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News > Latin America

What's Left of AMLO's New Hope For Mexico?

  • Mexico's President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City, July 22, 2018.

    Mexico's President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City, July 22, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 September 2018

Before winning the elections, Lopez Obrador published a book with his vision for Mexico. Has victory changed it?

;On July 1, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won Mexico's presidential elections on a platform promising a break-up with the mainstream parties that have ruled since the establishment of modern democracy.


AMLO: Window of Opportunity Against 40 Years of Neoliberalism in Mexico?

Shortly before his landslide victory, he published a book titled 'A New Hope for Mexico,' containing his essays and speeches. Through lucid critiques and political program that’s sometimes concrete and sometimes vague, the book is an insight into the narrative that led him to becoming president-elect.

This was the third time he had run for president. In 2006, he lost by a very small margin to right-wing hardliner Felipe Calderon, and in 2012 to Enrique Peña Nieto.

The last two administrations, of the National Action Party (PAN) and the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), were disasters of such magnitude that both parties crumbled. Lopez Obrador’s new party, the National Renewal Movement (Morena), emerged as the main political force afterwards.

Over 12 years, Lopez Obrador visited every municipality in Mexico, some more than once, on a kind of permanent campaign. Being a smart politician, his discourse changed over time, showing more ‘moderate’ and ‘conciliatory’ positions, a turn that many on the left regret but others welcomed.

The book was first published in 2017 in two parts: '2018: La Salida' (2018: The Exit) and 'Oye, Trump' (Hey, Trump). The first is a collection of essays tracing the root of Mexico’s problems to corruption and neoliberalism, and proposing a new political and economical model fthat even suggests a spiritual approach. The second are his transcribed speeches from events in border towns and the United States, appealing to the immigrant community after Donald Trump was elected president.

By quoting the titans recognized by Mexican historiography and literates of all epochs, such as Jose Marti and Carlos Fuentes, combined with a leftist narrative, Lopez Obrador appeals to both a sector of society that’s fed up with the traditional technocrat politician and lower classes of society that want to improve their quality of life.

At some point, he summarizes his ideas as “our migrants and our country deserve better.”


For Lopez Obrador, the main problem in Mexico's politics and society is the corruption inherent to the neoliberal system imposed since the 1980s, which privatized most public enterprises. He writes a clear modern history of corruption in the country, comparing the latest period of economic liberalization with that of Porfirio Diaz's dictatorship (1877-1911), in terms of looting and tyranny in the name of progress, and not leaving aside the aftermath of the revolution.

He cites recent, worrying cases of corruption and cronyism, tracing networks of businesspeople and politicians working for their own benefit at the expense of most Mexicans. He’s not making things up or revealing new information, he’s just summarizing well-known cases benefiting from generalized impunity.

AMLO promised his government will help those affected by the 2017 earthquakes, after the current government abandoned them. Juchitan, Oaxaca. September 19, 2018. Photo | EFE

But besides goodwill, Lopez Obrador presents no concrete plan to end corruption, a point often criticized in Mexico. The president-elect says his honest ways will set an example through the whole political hierarchy. And regarding those corrupt politicians that he specifically mentions in the book, he would rather forgive them.

“I want to say to the powerful elites that despite the harm they have done to our country, we emphatically assert that what we need is justice, not revenge,” he writes.

All this has been carefully framed in Lopez Obrador’s narrative, drawing from classic Mexican historiography. He draws a parallel between his own political tolerance and that of Francisco I. Madero, one of the leaders of the 1910 revolution, for politicians associated with the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, to give an example.

But not only has AMLO awkwardly announced he won’t prosecute politicians, including President Peña Nieto (with whom he seems to have a great relationship now), but he also won’t backtrack on any privatization processes he so harshly criticized in the past.

The president-elect had to compromise on many things in order to reach his current position. Privatization processes won’t be touched, because there’s not much left to privatize anyway. The corrupt won’t be chased, and many supporters of Morena have been disappointed as the party accepts politicians with shady records within its lines.


