In a stump speech, Mexico’s president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised potential voters “We’re going to end the corruption, the impunity, and the privileges enjoyed by a small élite. . .[so that] the leaders of this country can recover their moral and political authority” (Anderson 2018, 8). Obrador’s election in July marked a significant shift in Mexico’s politics, as voters rejected the establishment political parties that have controlled the Mexican government for the past 20 years (Ahmed and Semple 2018, 1). In this time of political uncertainty and unprecedented levels of violence, president-elect Obrador faces a daunting job.
Through an analysis of media coverage of the July 2018 election and the surrounding political climate, it is evident that Mexico is at a pivotal point in history, and the next few years will dictate the trajectory of the country indefinitely. First, it is imperative to understand what was at stake in July as Mexico elected a new president to a six-year term. The centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the P.R.I., dominated Mexican politics from 1929 to 2000, and then regained power in 2012 with the election of President Peña Nieto (Ahmed and Semple 2018, 1).
Throughout President Peña Nieto’s six-year term, “poverty remained pervasive and corruption unchecked,” which led to Nieto becoming the least popular Mexican president on record. He had an approval rating of 26 percent in late 2017, which is double what it was earlier that year (Ahmed and Semple 2018, 1; “José Antonio Meade is the P.R.I.’s Candidate for Mexico’s Presidency” 2017, 2). With 18 years of unfulfilled hopes and governmental failure, Mexico’s 2018 election reflected a country eager for change. It is these conditions that paved the way for Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s victory, despite his unsuccessful bids for president in 2006 and 2012 (Anderson 2018, 1).
One of Obrador’s main campaign platforms was to combat the corruption that pervades Mexico’s government, with every major party involved in some sort of scandal. To ameliorate this, Obrador vowed, once elected, his first bill to Congress would remove that article in the constitution that protects a sitting president from being tried for corruption (Anderson 2018, 12). However, July’s election itself was not void of exploitation. In the months leading up to the election, spending on gift cards and social services rose dramatically because such handouts are not illegal “unless a party uses them explicitly to buy votes.”
The role of gift cards in elections has become undeniable in recent elections as citizens continue to come forward and admit to being promised benefits in exchange for votes (Ahmed and Hakim 2018, 6). On top of this, competing political parties transform government spending into “vote-buying machines” by increasing funding for social programs in election years. In the first four months of 2018, Mexico’s funding of social programs increased by 20 percent (Ahmed and Hakim 2018, 7).
Although July’s election was not void of corruption, Obrador still won with nearly half the vote- the largest margin of victory in the country’s Democratic history (Ahmed and Semple 2018, 1). Described as both a leftist and a populist, Obrador’s campaign was filled with promises that fell on ears of hopeful citizens. He characterized himself as the only man capable of rescuing Mexico from the “mafia of power” that is the two dominant political parties In campaign speeches, Obrador mixed anger at the corrupt state of Mexico’s political establishments while also pledging to fix wage imbalances, support infrastructure through subsidies, and “do nothing that goes against freedoms” (“José Antonio Meade is the P.R.I.’s Candidate for Mexico’s Presidency” 2017, 3; Anderson 2018, 8).
Despite his historic win, Obrador “. . .inherits a nation reeling from rampant violence left unfettered by an anemic and corrupt public security system” (Ahmen and Semple 2018, 2). Violence is a complex and increasing problem in Mexico. In 2017, there were over 25,000 reported murders, and the numbers from 2018 are on track to surpass 30,000 (“Why Mexico’s Murder Rate is Soaring” 2018,1 ). Murder rates have not been this high since 2011, at the height of former president Felipe Calderón’s war on drugs. Calderón’s strategy involved targeting and arresting the “kingpins” of drug cartels, leaving gangs “fragmented, undisciplined and prone to fighting among themselves” (“Why Mexico’s Murder Rate is Soaring” 2018, 2).
President Nieto mirrored this strategy, which only worsened the security problem by “diverting resources from local police, fragmenting gangs and making local governments less accountable” (Nugent 2018, 3). Not only this, the distribution of violence and motivations behind it are changing. Fuel theft has become the “most important new form of organized crime in Mexico,” with a pipeline being tapped somewhere in the country every 90 minutes (“Why Murder in Mexico is Rising Again 2017, 2; Nugent 2018, 2). While it still does not surpass drug-trafficking in terms of cash flow or violence, it is rapidly increasing and affecting investors in the Mexico’s critical energy industry.
