Mex­i­cans try to keep faith in pop­ulist pres­i­dent

Vi­o­lence, econ­omy worry many, but hope Lopez Obrador will res­cue them

The Korea Times - - FEATURE - By Al­fredo Cor­chado

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.”

Dal­las Morn­ing News-Tri­une News Ser­vice

Vis­i­tors flock an­nu­ally to the fes­ti­val in San Miguel de Al­lende, Mex­ico known as San­migue­lada. Photo taken Sept. 28, 2019.

AFP-Yon­hap

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.

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