Inside, confidential and off the record
Lopez Obrador wants Mexico to grow all its own food and protect farmers from cheaper U.S. imports. He also says he'll work to reverse legislation that opened up the oil sector to private and foreign investment, since it didn't lower energy costs as promised.
For Mexico, the challenges mount. Poverty is rife. Corruption is the norm in daily life. Drug gangs have murdered more than 100,000 people in the last decade. And U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to rip up the free trade agreement that's shaped the country's modern economy. Frustration over the state of affairs has led to growing signs that Mexicans are ready for change, a spirit that's shaping the 2018 presidential election campaign.
Polls indicate an early favorite for the July 1 vote: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the populist founder of the Morena party who's run for president twice before. The 64-year-old former Mexico City mayor calls the political establishment a mafia of power and vows to use money lost to corruption to boost social welfare spending. Voters overwhelmingly disapprove of the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, who's barred by the constitution from running again. (The party hasn't yet chosen a 2018 candidate.) Peña Nieto has been dogged by corruption charges and allegations of human rights violations by his government. And he's struggled to deal with Trump, who's stepped up efforts to deport unauthorized Mexican immigrants and launched a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta. Trump's demands include higher wages for workers in Mexico, so cheap labor ceases to draw U.S. manufacturers there, and strict limits on the use of parts from outside the continent in products assembled in Mexico that are labeled made in North America. Mexico is trying to retain unimpeded access to U.S. and Canadian markets for its goods and services. Meanwhile, the homicide rate reached a record high in 2017. Drug violence began to spread into tourist spots like Cancun and Los Cabos.
The PRI has held almost unbroken power since its formation in the aftermath of the 1910 Mexican Revolution . The party's early moves included land reforms and nationalizing the oil industry in 1938, using the profits to buttress the largely agrarian economy. The PRI began to lose support after an inept government response to the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City that killed some 10,000 people. Foreign investment flowed in ahead of the start of the Nafta agreement on Jan. 1, 1994. But when a presidential candidate was assassinated the following March, skittish investors fled, a financial crisis ensued and the U.S. and International Monetary Fund provided Mexico with a $50 billion bailout . In 2000, voters ended 71 years of PRI rule by electing opposition businessman Vicente Fox president. Between 1970 and 2007, roughly 11 million Mexicans headed to the U.S. to look for work. They were fleeing deprivation about half of Mexico's 124 million people live in poverty and, more recently, gang wars. Domestic drug production rose steadily after Colombia began to crack down on its narcotics industry in the mid-1980s. In 2007, Mexico began to deploy the military to hunt down drug kingpins, but broken gangs re-formed into scores of smaller ones, prompting turf battles that sent the murder rate soaring. Pena Nieto regained the presidency for the PRI in 2012 by promising to break with the party's autocratic ways.
Angry citizens have begun to take action. Some villages have formed militias to battle criminal gangs. In September, civil rights groups and opposition politicians managed to stop the attorney general, a longtime PRI lawmaker, from automatically becoming the nation's independent prosecutor, a new nine-year post. Voters are increasingly questioning Nafta. Average incomes have barely risen under the trade deal; only a third of Mexicans now say it has been good for the country. Lopez Obrador wants Mexico to grow all its own food and protect farmers from cheaper U.S. imports. He also says he'll work to reverse legislation that opened up the oil sector to private and foreign investment, since it didn't lower energy costs as promised. Some middle-class voters fear that Lopez Obrador could undermine businesses and political freedoms. His first presidential campaign faltered after an opponent's ads linked him to the late Hugo Chavez, the populist president of Venezuela who nationalized companies, expanded social spending and steered his country into authoritarianism. While Lopez Obrador did introduce the country's first pension system in Mexico City, supporters say he was a pragmatic mayor who built freeways and worked with business leaders to restore the city's historic center.
The Reference Shelf
- Council on Hemispheric Affairs guide to the Mexican election.
- Collection of Council on Foreign Relations reports on Mexico.
- Pew Research Center report on undocumented Mexicans living in the U.S.
- Human Rights Watch report on abuses in Mexico.
- The U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's 1996 retelling of the Mexican peso crisis of 1994-1995.
- Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's campaign website and the PRI's website .
- Bloomberg QuickTake Q&As on the rules of origin issue in Nafta negotiations, why Trump might have a hard time killing Nafta, U.S. immigration reform and Trump's proposal to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
ISSUES.... 11/ 20 / 2017 - Send Us Your Issues
Inside, confidential and off the record
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