Mexicans try to keep faith in populist president
Violence, economy worry many, but hope Lopez Obrador will rescue them
JUAN ALDAMA, Mexico — The human exodus here reached new heights over the summer as entire families hightailed it out of this once booming agricultural valley. They headed north in search of safety, away from violence, and far away from a nation grappling with the latest broken promises.
“There are some communities — rancherias — that simply cleared out,” and headed for the U.S., says Adan Flores, 22, a university student who traveled this region in the central state of Zacatecas as part of his field work as a psychology major. “We thought political change would automatically usher in a new country, but that hasn’t been the case so far. Many people are leaving.”
Flores was referring to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s promise to turn back the tide of poverty, corruption and violence in Mexico. But AMLO’s promise of a grand Fourth Transformation — fourth after the 1810 independence uprising, political reforms of the Benito Juarez era in the mid-1800s and the Mexican Revolution of 191017 — is facing deep obstacles as the violence instead grows and the economy gradually slows.
In nearby Cuencame, Durango, Jose Guadalupe Sanchez, 62, in straw hat and leather sandals, sells beeffilled gorditas with potato and green chili to hungry passengers riding on a myriad of buses heading north and south on Mexican Highway 45, known as La Panamericana.
“I still believe AMLO will rescue us from poverty,” Sanchez said of the president. “We just need to be patient and don’t give up. He has good intentions.”
The bustling highway offers a picturesque journey that underscores Mexico’s beauty — lush valleys, low hanging clouds that seem to touch rain-soaked, green hills. But it’s also a sobering reminder of the ills that still haunt the country: The Cartel Jalisco New Generation is fighting for control of the coveted freeway to transport illicit drugs and control the flow of migrants. It’s just another battleground for the endless bloodshed being carried out by rival cartels.
Sanchez makes the sign of the cross with a few pesos he’s collected so far on this day and explains: “I did think we would be better off by now, but the price of food is going up, the number of people killed is increasing. That’s worrisome.”
In interviews along Highway 45 from Mexico City to Durango, Mexican sentiments ranged from cautious optimism to dimming hope about the future.
Promised changes by Mexico’s first left-leaning president in decades have proven to be as elusive as those made by his predecessors.
They also reveal ominous signs of things to come, as support for the populist AMLO erodes and a slowdown in the economy leads to quiet anxiety.
“I’m worried that everything is going up, like corn,” said Josefina Martinez Perez, 78, who operates a corn-on-the-cob stand in Mexico City. “As someone who’s poor, I worry about every peso and I’m running out of pesos. He’s still my choice, but let’s get going: Move the country forward.”
Lopez Obrador swept into office with a landslide victory of 53 percent of the vote, boasting of strong majorities in both houses of congress. His approval rating is still strong, but fell to 61 percent from 66 percentin the second quarter of the year, according to a national GEA-ISA poll released last month.
“I don’t think AMLO supporters have actual regrets,” said Carlos Bravo, a political commentator and analyst. “But I’m sure a rising number of them are dealing with gradual disappointment.”
Crime is on the rise and the economy is teetering on recession, both issues looming as threats to Lopez Obrador’s ambitious plans for his much-touted “transformation” of the country’s society and politics.
Safety concerns run through swaths of the country. Homicides increased 3.3 percent during the first eight months of the year to 23,063 from 22,316 last year, according to recently released data from the federal government. The rate is on pace to set a new record, surpassing last year’s numbers when investigators opened more than 33,000 murder probes, up from an estimated 25,000 in 2017, according to the Interior Ministry.
The homicides include 13 journalists, triggering criticism from nonprofit organizations, including Periodistas de a Pie, which has documented more than 225 attacks against journalists in the first nine months of 2019. Mexico surpassed Syria this year to become the deadliest country for journalists, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, a remarkable figure since Mexico is not at war.
Critics say Lopez Obrador’s harsh rhetoric against journalists isn’t helping the situation. He calls reporters fifis, or snobs, who are promoting a right-wing agenda.
Those in the AMLO administration “love the media,” said Bravo, who’s also associate professor and coordinator of the journalism program at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching. But he added, “They hate journalism.”
Lopez Obrador is trying to show that he takes the nation’s ongoing problems with violence seriously, meeting daily at 6 a.m. with his security team to assess the latest crime statistics from across the country. He’s also acknowledged that more needs to be done to restore security, even personally appealing to criminals “to think about themselves, their families, their mothers,” Lopez Obrador said. “They know how much their mothers suffer because of the sublime love they have for their children, and they need to think about that.”
Visitors flock annually to the festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico known as Sanmiguelada. Photo taken Sept. 28, 2019.
President of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds the Mexican flag during the ceremony of deployment of the new Mexican security force “National Guard” at Campo Marte in Mexico City, Mexico, on June 30.