut government salaries including his own, according to Al Jazeera. 

AMLO has created scholarships, grants, and training programs for young people. Pensions were expanded for senior citizens and government workers, and new stipends were implemented for the disabled. 

“It’s not easy to be successful in such a short period of time, Maureen Meyer, director for Mexico and Migrant Rights, told Al Jazeera. “There is no magic bullet to addressing Mexico’s violence or its other social problems, there is no easy quick fix.” 

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