MCALLEN, RGV – Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly referred to by his initials AMLO, wants to go down as one of the great Mexican presidents of all-time.

That is the view of Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute. 

Wood will speak about AMLO and what to expect of his presidency at an event hosted by IBC Bank, the City of McAllen, and the Rio Grande Valley Partnership on Friday.

The event takes place at the McAllen Performing Arts Center and starts at 11:30 a.m. Tickets were available through the RGV Partnership but sold out very quickly.

Duncan Wood

“Andrés Manuel is one of the most colorful figures in Mexican political history,” Wood told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM, in an exclusive interview ahead of Friday’s presentation.

López Obrador won a landslide victory on July 1 and takes over as president of Mexico on Dec. 1.

“This was his third attempt to win the presidency. On his first attempt back in 2006 he lost by 0.5 percent of the vote and claimed that the election had been stolen from him. He called himself the legitimate president of Mexico. It was kind of a rival government. He also succeeded in shutting down Mexico City for months on end with protests,” Wood recalled.

“After that, people thought he was so extreme. It seemed like he was anti-democratic, that he would fade away from the scene. But, he didn’t. He came back again and led the charge in 2012. He lost by a much bigger margin in 2012 but he actually got more overall votes than he did in 2006 because the electoral rolls had grown in the interim period.

“He was still very much a viable political candidate. But people said, if you lose twice for the presidency, surely you are not going to go for a third time.”

But he did and he did so by breaking away from the traditional leftist party, the PRD and creating his own party, the MORENA Party, which began as a political movement. 

“In fact, its name is the movement for national regeneration. It is designed to be an umbrella political movement in which people of all political shades are welcome. The only thing is they pledge allegiance to a better Mexico and, indirectly, to Andres Manuel,” Wood explained.

“The timing was absolutely right this time. The message was right this time and he won a landslide victory on July 1, 53 percent of the popular vote. He won both chambers of Congress with huge majorities. He has managed to secure himself a supermajority in the Chamber of Deputies. He is very close to a supermajority in the Senate. He also manage to win a majority of the state level legislatures, which is a critical component if you want to change the Constitution in Mexico.”

Wood said López Obrador has “set himself up to be one of the most powerful Mexican presidents in history.” The reason being there is literally no opposition. 

“The only opposition will come from civil society or from the business community. In terms of checks on his power, the thing he has to worry about most of all are the international capital markets and what they might to do to capital flight from Mexico, bond ratings and the value of the peso. That is one of the most important limits on his power,” Wood said.

“When López Obrador came in a lot of people were scaremongering about him. They thought he was going to be another Chávez or Maduro. There is a long-running debate about Andrés Manuel is like Chávez or whether he is more like a Lula character, a radical leftist who comes in and becomes pragmatic immediately.” Wood said.

Nicolás Maduro Moros has served as the 63rd president of Venezuela since 2013. He previously served under President Hugo Chávez as minister of foreign affairs from 2006 to 2013 and as vice president of Venezuela from 2012 to 2013.

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known simply as Lula, is a Brazilian politician and former union leader who served as the 35th President of Brazil from 1 January 2003 to 31 December 2010.

The optimistic response after this year’s Mexico’s presidential election, Wood said, was that López Obrador was going to be pragmatic. 

“The first thing he did was have a conference call for the investors where his pick for finance secretary said, don’t worry, we are going to be fiscally responsible, we are not going to expropriate. We are not going to nationalize. Don’t worry, it is all going to be fine because we want to have a stable economy. That message went down incredibly well with the investment community.”

However, since then there has been a mixture of messages. 

“Some of the things he said in the first few days have continued. Other times he has sent a message that he is much more willing to intervene in the economy. All of this has led up to where we are today,” Wood said.

Airport Referendum

Two weeks ago a referendum was held in Mexico on the future of a $13 billion airport project for Mexico City. López Obrador had promised throughout his election campaign that he would cancel it. Then he said no, that he was going to put it to a referendum.

“But, the referendum was completely skewed. It was unprofessionally organized and did not confirm to national electoral and referendum rules,” Wood said. “He took it as a vote of confidence in his belief that the airport project should be cancelled. And he has announced that when he becomes president on December 1, it will be cancelled and instead he is going to focus on two other projects.”

There was an immediate negative reaction from international markets, Wood explained. 

“The peso took a battering, it was around 18 and it dropped down to 20 to the dollar. It was a pretty big hit. The Mexican stock market took a beating as well. He (López Obrador) and his cabinet picks said, don’t worry, people are overreacting, we are going to compensate all the contractors who are going to lose out because of the cancellation. We have got money put away for this,” Wood said.

“But, they miss the point, which is that they have now given us a clue about how they are going to operate. One is kind of like President Trump. If Andres Manuel made a promise during the campaign, he is going to try to fulfill it.”

A second indication of how López Obrador will operate as president, Wood, is that he is willing to do things that have a negative economic impact if they are politically expedient. 

“There was a very good op-ed written over the weekend. It said, everyone is comparing about the cancellation of the airport. That is because you think like economists. Andres Manuel does not think like an economist. He is a politician. He is about the exercise of power. Basically saying, I am the new sheriff in town.”

A third indication of what to expect, Wood said, is the use the incoming president will make of referendums. 

“Andres Manuel likes the referendum. He likes to consult the people, particularly when it serves his purpose. So, legislation is going to be introduced in the Mexican Congress in the next few weeks to make the use of referendums much easier and much more common. This is a very worrying tendency for Mexicans and foreign investors in Mexico,” Wood said. 

Concluding the interview, Wood said this is a “particularly compelling point in the story” about López Obrador.

“We are a couple of weeks away from the inauguration. There is a huge amount of anxiety in the business community in Mexico. There is uncertainty about the future of the energy reform that took place in 2013. There is great uncertainty about the future direction of macro-economic policy in general. That is just on the economic front,” Wood said.

“We could talk for hours about public security, migration, poverty and inequality. But, this is a man who has big, big ambitions for the country. He calls it the fourth transformation of Mexico. He has a vision that he wants to go down in history as one of the great presidents of the country.”