Why Mexico’s new president is making voters nervous
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won over Mexican voters by promising a different kind of presidency, making sometimes theatrical pledges.
Less than a week into his presidency, he’s holding daily news conferences to report on the status of his agenda, making updates some Mexicans find hopeful and others worrying. His daily briefings mark a radical change from the previous, more tight-lipped Administration.
Since he took office on Sunday, some of his most unusual ideas have already been enacted. The former presidential mansion is now open to the public. The presidential plane has been taken to California, where the Government will try to sell it in a show of austerity. Lopez Obrador is getting around in an old Volkswagen, rather than a glitzy motorcade.
Now Lopez Obrador is preparing to tackle some of Mexico’s biggest policy challenges. Next week, he said, he will announce a proposal to undo predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto’s education overhaul.
In the coming days, Lopez Obrador said, he will speak to United States President Donald Trump about migration.
On Tuesday, Lopez Obrador ordered a “truth commission” to investigate the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa in 2014. Security forces have been implicated in the incident, and his effort to shed light on what happened has given hope to some of the parents of the disappeared.
On Wednesday, he struggled to convince investors that despite his recent attacks on neoliberalism — and particularly on Mexico’s newly liberalised energy industry — he won’t stand in the way of a free market. He pointed out on Tuesday, at his first presidential news conference, that the markets had gone up during the first day of his term.
Also on Wednesday, Lopez Obrador returned to his stated policy of capping the salaries of public officials, saying at a news conference, “it is dishonest when an official receives up to 600 thousand pesos a month [$42,400]. That is corruption.”
The newspaper El Universal reported on Wednesday that almost 3000 public employees have filed class-action lawsuits against the Government over a law mandating that no bureaucrat can earn more than the President. Because Lopez Obrador set his salary at 108 thousand pesos per month, less than half of his predecessor’s salary, the pay of other public servants also has plummeted. According to El Universal, the penalty for government employees caught receiving a higher salary than the President is 14 years in prison.
On Tuesday, Lopez Obrador’s nominee for foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, met with US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in Washington.
They had been expected to discuss a plan that would force asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their claims are processed in the US. But Ebrard called the meeting a “courtesy visit”.
At his Thursday news conference, Lopez Obrador announced that he will push for new oil drilling sites in the southern state of Campeche.
“In a few days, we will start drilling new oil wells,” he said.
But at the same news conference, he also put private companies that had received recent oil contracts on notice, saying he would be watching their performance closely before deciding whether to continue the contracts, injecting uncertainty into his energy policy, which has already unnerved many in the industry.
“From their results, we will make the decision. Our commitment is to give a period of three years for results,” Lopez Obrador said.