Latin America Advisor

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How Much Has López Obrador Accomplished?

Photo of AMLO Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has entered the final year of his six-year term.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has entered the final year of his term, with his successor due to take office next Oct. 1. When he began his six-year term in 2018, López Obrador vowed to grow the economy, fight corruption, reduce violence and build infrastructure, among other goals. With less than 12 months left in office, how does López Obrador’s performance live up to his campaign promises? What’s still left for him to finish, and what’s standing in the way of him realizing his agenda? 

Arturo Sarukhan, board member of the Inter-American Dialogue and former Mexican ambassador to the United States: “As probably the most effective retail politician in Mexico’s modern history, López Obrador’s personal popularity continues to Teflon-coat him from the lackluster (at best) public policies he’s implemented. But during his now almost five years in office, he has sought to weaken Mexico’s institutions, eviscerate the agency and bandwidth of the state and remove its checks and balances so that they cannot constrain him. Paradoxically, that also means he cannot rely on that same state to generate growth, mitigate the economic and social post-pandemic costs, resolve social conflicts, tackle public insecurity, take advantage of Mexico’s global geostrategic assets or even facilitate a smooth transition for his desired successor. His ‘hugs, not bullets’ paradigm has claimed more lives than Felipe Calderón’s ‘war on drugs,’ in the process expanding—in contrast to his campaign pledge—the military’s role in public security and an array of other public sector tasks in a way not seen since the country’s post-revolutionary era in the late 1920s. His ‘honesty’ threatens to be more onerous to the viability of the Mexican state than Peña Nieto’s ‘corruption.’ Moreover, by basically using all governmental levers to conduct next year’s election, he is now threatening the country’s democracy by undermining one of its most basic tenets: an even playing field. Furthermore, for a leader who has recurred to the default position that ‘the best foreign policy is domestic policy,’ it is precisely Mexico’s domestic weaknesses and his public policy failings that are creating foreign policy vulnerabilities for the nation, particularly regarding the United States. López Obrador’s legacy will be a much weaker Mexican state, a more polarized nation and a poorer country that has higher levels of violence and is less connected to and in sync with the world than when he took office.”

Lila Abed, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center: “President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s most notorious success is maintaining a high approval rate, despite falling short on many of his campaign promises. When he took office in 2018, AMLO promised to combat corruption, return the Armed Forces to their barracks, reduce insecurity and tackle inequality. According to Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index, Mexico ranked 126 out of 180 countries with a score of 31 (with zero being highly corrupt and 100 being very clean), a three-point increase since 2018. To fight insecurity, AMLO replaced the Federal Police with a civilian National Guard that was later incorporated into the Ministry of Defense (Sedena). When Congress extended the army’s presence on the streets until 2028, it consolidated the militarization of Mexican public security. With only 12 months left, AMLO’s sexenio is on track to be the bloodiest in Mexico’s history, with 156,136 people murdered. Femicides continue to soar, and journalists, activists, candidates and other politicians face extreme levels of violence. During the last five years, 44,073 people have gone missing, which represents 40 percent of the 111,000 recorded disappearances in Mexico. While poverty decreased from 41.9 percent to 36.3 percent between 2018 and 2022, extreme poverty increased from 8.7 million people to 9.1 million during the same period. As of 2022, 50.4 million people lack access to health services, a 30 million increase since 2018. AMLO’s fiscal austerity has so far kept the economy afloat, but poor investments in health, education and addressing natural disasters climate change, his radical ideological fervor and his assaults on democratic institutions will impede accomplishing many of his aspirations.”

Omar García-Ponce, assistant professor of political science at The George Washington University: “President Andrés Manuel López Obrador began his administration promising to transform Mexico by reducing poverty and inequality, eradicating corruption and curbing violence. As his term enters its final year, AMLO’s performance in office reflects a mixed record. The Mexican economy has fallen short of the promised 4 percent annual growth, with less than 1 percent growth achieved. The Covid-19 pandemic posed a major challenge in this regard, but other global and domestic factors have also hindered economic progress. The persistence of public insecurity is one of the key obstacles to Mexico’s economic development. Homicide rates, though marginally decreasing, remain at strikingly high levels, averaging approximately 27 homicides per 100,000 people under AMLO’s administration. Although various infrastructure projects, including Mexico City’s new airport, the Mayan Train and the Tabasco oil refinery seek to bolster economic growth and job creation, skepticism looms as experts question their financial viability and potential for success. For example, the new airport hasn’t really taken off, the refinery isn’t fully operational and the train won’t be completed during his term. However, AMLO’s expansion of social programs has notably contributed to reducing poverty and inequality. Mexico’s poverty rate declined from 50 percent to 43.5 percent between 2018 and 2022, and the minimum wage has practically doubled in real terms. However, these social programs are not viable in the long term without a comprehensive tax reform, which AMLO has opposed.”

Rodrigo Abud, managing director at Panorama: “AMLO’s popularity remains stable, averaging approval ratings of approximately 57 percent over the last six months, according to El Financiero. However, his government’s track record varies by sector. In terms of social policy, the latest data from CONEVAL shows the number of people living in poverty was reduced to 36.3 percent, down from 41.9 percent in 2018. However, adversaries claim much of the government’s public spending in social programs has been at the expense of displacing other priorities like health or education. In terms of infrastructure, President López Obrador has been able to overcome social opposition around key strategic projects. By giving the army a leading role, he has been able to control the narrative and streamline execution. Both Mexico City’s new airport and the refinery in Tabasco have been inaugurated, and the third landmark project, ‘Tren Maya,’ is expected to be launched in December. Nevertheless, the projects’ operational utility is yet to be seen. On the economic front, the IMF estimates Mexico’s economy will grow 3.2 percent in 2023 and then contract by 2.1 percent in 2024. According to Banxico, the main factors preventing Mexico from reaching its growth are public insecurity and the absence of rule of law. With presidential elections due in June 2024, the government seems focused on avoiding any scandal that could hamper Morena’s chance of winning, as well as preserving the polarization narrative that has nurtured its political capital. Regardless of which political party wins Mexico’s presidency, it is critical to preserve a power balance between the executive, legislative and judicial powers.”

Alejandro Diaz Dominguez, professor of government at the Monterrey Institute of Technology: “In relation to the campaign pledges of President López Obrador, the economy has not exhibited the anticipated growth. However, there has not been a significant downturn attributable to the government’s management of the pandemic either. In the final year of his term, the federal government is projected to have a deficit of nearly five points, enabling the injection of funds into the economy, albeit potentially earmarked to some extent for the electoral cycle. Concerning corruption, pivotal measures center around austerity, resulting in reductions affecting essential goods and services required by various segments of the population on a daily basis. Examples include childcare centers, daycare facilities and the provision of medicines in second- and third-level hospitals. In terms of violence, this six-year tenure is poised to be the most violent in the country’s modern history, characterized by homicide rates akin to those in Mexico during the 1950s (29 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, five more than at the conclusion of President Felipe Calderón’s term). Furthermore, substantial strides in combating femicides do not seem to have been taken, given that nowadays 12 women are tragically murdered in Mexico daily (a figure nearing 10 at the beginning of this six-year term). A current imperative is expediting the relief and subsequent reconstruction phases in over half of Guerrero’s municipalities. Following the exceptionally swift formation of Hurricane Otis, it appears that the country has not implemented the necessary mitigation measures. Nevertheless, a very positive highlight in the presidential record is the issuance of unconditional cash transfers, both contributing to the welfare of the population and bolstering his popularity.”

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