The corruption schemes described have prevented several development projects from being carried out, according to Lopez Obrador. Stopping them would provide the country with enough funds to flourish.

In speeches given at border towns or deep inside the United States, Lopez Obrador addresses a decades-old reality: immigration.

The president-elect sees it as a natural phenomenon, but would like people to emigrate out of personal preference rather than necessity. In sum, he would like to provide more economic opportunities to prevent further mass migrations.

To do so, he includes economic reforms some may see as necessary, but others are more like the liberalism many are trying to escape.

Women embrace through the border fence during the "Interfaith Service for Justice and Mercy at the Border" to demand the U.S. government end the separation of immigrant children from their parents, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, September 7, 2018. Photo | Reuters

His development plans include building two new refineries on the Gulf of Mexico to reduce gas imports, lower the price of energy and recover energy sovereignty; planting a million hectares of timber and fruit trees in the southeast; expanding tourism in the Caribbean and Mayan and Olmeca archeological zones; creating an economic and commercial corridor in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec; expanding the ports of Salina Cruz and Coatzacoalcos and creating a train line for shipping containers between them.

Some of these areas also enjoy Special Economic Zone status, aiming at attracting investment through economic incentives, which he says he wants to expand.

His development plan is aimed at “reactivating” production on these lands and integrating highly marginalized communities into the mainstream economy. Even though that represents great investment opportunities for the economic elite, many in the regions are not happy with the idea.

His proposals are based on the idea that pristine forests are unproductive, and that must be corrected. In order to do so, the million hectares of “unproductive land” will produce timber, fruits and pastures. In this plan, based on a linear development and progress concept, nothing will be left unused.

“A central priority for the new government will be the development of the southeast, which for centuries has suffered the paradox of being rich in resources (petroleum, gas, water, biodiversity, cultural heritage, tourist potential),” writes Lopez Obrador, “but whose population lives in poverty due to inadequate distribution of wealth.”

Indigenous communities are already rejecting the projects. To deal with rejection, Lopez Obrador has also promised to implement and respect the San Andres Accords, which guarantee the right of Indigenous peoples to decide their own fate. They were first reached between the PRI and the National Liberation Zapatista Army (EZLN) but were never implemented, as the government thought they would give the communities too much power.

These projects were planned by Lopez Obrador and his team without consulting local populations, and the president-elect hopes that including them as shareholders and giving them voice in decision-making will be enough to convince them. But the mechanisms to do so have not been designed, and there will be certainly a number of unsolvable conflicts between development perspectives.

A good example is that of the New International Airport of Mexico City (NAICM). During his long campaign, Lopez Obrador promised multiple times to cancel the construction of the airport, currently being built on top of a lake at the expense of the local population and the environment. In the book, he reaffirms the necessity to cancel its construction and adapt the Santa Lucia military airbase instead, which he says would be more environmentally friendly and save up to 100 billion pesos (US$5.4 billion).

Construction site of the New International Airport of Mexico City at the Texcoco lakeside. March 14, 2018. Photo | EFE

But a discussion with Carlos Slim, one of the airport’s main investors and once the richest man in the world, made him think twice. Now, Lopez Obrador wants to submit the project to popular consultation and has promised there will an open, public debate to address the issue.

As expected, the team of investigators he commissioned to find out if the airport on top of the lake is viable has green-lighted the project, and the economic elites keep repeating that “taking a political decision instead of a technical one would be disastrous for the new administration and confidence of investors.” Lopez Obrador has not taken a final decision, but it seems like his team is already leaning towards one even before the consultation takes place.

The people of Atenco and those who inhabit the Texcoco lakeside have been resisting the airport since it was first announced 15 years ago. They are not recognized as an Indigenous people, as they lost their language, but they’re fighting for recognition. They keep their festivities and traditional political organization, which is considered enough by legislation. In case the corresponding authorities decide to recognize them as an Indigenous people, that would add a whole other dimension to Lopez Obrador’s problem.


