MEXICO CITY – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador completed six months in power on Saturday with his popularity still strong but with the first resignations from his Cabinet, a crisis with the United States, and many security and economic problems.
But despite the troubles, surveys show that people continue to support the leftist leader of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), who on Dec. 1 was sworn in as president after winning an easy victory.
Six months after his inauguration, polls show a slight downturn. But he still enjoys great popularity – around 70 percent in favor – but lower than months before.
A convincing and repetitious rhetoric and the constant morning press conferences drive home a message that has taken hold among the citizens.
“As with every government, there are difficulties. But I must express my thanks because it has gone very well for us. I’m an optimist, but without triumphalism,” he said during his morning conference on May 29.
He said the worst thing was the tragic explosion of an oil pipeline during the gasoline robbery at Tlahuelilpan in Hidalgo state. “It pained me and it still pains me,” he said about the catastrophe that took 135 lives.
He asserted, however, that he and his “humanist” government managed to get Mexico out of the quagmire it was sunk in thanks to his predecessors.
Leftists and humanists against neoliberals and rapacious minorities. Truth against lies. Good and bad. These dichotomies have served the president well up to now, but the strategy seems to be faltering as doubts arise.
“The president still has a good image but he created such great expectations that he is now causing great disappointment,” Khemvirg Puente, political scientist and academic at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told EFE.
He promised to pacify the country, yet the violence has kept increasing even though 2018 was the year with the most murders in two decades.
In the first four months of this year, there have been 11,221 premeditated homicides, compared with 10,512 during the same period last year.
To stop the violence, the president created the very controversial National Guard, a security corps of soldiers, marines and police headed by a retired military officer. “This is way different from what he promised in the campaign,” Puente recalled.
Another pending task is “combating corruption,” one of the main pillars of his campaign.
While it is true that this term – together with “transparency” and “honesty” – is often repeated in his speeches, the truth is that despite specific actions taken, little has been done to stop the ripping off of the state.
“It is the most difficult matter and the least visible,” Carlos Elizondo, professor at the Government Technology School of Monterrey, told EFE.
The recent arrest of the owner of the important Altos Hornos de Mexico steel plant and the arrest warrant issued against the former director of Petroleos Mexicanos (Penex), Emilio Lozoya, are two examples of the fight against corruption.
But they come with a paradox. While the request for the arrest came from Pemex, the president always asked that the corruption be overlooked and the offender be given a new start.
Last comes a big problem with the economy. While the GNP dropped 0.2 percent between January and March compared with the previous quarter, Lopez Obrador continues to bet – and that’s the word he uses – that GNP will grow 2 percent this year and 4 percent annually across his six-year term.
Analysts, banks and international organizations think just the opposite. The Bank of Mexico itself reduced this week the growth forecast for 2019 to between 0.8 percent and 1.8 percent.
Nor do they think well of Lopez Obrador’s idea of relaunching the state oil company and building a refinery, while influential risk assessment agencies have lowered Pemex’s credit rating.
Added to these problems is the criticism coming the president’s way due to cuts in budget items like healthcare, putting the nation’s doctors against him.
The excessive control of spending and the “pernicious interference” of the Finance Ministry led to the resignation on May 21 of the head of the Mexican Social Security Institute, German Martinez.
A few days later, the secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Josefa Gonzalez Blanco, quit after admitting she ordered the delay of a commercial airline flight.
The first two resignations – and Lopez Obrador does not deny there might be more – are added to rumors of disputes among his closest Cabinet members. “There is real tension between moderates and radicals,” Puente said.
On top of all those challenges, this Thursday US President Donald Trump announced tariffs from 5 percent to 25 percent on all Mexican products as punishment for failing to halt the growing flood of migrants arriving at the US border.
Apparently serene, Lopez Obrador asked for “dialogue” and even seemed confident that, with the diplomacy of a team that is already in Washington, the Republican will be “corrected.”
Despite this call of calm and the wide support for the Mexican president, the stock market and the Mexican peso have reacted negatively.
A new problem, perhaps the most dangerous of all, threatens the image of Lopez Obrador.