By RICARDO CASTILLO
Among the top achievements that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) managed to accomplish and pass through Congress during his first 100 days, as noted in the address he delivered on Monday, March 11, at the National Palace in Mexico City are three laws:
- The Law of Eminent Domain, which gives the federal government the authority and right to confiscate the fortunes and assets of drug traffickers and organized gangsters.
- The laws to criminalize official corruption, fuel theft and electoral fraud.
- The National Guard (GN), an official federal police force made up initially by circa 80,000 active military personnel and federal police, which should be approved this very week.
These, by the way, are not the only pieces of legislation that have been enacted since the president’s party, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), came into power, not on Dec. 1, when AMLO was sworn in, but on Sept. 1. when Congress took office.
There were important moves made by AMLO which he did not even bother to pass through Congress. One was the cancellation of the New International Mexico Airport (NAIM), which he announced last October and caused a noisy political uproar from all affected parties, a lot more than one would have imagined. AMLO stood his ground and did away with this already-underway construction, claiming that in the end it would cost more to maintain it than the financial benefit it could offer due to the fact that the ground at Lake Texcoco has hundreds of meters of silt that it has accumulated over thousands of years and the more weight you put on top, the more it sinks.
But the most controversial piece of legislation the president’s team in Congress managed to finally get approved was no doubt the National Guard. There was open opposition even from the United Nations, but the bill finally went through nearly unanimously after amending 13 Constitutional articles to make the military fit into a civilian interdiction force.
In practice, the National Guard is to exist over the next five years. During this time, all military personnel (Army and Navy, mostly) will be slowly replaced by civilians stemming out of universities. Physically, the National Guard will be distributed nationwide in 266 stations and will have intelligence and firepower to bring under control the myriad of brutal gangs now beleaguering Mexican society through kidnappings, robbery and drug-trafficking and many other serious crimes.
The big debate in Congress to get the National Guard approved was over who would be the top command. AMLO originally wanted a professional military specialist to head the GN, but many a legislator opposed the idea. After much discussion, it was agreed that the GN would have a civilian command and that it would not be run by the National Defense Secretariat. Thus, the GN is to have a civilian command and by headed by the Secretariat for Security and Citizens’ Protection.
That being now a done deal, there have been other moves that have created mild revolts against AMLO’s “impositions,” such as the announcement that he was suspending the financing to thousands of childcare facilities and awarding the monies that had been allocated to them directly to parents.
Along with that came the decision to freeze all fund transfers to non-government organizations that looked after women and underaged victims of abuse. AMLO’s argument was that the great majority of these organizations were inflating costs – through a mock registration of victims – and pocketing the funds. Though protests abounded, nobody could prove AMLO to the contrary.
López Obrador was accused by political adversaries and dozens of media columnists of abandoning the most vulnerable population, but AMLO responded that these allegations were “an invention” of his political foes since at no moment did the government proposed suspending victims’ protection. The move, he assured them, was to allocate the resources without middlemen and thus avoid potential acts of corruption.
Surely, debate over these decisions will continue beyond the first 100 days AMLO completed on Sunday, March 10. Many of the mostly women in charge of the daycare centers are crying “foul” and won’t let up any time soon. No doubt, that will be an issue to follow up on at the end of the president’s second 100 in office.
Among the myriad of other subjects AMLO touched on during his 50-minute address to some 200 guests were the state of the national economy, responding to what many an economist who doesn’t like AMLO’s leftwing financial approach by saying that “there’s not even a hint of an economic recession.” AMLO pledged to maintain sound government economics during his entire six-year mandate.
“Fortunately, the economy is marching on,” he said. “Growth is still small, but there’s no sign of a recession as our conservative adversaries would have it or as their ill-intentioned analysts predict. They will see their desires unfulfilled.”
Once again, AMLO promised there would be no further fuel price hikes — known as “gasolinazos” in popular slang — and that, in the near future, “there will be adjustments to keep our word of not increasing in real terms the price of fuels.”
Another potential victim of the prophets of doom was the peso-dollar parity, which AMLO’s critics predicted would “shoot up to the sky.” On the contrary, AMLO reported that, during his first 100 days, the peso has revalued by 4 percent in relation to the dollar, while inflation dropped from 5.9 to 4.4 percent and, of course, he touted the fact that consumer confidence has risen by 120 points.
Furthermore, supermarkets reported an increase of 2.5 percent in January sales and AMLO said that his objective is — as his campaign promise was — to push for a 4 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth by the end of his six-year term in 2024.
“I accept this challenge because there is trust among national and foreign investors,” he said.
On a separate issue, AMLO recalled that when he took office, many people feared that there would be a furious clash between him and U.S. President Donald Trump. None of that happened, he said, “and our relations have been cordial,” underscoring the fact that, in this period, Trump has toned down his rhetoric against Mexicans as “that accusatory rough language is no longer in use, but rather we have a permanent diplomacy and communication.”
To close, it must be said that during a Monday morning newscast immediately previous to AMLO’s100 days report, many media released the results of polls with the president’s rating at its lowest at 67 percent popularity and its highest at 88 percent.
In short, the idea that an awesome “commie” was coming to govern Mexico, a perception which former Presidents Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto had come up with to instill fear among voters, had not materialized, and certainly AMLO will implement in the near future his own brand of populism, without jumping the gun.