On July 1, 2018, Mexican voters went to the polls to choose their leader. The presidential candidate of the National Regeneration Movement (or Movimiento Regeneración Nacional in Spanish), Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is set to be the new president.
Born in 1953, the first of seven children, López Obrador went into politics in the late 1970s. In 2000, he was elected mayor of Mexico City, the capital of the country. He participated in the presidential campaigns of 2006, when he was defeated by the narrow margin of 0.56 percentage points, and 2012.
What are the challenges for the new government? Quite a few, both internally and externally.
Internally, President López Obrador needs to pay attention to the economy. For Mexico and any other country, the economy always matters. According to the World Bank, thanks to depressed investment, gross domestic product growth slowed to 2 percent in 2017. But annual inflation rose to 6.8 percent by the end of 2017, the highest in 16 years.
In order to stimulate economic growth, President López Obrador must attract more foreign and domestic investment. However, his image as a populist left-winger so far is counterproductive. Therefore, he needs to prove that he is a pro-market pragmatic leader.
Economic development is not only important for Mexico, but also for other countries in Latin America. As the second largest economy in the region, Mexico has a tremendous impact on the region.
Latin Americans will not forget that Mexico’s two crises, the debt crisis in 1982 and the currency crisis in 1994, had an enormous contagion effect, the so-called “Tequila effect,”, on other countries in the region. Tequila is a type of alcoholic drink made from agave.
How to improve citizen safety or public security is another headache for the new government. According to some news reports, one person was murdered every twenty minutes in Mexico in May 2017, the highest monthly murder rate recorded in 20 years.
There are quite a few root causes for the terrible social situation, and one of them is related to uncontrolled illegal drug trafficking. Mexico’s geographical advantage creates an ideal passage for the narcotics going from the Andean countries to the US. Drug cartels “export” illegal drugs to the US and “import” weapons from there, making it easier for them to kill police and innocent people.
It is believed that drug-related deaths have cost the country an estimated 200,000 lives over the last decade. Sometimes, newspapers published in the border cities near the US use this kind of headline on the front page: “No One killed Yesterday.”
Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) fought against the drug cartels in an aggressive and hawkish way, leading to intensified resistance and retaliation by these organizations and higher death rates for the gang members, police and ordinary people.
Whether or not the President López Obrador will take a similar position against the narcotics gangs is unknown. It was reported that, in the campaign, he said that he wants to grant forgiveness to or consider an amnesty for the drug dealers. “If it is necessary … we will talk about granting amnesty so long as the victims and their families are willing,” he said.
It is unlikely that President López Obrador will agree to give a cent to Trump. In March 2017, he filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against President Trump’s building of the border wall as well as his administration’s treatment of immigrants.
But President López Obrador must face the reality of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the US and Canada. He was reported to say that NAFTA was “a bad deal for Mexico.”
It is improbable that President López Obrador will kill NAFTA renegotiation, whose first round of talks started on August 16, 2017. However, it is likely that Mexico under his leadership might take a stiff position vis-à-vis the US, making it more difficult to reach a compromise among the three partners.
President López Obrador was reported to say that he would make President Trump “see reason.” It is believed that his intention to hit back at Trump’s bullying against Mexico won him extra voters.
Mexicans and outside watchers will see what will happen in the next six years.
Externally, the greatest urgency for President López Obrador is to deal with the US. In his campaign, Donald Trump said that Mexicans coming to the US were bringing drugs and crimes. He even added that they are rapists. “And some, I assume, are good people,” Trump said.
The border between Mexico and the US is 1,933 miles long. Around 700 miles is already protected by the fence and some sections do not need a man-built barrier due to natural barriers. In order to keep away illegal migrants, Trump said in his campaign that a 40-feet-high wall will be built on the border and Mexico should pay for the huge cost of its construction.