This is part of a new national ideological project that will be promoted by AMLO, which he calls the ‘República Amorosa’ (Benevolent Republic), a concept he has developed in the latest years of his long, unofficial presidential campaign. It reveals that the ‘4th transformation of Mexico’ will not only be political, but spiritual, aiming to form a new society from its roots. He summarizes it as a “a new mode of living based on love for family, our fellow citizens, nature, our country, and humanity… pushing back against the cult of individualism, which neglects the values that equate well-being with the collective good.”

In the book, Lopez Obrador goes on citing the Bible (“Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”), drawing from Confucius (“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”), Buddha (“If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts, happiness follows them like a never-departing shadow.”) and Aristotle (“Political science spends most of its efforts on making the citizens to be of a certain character, that is, good and capable of noble acts.”).

Those elements would constitute Mexico’s new ‘moral constitution’, which will be written collectively with the help of “philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and others who have something meaningful to contribute: Indigenous elders, teachers, parents, young people, writers, poets, businessmen, activists, people of all religious backgrounds, freethinkers, and atheists.”

Such moral constitution will then be promoted as a political campaign in schools, at home, on radio, T.V. and social media. It has not started yet, but it has already become the trademark of his future administration.

However good intentions the Benevolent Republic might have, the ‘conciliation’ it proposes has angered many. During meetings with the next Secretary of Interior Olga Sanchez Cordero, relatives and friends of missing and murdered people have expressed multiple times their rejection of the proposed ‘amnesty’ (sometimes Lopez Obrador says it’s an amnesty, sometimes he denies it) to criminals.

Lopez Obrador receives documents from relatives of missing persons during the Second Pacification and Reconciliation Forum, in Mexico City, September 14, 2018. Photo | Reuters

Also, the ‘conciliation’ is perceived as Morena’s amnesty towards repentant politicians that have jumped into its lines from PRI, PAN, PRD and the Ecologist Green Party, known for their blatant corruption.

The new ‘moral constitution’ allows it because it serves as a ‘start-over’ for the political establishment. A tabula rasa for the corrupt, a new chance to build political relations within a reforming system. Out of it might come a new pact, or it could the same with a different name.


The president-elect made many promises during his long campaign, but politics in Mexico are an intricate net of interests and economic groups that has to be worked out. Even though he has disappointed many by, say, leaving the military on the streets instead of taking them back to the barracks as promised, his government will still comply with some of the proposals.

Lopez Obrador won’t be sworn in until December 1, but the legislative chambers were renovated in September and he enjoys a majority, which gives Morena a relative absolute power.

He is still planning on backtracking the controversial education reform, which he says “serves to eliminate public school teachers through incessant evaluations and the privatization of education,” besides justifying “arbitrary cuts to education funding” under the pretext of improving the education system. This was one of the most controversial reforms of Peña Nieto’s administration, but Morena might be able to dismantle it in relatively short time.

Also, his team already formalized the request to bring back to the country the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), which left in 2016 after refuting the government's narrative on the Ayotzinapa case. The presence of the GIEI represents a key component in the search for truth on the controversial events of September 26, 2014.

Besides this specific case, Lopez Obrador has engaged in talks with relatives of missing people and has promised his best efforts to conclude investigations, including working with the  U.N. and creating a 'truth commission.' We're yet to see how this evolves.

But reducing their own salaries was not something his lawmakers’ team was fond of. As soon as they took their seats in the House of Representatives, they said this reform would have to wait and didn’t give any date. Lopez Obrador did cut his salary by 40 percent and his team is indeed promoting a new reform to make every public servant earn less than him, but representatives already officially earn less than him so the law doesn’t necessarily affect them.

Already backtracking about some of his most important campaign promises, such as cancelling the NAICM, barely weeks after Morena took over the legislative branch, we’re yet to see how the administration starts when he takes office.

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