100 Days In, Mexico’s President Revels in High Ratings, Waves off Recession Fear
MEXICO CITY — As a candidate, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico promised to remake Mexico, vowing to end corruption and impunity, attack inequality, pacify the country and disrupt a status quo that, he said, favored the few — the wealthy and powerful — and marginalized everyone else.
On Monday, in a confident speech marking his first 100 days in office, he insisted that transformation was firmly underway.
“We have already begun to write the prologue of the great work of national transformation,” he declared. “We will continue to build, among everyone, the beautiful utopia. We are going to continue walking toward that great ideal of living in a new, free, fair, democratic and fraternal homeland.”
Most Mexicans seem to agree, giving their folksy, man-of-the-people president stratospheric approval ratings. Some recent surveys put his support above 80 percent.
“Overall, right now, Mexicans seem to appreciate that he’s out there, connecting with them, looking out for them and putting forward a program,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.
“Even if some of us are skeptical about the possibilities of really transforming Mexico,” he continued, “it’s a program that really does seem to be people-focused.”
Despite Mr. Lopez Obrador’s popularity, doubt and antipathy abound among some sectors of the Mexican population. His speech didn’t dwell much on the less favorable and widely criticized aspects of his term, most notably weaknesses in the national economy, which is suffering anemic growth and low investor confidence.
In recent weeks, credit rating agencies have issued warnings about Mexico’s sovereign debt and state-run oil company Pemex.
Mr. Lopez Obrador nodded at the lackluster economic growth but insisted that there was no sign of a coming recession — “as our conservative adversaries would like or as their analysts predict with bad faith,” he said.
He has blamed the actions of the ratings agencies on what he calls the “neoliberal” policies of prior presidential administrations.
In his speech, which was broadcast live on television from the presidential palace in downtown Mexico City, the president extolled his signature achievements to date.
He said his government had begun delivering on its promises to buoy the poor and marginalized through an array of social welfare and development programs, including increasing pensions and other benefits for the elderly, expanding student scholarship programs for the impoverished and promoting job-creation initiatives for the young.
He also underlined the creation of a new security force, the National Guard, which will be in charge of the nation’s public security. And he highlighted his government’s push to combat fuel theft, which, he said, had led to “good results,” including cutting the monthly volume of stolen fuel from 81,000 barrels in November to the current rate of 15,000 barrels.
While Mr. Lopez Obrador acknowledged in his speech that his administration had not yet been able to make a significant dent in certain serious crimes, including homicide rates, some analysts continue to fault him for failing to articulate a clear public security strategy.
“Beyond the creation of the National Guard and the combat of fuel theft, there isn’t a defined agenda,” said Francisco Rivas, general director of the Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano, a group that studies security and justice issues in Mexico.
Some analysts also expressed concern about the ramifications of Mr. Lopez Obrador’s efforts to streamline government — and, some say, of his effort to consolidate power — in part through layoffs and salary cuts.
Sebastián Garrido, professor at CIDE, a Mexico City university, said the strategy had left “many annoyed functionaries” and inexperienced staff, which could affect the efficiency and operations of the government.
“I think this is a risk in the midterm,” he said.
Mr. Lopez used the speech, which ran nearly 80 minutes, to deliver not only a list of greatest hits in the administration’s first three months but also an outline of the evolving blueprint for the rest of his term in office.
He reiterated his promise to cancel a sweeping education reform that was a signature effort of his predecessor, and to push, among other initiatives, major infrastructure and public works projects including a new oil refinery, roads, an airport expansion and a rail line that would stretch through several southern states and create, he said, 300,000 jobs during the construction phase.
“I am convinced that everything we do to reactivate the economy, to produce, to create jobs and achieve the material and cultural well-being of the people will result in social peace and tranquillity,” he said. “If there is justice, there will be security.”