Photo: Traditional flags Source: Unsplash/Filip Gielda
On July 1, 2018, Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected as President of Mexico in a landslide election, winning over 53% of votes. His victory has proven to be a win for the Mexican left that have been in the shadow of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the party which ruled the country for most of the past century.
At the beginning of each year, either on the 5th or 6th January, Mexican families gather together and “partir rosca”, a tradition that originates from the Spaniards, where you break a certain round sweetbread. As I went across the Atlantic to visit my family during the holidays, I was there when we were to part the bread.
On the way to the bakery in the car to buy the rosca with my “tía”, the Spanish word for aunt that can include basically everyone from your actual aunt to your grandmother’s cousin, the topic of the current leftist president came up. As the first radical left-wing president in Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly referred to as AMLO, is known to create headlines not least through his public press conferences every weekday morning.
During our conversation, some of the most pressing political issues in Mexico arose. We discuss the great segregation between societal classes, in which people either live very well, well or not, which shapes Mexico today. We discuss the farmers that cultivate drugs in order to get a higher income so that they can live better lives and get paid well as suppliers since the demand on the other side of the northern border is strong and has a great impact on the political landscape. The US demand leads to a high rate of drugs circulating, which, in turn, is leading to criminality and gang violence that results in murders and crime. We discuss the high risks that come with working in the press because gangs do not want journalists to report their actions. This has resulted in Mexico being the deadliest country for journalists in 2019 according to the World Press Freedom Index. We discuss the refugees that hope to cross the US-Mexican border who travel from South and Central America but often end up not being able to cross, being detained or being displaced in the northern parts of Mexico without any means of traveling back home or entering the US. Lastly, we discuss political corruption.
With Mexico’s troubled institutions, the country is not easy to govern, though AMLO is hardly a newcomer to the political landscape of Mexico. Oil, wealth, poverty and corruption are all central to Mexican politics. Growing up in the state of Tabasco, with a middle class background, presented him with one sole option: the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Where he grew up, no industry was present, neither were there any institutions other than those the PRI controlled, nor was there a real bourgeoisie. His background has given him a nationalistic viewpoint as well as an understanding of the situation of the lower classes. In the 1970s, he studied political science at university. His political career began locally in Tabasco and later developed. He ran for president two times before he succeeded on his third try. Before that, AMLO served PRI as a mayor in a federal district. In 2014, he founded the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, shortened MORENA, with which he won the presidential election in 2018.
AMLO describes his presidency as the fourth transformation of Mexico – the first being independence from the Spaniards, the second being the reformation and the third being the Mexican revolution. He wishes to end the war on drugs, end corruption, create better prerequisites for groups in need, such as unemployed youths and the elderly, reverse Mexico’s economically-planned oil decline and fight social and racial inequality. Although he wishes to make vast changes to Mexico, AMLO has claimed that he will not raise taxes.
With big promises to live up to, AMLO has a lot to prove. Under AMLO, the first ever Mexican cabinet with the same amount of females and males has been appointed. He has declared Mexico a humanitarian state that will welcome refugees from the south that cannot enter the US. On the other hand, he has set up a special police force by the southern border to prevent refugees from crossing the border between Guatemala and Mexico. He has further granted political asylum to Bolivian left-wing president Evo Morales in breach of the leading foreign policy doctrine “doctrina estrada” from the 1930 Treaty on Non-Intervention.
As Mexico’s self-proclaimed Robin Hood, he also tried to sell a luxurious Dreamliner bought by the previous president Enrique Peña Nieto and put the money into anti-poverty programs. The sale of the plane has been unsuccessful and maintenance costs have resulted in a $1.5m bill. Regarding further airfare, AMLO has prohibited his cabinet from flying in government-owned jets resulting in the sales of thirty-nine helicopters and thirty-three smaller jets. He is leading his cabinet by his own example, as he flies tourist class on regular commercial flights. AMLO has been criticised for not showing enough results but this does not seem to share this view when it comes to social reforms.
Through the window, I observe the surroundings. We drive past several taquerias, selling tacos al pastor, Mexican shawarma, large chunks of meat on rotating metal bars with a piece of pineapple at the bottom. The dish was originally introduced by the large Lebanese colony in Mexico that has since been ‘Mexicanised’. The scent of tacos seeps through the open windows of the car and mixes with the heat and exhaust gases from the heavy Mexican traffic. In the taquerias, people of all societal classes sit on plastic chairs by tables with waxed tablecloths covered with floral patterns. The taco unites the people. Everyone pays the same. Everyone gets the same. Everyone leaves satisfied. Is AMLO trying to do the same and be the political symbol of the accessible taco al pastor in each Mexican household? Let us hope that AMLO will not be for Mexico what Hugo Chávez was for Venezuela.