Mexico marks turn to left with its new president
Mexicans are getting more than just a new president Saturday. The inauguration of leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador marks a turning point in one of the world’s most radical experiments in opening markets and privatization.
Mexico long had a closed, state-dominated economy, but since entering the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs in 1986, it has signed more free trade agreements than almost any other country and privatized almost every corner of the economy except oil and electricity.
Now, though, Lopez Obrador talks a talk not heard in Mexico since the 1960s: He wants to build more state-owned oil refineries and encourages Mexicans to “not to buy abroad, but to produce in Mexico what we consume.”
Combined with a deep sense of nationalism and his own place in history, Lopez Obrador’s inauguration is likely to be the most home-grown, populist handover of power in decades.
As to underscore the transition, British Labour Party leaders Jeremy Corbyn showed up for inauguration after visiting Lopez Obrador a day earlier at his house in southern Mexico.
A party statement said Lopez Obrador “faces huge challenges in his mission of transforming Mexico, but Jeremy hopes his election will offer Mexico’s poor and powerless a real voice and a break with the failures and injustices of the past.”
“At a time when the fake populists of the far right are gaining ground internationally – including in Latin America,” the statement continued, Lopez Obrador “has shown that a progressive agenda for change can win power and take on the status quo.”
After taking the official oath of office at the Chamber of Deputies, Lopez Obrador plans to hold another ceremony later in the day on Mexico City’s main square, where a leader of Mexico’s indigenous communities will bestow a traditional symbol of authority – a ceremonial wooden staff known as a “baston.” A grand celebration featuring traditional music will be held in the square.
The country’s 65-yearold new leader is moving the presidential office fully back to the centuries-old National Palace that lines one side of the square, while refusing to live at the luxurious, heavily guard presidential residence 6 miles to the west. He will reside instead at his private home.
Closed to the public since the first parts were built in the 1930s, the compound will now be used for public events, and it was thrown open to the public on Saturday.
Gabriela Barrientos, 71, a retired secretary and Jesus Basilio, a market vendor, 55, were among the first to line up at the gate to enter what Basilio called “the house of the people, an emblematic place we will be able to enter for the first time.”
Barrientos, a long-time Lopez Obrador supporter, said “this is a day that will never come again. I was always on the front lines, and finally this day has come.”
Lopez Obrador won a crushing victory in the
July 1 elections after two previous, unsuccessful runs for the presidency.
Mexico’s new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sings the Mexican national anthem at the end of his inaugural ceremony Saturday in Mexico City.