Andrés Manuel López Obrador is Mexico’s newest president. The 65-year-old populist painted himself as a champion for Mexico’s poor.
Jorge Valencia, KJZZ’s senior field correspondent, was in Mexico City for Saturday’s inauguration. He said López Obrador laid out a laundry list of issues he hopes to accomplish in the next six years, including fighting corruption in the Mexican government.
“So far, it’s not exactly clear how he’s going to go about doing that,” Valencia said. “In fact, it seems like he has taken steps backwards. One of the things he said in recent days before taking office — to use an expression in Spanish: ‘borrón y cuenta nueva’ ‘we’re going to start from scratch’ — which had a lot of people confused. People were expecting him to come in very aggressively addressing corruption.”
At the inauguration, López Obrador said one of the main focuses of his administration was "primero los pobres," which translates to the poor come first. López Obrador promised to lower gas prices, double the minimum wage, and make educational reforms.
Valencia said López Obrador aims to make changes to social programs “to increase pensions to the elderly, to increase help for single mothers, and also some development programs that ostensibly could generate employment.”
Some symbolic changes López Obrador is making to reflect his populist beliefs was to announce that he was selling the presidential jet and flying commercial.
Valencia said the new Mexican president will no longer live in the Mexican "White House."
“Perhaps one of the strongest symbols is that he moved the presidential residence out of the presidential estate — Los Pinos — and now he’s going to live in what’s called the National Palace, which is right in the heart of historic Mexico City, which is ostensibly much more modest quarters,” Valencia said.
López Obrador has also said he plans to unravel the energy reforms put in place by his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, including reversing privatization of Mexico’s oil industry and suspending auctions for oil production contracts in the Gulf of Mexico.
“One of the biggest promises that he has made is he is going to build a refinery in the Gulf for the Mexican government," he said. "This is basically one of the ways that he says he is going to keep gas prices down. Of course, this type of investment is an investment that is a long-term term investment. It is very expensive.”
Promises aside, Valencia said López Obrador’s energy policy is unclear and the planned refinery could possibly plunge the country into debt. “Anybody in the oil industry could say this could very easily suck a large portion of the government’s resources,” Valencia said.
López Obrador also stated in his inauguration he was going to establish a zona libre, a free zone. Valencia says this free zone is a way to counter Mexico’s economic dependence on U.S. investment.
“If we were talking to López Obrador on the line right now, he would call it ‘the last curtain,' ” Valencia said. “This is the last curtain to stop people from migrating into the U.S. The way he’s doing it, he’s reducing taxes in this area that’s across the border basically on the other side from San Diego all the way to the other side of Brownsville.”
López Obrador promises to make the border region more competitive by reducing taxes doubling the minimum wage for workers in the region. “He says … we’re going to create more jobs so people in Mexico will stay home, they will not have to migrate,” Valencia said, “and this is the last curtain so they will not cross into the U.S.”