By RICARDO CASTILLO
Like whirlwind, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) took the nation by storm in December, outlining the shape of things to come in Mexico during 2019.
AMLO was anything but contemplative during his first month in office. To begin with, he held 20 hour-long press conferences to explain either what he had done the the day before or what he would be doing on that day. He also traveled – via commercial flights – to 10 different cities and states in the republic, either to thank crowds for their vote and electing him president or to announce new or continued regional projects affecting them.
He also attended several swearing-in ceremonies of state governors and had weekly meetings with his National Regeneration Movement (Morena) political party peers to outline the passage of legislation pertinent to his government programs.
And as promised, he met daily at 6 a.m. at National Palace downtown Mexico City with his security cabinet, which includes the Defense and Navy secretaries, as well as with his Security secretary and the mastermind behind the new National Guard police corps, Alfonso Durazo.
AMLO is calling his mandate “The Fourth Transformation,” alleging that, historically, the nation underwent three previous transformations, starting with 1857 and 1917 Constitutions, as well as the advent of democracy with the election of President Francisco I. Madero in 1910, toppling “democratically constituted” dictator Porfirio Díaz. Madero, who was felled through a military coup allegedly masterminded at the U.S. Embassy in 1912, is seen by AMLO as the father of Mexican democracy.
During his first month, AMLO was not without a highly volatile and confrontational tragedy in which, he said during his New Year’s message, he had nothing to do with, directly referring to the helicopter crash in the state of Puebla which left Governor Martha Erika Alonso and her husband and also former Puebla State Governor Rafael Moreno Valle dead in what was indeed the darkest day AMLO has faced so far. He was directly blamed by some National Action Party (PAN) leaders for the chopper crash. The social media hashtag #AMLOasesino made a major dent on his sensibility.
In a video recorded in his farm near the majestic Palenque Maya ruins, AMLO told the nation on Monday, Dec. 31:
“Not all has been easy, not all has been happiness … The accident in which the governor of Puebla and her husband, plus three more persons, was not agreeable at all. But to shoo away suspicions of all kinds, I made the commitment to have an indepth investigation, an independent one, as already specialists from Canada and the United States are doing their own investigations to find out the reasons why the helicopter plummeted.”
That was his worst moment during December, and left no doubt that, although he’s still backed by a meaningful majority in the polls and both houses of Congress, AMLO remains a controversial figure. Still, those 53 percent of the voters that brought him to the presidency last July 1 are in contrast with the splintered remaining 47 percent of the vote. There’s no inbetween for Mexicans when it comes to AMLO: Either they love him or the hate him.
But still, as he put it for all those who did not vote for him and hate his guts exponentially, calling him all sorts of nice nicknames: “The reign of power is in my hands.” That was a clear message, both to the hefty number of opponents who detest him and to business leaders who want to boss him around.
In his message, he also told the nation that he hopes to carry out his electoral promises, “both with wisdom and humility.”
As for the specific plans that will get underway as of now, he announced them on a regional basis and with the participation of all the state governors involved in the corresponding regiosn.
For the Mexican southeast, which involves the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo, as well as Veracruz, he announced three major projects: First, the construction of a brand new oil refinery at Dos Bocas, Tabasco; second, the revival of the old 1940 1,500-kilometer-long, one-track railroad line through the states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Chiapas and Campeche; and third, another revival, the forever-failed Trans-Tehuantepec Isthmus industrial corridor uniting the Pacific at Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, and the Gulf of Mexico at Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. Those three projects alone are sufficient to keep the nation on its toes. Each of the three projects will be scrutinized on specifics in future Pulse News Mexico reports.
For the northern U.S. border six-state region, AMLO has announced a wide program making it fully into a free-trade zone, hiking the minimum wage to nearly double of what it was on Jan. 1 throughout the rest of the nation. The regular Mexico minimum wage has been raised by 16.21 percent to 102.68 pesos a day, while at the border free zone – where most of the labor intensive maquiladora (in-bond) industries are located – the previous minimum wage of 88.36 pesos will be doubled up to 176.72 pesos for an eight-hour day of labor.
For the Mexico City area, the construction of the New International Airport of Mexico (NAIM) is still very much an issue. AMLO said last Oct. 30 that he would cancel the $13 billion project. But those were days in which he did not have “the reign of power” in his hands, and now that he has it, he’s learning the hard way that it is easier said than done. The number of legal financial commitments made by billionaire contractor Carlos Slim and previous Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto are many and not easily undone.
During mid-December, Carlos Slim, who is still at the helm of the project, ordered construction companies building the airport foundations to continue providing funds to last at least until Easter. In practice, Slim has all the legal contracts to continue construction, but on the other hand, AMLO insists on developing a new airport at the old Santa Lucía Air Force Base, just north of Mexico City. It’s not mentioned in the press, but perhaps we’re witnessing an arm-wrestling match between Slim and AMLO. Definitely, it’s a worthwhile power struggle that is currently stalemated and we should keep an eye over how it progresses during the start the year.
Definitely, this is not the end of AMLO’s projects not just for 2019, but for the six years ahead, during which he is committed to delivering them through inevitable financial and political gales to safe ports. But their coverage gives us a glimpse of the fact that AMLO is serious, he is in command and that even in the midst of a tempest the boat is stable. The proof of the pudding is that the main gauge for the economy, the peso-dollar parity, has stabilized at around 20 pesos per dollar.
But for now, let’s celebrate one more year of life. Happy New Year!