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Now under fire, AMLO is who he’s always been

Presidents in any country tend to have criticism piled upon them the longer they are in office.

Such is the case with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).

People who are angered or surprised at AMLO’s policies should not be, as he fully revealed where he was coming from in the two previous presidential campaigns he unsuccessfully ran before winning the office in 2018. AMLO is a blend of quirkiness and populism. During his previous two campaigns in 2006 and 2012, AMLO clearly displayed this interesting combination.

One of his slogans of the 2012 campaign that summed up his security policy was “Abrazos, no balazos.” (Hugs, not bullets). This also described the way he approached the drug war in Mexico. He openly states that he does not want to fight the drug cartels with force, believing that this will trigger more violence. For this approach, he has been severely criticized as essentially allowing Mexico’s notorious drug cartels have free rein in the country.

After losing the 2006 campaign, his followers proclaimed him the legitimate president of Mexico. He proceeded to form his own Cabinet and attempt to establish his own government, which ultimately failed. After losing the 2012 campaign, AMLO claimed widespread voter fraud and illegal movements of money by Enrique Peña Nieto, the eventual winner. AMLO and his followers protested all over Mexico and were a severe disruption to life in the capital, Mexico City.

During the early stages of the pandemic, AMLO downplayed the seriousness of the COVID-19 virus. He held meetings and rallies without being masked or respecting the social distancing doctors and disease experts have called for. Many Mexicans blame his lackadaisical attitude as the reason he himself caught the virus this past January. After recovering, he refused to wear a mask, insisting that his doctors told him he was no longer contagious after catching the virus. When asked whether he should be setting an example for Mexicans to wear masks he refused to answer the question. It is estimated that Mexico has lost nearly 200,000 people to COVID-19, the third-highest total in the world.

Because of the lack of an effective approach in dealing with the pandemic, Mexico currently finds itself one of the least-vaccinated large countries in the world. The little amount of vaccine supplies it has managed to procure have come from Russia and China. President Joe Biden recently made the decision to share 2.7 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine with Mexico, the first 1.5 million doses having recently arrived. Coincidentally, Mexico then started cracking down on Central Americans crossing into Mexico with the goal of eventually reaching the U.S. Many people viewed this action cynically, especially coming from a world leader who was one of the last to recognize Biden’s presidential victory.

In an effort to revitalize its slumping and antiquated energy sector, Mexico passed energy reform laws in 2013 and 2014. This was hailed as a milestone in being able to attract badly needed foreign investment to bring efficiencies and modernization to various energy sectors. In retrospect, energy reform is regarded as one of the successes of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency. Economists throughout the world viewed this as a step for Mexico to improve infrastructure throughout the country.

AMLO has openly railed against Mexico’s energy reform and has accused private companies and foreign governments of robbing Mexico through this new policy. He is now actively seeking to roll back energy reform to exert stronger federal government control over Mexico’s state-owned electricity company, and to dissuade further foreign investment in Mexico’s energy sector. His actions are receiving strong opposition from Mexicans and foreigners.

Even more hard hitting is AMLO’s recent proposed law that threatens to close, or at the very least weaken, privately owned gasoline stations, which Mexico started allowing five years ago. He is accusing them of importing foreign fuels without paying taxes. If his proposed law passes, these private stations could be taken over by PEMEX, the national petroleum company. During his campaigns, AMLO spoke strongly against the fact that Mexico imports so much of its refined fuels. In this country of nearly 130 million people, with some of the largest petroleum reserves in the world, only six refineries exist. Contrast that to the 135 refineries operating in the U.S. Many see his attack on private gas stations as a way to cut off the importation of foreign fuels and a path to building more refineries that produce national fuel. To do this, Mexico most likely will need the foreign investment that AMLO is seeking to dissuade in its energy sector.

If anything, AMLO is a president who throughout his political career has not substantially changed his stripes. His mix of quirkiness and populism have been present since the beginning. Many argue that his policies threaten to reverse positive changes that Mexico has painstakingly achieved over the past few decades. Whether this occurs depends on what AMLO’s policies accomplish before he leaves office at the end of 2024.

Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at