Presidents in any country tend to have criticism piled upon them the longer they are in office. Such is the case with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

People who are angered or surprised at AMLO’s policies should not be, as he fully revealed where he was coming from in the two previous presidential campaigns he unsuccessfully ran before winning the office in 2018. AMLO is a blend of quirkiness and populism.

One of his slogans of the 2012 campaign that summed up his security policy was, “Abrazos, no balazos.” (Hugs, not bullets.) This also described the way he approached the drug war in Mexico. He openly states that he does not want to fight the drug cartels with force, believing it will trigger more violence. For this approach, he has been severely criticized as essentially allowing Mexico’s notorious drug cartels to have free rein in the country.

After losing the 2006 campaign, his followers proclaimed him the legitimate president of Mexico. He proceeded to form his own cabinet and attempt to establish his own government, which ultimately failed. After losing the 2012 campaign, AMLO claimed widespread voter fraud and illegal movements of money by Enrique Peña Nieto, the eventual winner. AMLO and his followers protested all over Mexico and were a severe disruption to life in the capital, Mexico City.

During the early stages of the pandemic, AMLO downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19. He held meetings and rallies without being masked and not respecting the social distancing doctors and disease experts have called for. Many Mexicans blame his lackadaisical attitude as the reason he caught the virus in January.

After recovering, he refused to wear a mask, insisting that his doctors told him he was no longer contagious after catching the virus.

When asked whether he should be setting an example for Mexicans to wear masks, he refused to answer the question. It is estimated that Mexico has lost nearly 200,000 people to COVID-19, the third highest total in the world.

Mexico now finds itself one of the least vaccinated large countries in the world. The vaccine supplies it has managed to procure have come from Russia and China. President Joe Biden recently decided to share 2.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with Mexico, and the first 1.5 million doses have arrived. Coincidentally, Mexico then started cracking down on Central Americans crossing into Mexico with the goal of eventually reaching the U.S. Many people viewed this action cynically, especially coming from a world leader who was one of the last to recognize President Biden’s presidential victory.

In an effort to revitalize its slumping and antiquated energy sector, Mexico passed energy reform laws in 2013 and 2014. This was hailed as a milestone that would attract badly-needed foreign investment to bring efficiencies and modernization to various energy sectors. In retrospect, energy reform is regarded as one of the successes of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency. Economists throughout the world viewed this as a step for Mexico to improve infrastructure throughout the country.

AMLO has openly railed against Mexico’s energy reform and has accused private companies and foreign governments of robbing Mexico through this new policy. He is now seeking to roll back the reforms to exert stronger federal government control over Mexico’s state-owned electricity company and to dissuade further foreign investment in Mexico’s energy sector. His actions are receiving strong opposition from Mexicans and foreigners.

Even more hard-hitting is AMLO’s recent proposed law that threatens to close, or at the very least weaken, privately owned gasoline stations, which Mexico started allowing five years ago. He is accusing them of importing foreign fuels without paying taxes. If his proposed law passes, these private stations could be taken over by PEMEX, the national petroleum company.

During his campaigns, AMLO spoke strongly against the fact that Mexico imports so much of its refined fuels. In that country of nearly 130 million people, with some of the largest petroleum reserves in the world, only six refineries exist. Contrast that to the 135 refineries operating in the U.S. Many see his attack on private gas stations as a way to cut off the importation of foreign fuels and a path to building more refineries that produce national fuel. To do this, Mexico most likely will need the foreign investment that AMLO is seeking to dissuade in its energy sector.

If anything, AMLO is a president who throughout his political career has not substantially changed his stripes. His mix of quirkiness and populism has been present since the beginning.

Many argue that his policies threaten to reverse positive changes that Mexico has painstakingly achieved over the past few decades. Whether this occurs depends on what AMLO’s policies accomplish before he leaves office at the end of 2024.


Jerry Pacheco is executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a trade counseling and training program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network.

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