Aside from violence among gangs, Mexico has seen an increase in violence against politicians. Within the 2018 election cycle, there were 130 political killings, 48 of which were candidates for office. The number of political attacks between 2012 and 2018 increased by more than 2400 percent, with the majority of attacks being carried out against local politicians (Nugent 2018, 1). For example, in early October in Sonora, both the attorney general and state security resigned in response to the assassination of five police officers in Guaymas (“Two Cabinet Secretaries Resign After Police Assassinations in Sonora” 2018, 1). With violence being used as a political tool, Mexico’s federal government is losing control over local governments, and local governments are crumbling under threats of violence. While on the campaign trail, Obrador has proposed a few solutions to Mexico’s drug and violence problems.
By the middle of his six-year term, Obrador promised to “eradicate” the violence (Nugent 2018, 3). Obrador’s plan is to target the social inequality that leads to crime. He has suggested offering amnesty to a “vaguely defined cohort of criminals,” and he has even gone so far as to posit legalizing opiates for medicinal use to contain drug violence (“Why Mexico’s Murder Rate is Soaring 2018, 2; “Mexico Defense Chief Says Legalizing Opium ‘Way Out’ of Violence” 2018, 1). He also proposed guaranteeing scholarships and jobs post graduation for youth, which he called supporting “scholarship students, not contact killers” (Anderson 2018, 11). Starting with the youth could be an effective solution, as the National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Security reported that 8,312,720 people between the ages of 18 and 29 were victims of a crime in Mexico in 2017 (Roldán 2018, 1).
All in all, it is unclear which, if any, of these strategies will be utilized once Obrador is inaugurated in December. Overall, Mexico is at a pivotal point in its political history. When Obrador takes office in December, he will face significant challenges as to how best to tackle the country’s political uncertainty, corruption at every level of government, and unprecedented levels of violence. Mexico’s last two presidents have left the country more violent and unstable than when they came into office, but perhaps a fresh political party in office can reverse this cycle.
- Ahmed, Azam and Danny Hakim. 2018. “Mexico’s Hardball Politics Get Even Harder as PRI Fights to Hold on to Power.” New York Times, June 24. Accessed October 6, 2018. www.nytimes.com/2018/06/24/world/americas/mexico-election-cambridge-analytica.html.
- Ahmed, Azam and Kirk Semple. 2018. “Mexico Elections: 5 Takeaways from Lopez Obrador’s Victory.” New York Times, July 2. Accessed October 7, 2018. www.nytimes.com/2018/07/02/world/americas/mexico-election-lopez-obrador.html.
- Anderson, John Lee. 2018. “A New Revolution in Mexico.” The New Yorker, June 25. Accessed October 7, 2018. www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/06/25/a-new-revolution-in-mexico.
- Goldman, Francisco. 2018. “The Tragedy That Changed Mexico Forever.” New York Times, June 22. Accessed October 7, 2018. www.nytimes.com/2018/06/22/opinion/ayotzinapa-mexico-students-disappeared.html.
- “José Antonio Meade is the PRI’s candidate for Mexico’s presidency.” 2017. The Economist, November 30. Accessed OCtober 5th, 2018. www.economist.com/the-americas/2017/11/30/jose-antonio-meade-is-the-pris-candidate-for-mexicos-presidency.
- “Mexico Defense Chief Says Legalizing Opium ‘Way Out’ of Violence.” 2018. Reuters, October 6. Accessed October 7, 2018. www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-drugs/mexico-defense-chief-says-legalizing-opium-way-out-of-violence-idUSKCN1MG03O.
- “Mexico’s New President Sets out to Change His Country’s Course.” 2018. The Economist, September 20. Accessed October 5, 2018. www.economist.com/the-americas/2018/09/22/mexicos-new-president-sets-out-to-change-his-countrys-course.
- “Mexico President-Elect Says Will Look at Legalizing Some Drugs.” 2018. Reuters, October 7. Accessed October 7, 2018. www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-drugs/mexico-president-elect-says-will-look-at-legalizing-some-drugs-idUSKCN1MH0XZ.
- Nugent, Ciara. 2018. “Mexico is Suffering its Bloodiest Year in Modern History. Here’s Why.” Time, June 28. Accessed October 7, 2018. www.time.com/5324888/mexico-violence-murders/
- Roldan, Mariluz. 2018. “Violence Prevents Youth Development.” El Universal, October 7. Accessed October 7, 2018. www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/violencia-impide-desarrollo-de-jovenes.
- “Two Cabinet Secretaries Resign After Police Assassinations in Sonora.” 2018. Mexico News Daily, October 6. Accessed October 7, 2018. https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/2-cabinet-secretaries-resign/.
- “Why Mexico’s Murder Rate is Soaring.” 2018. The Economist, May 9. Accessed October 8, 2018. www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2018/05/09/why-mexicos-murder-rate-is-soaring.
- “Why Murder in Mexico is Rising Again.” 2017. The Economist, May 11. Accessed October 6, 2018. www.economist.com/the-americas/2017/05/11/why-murder-in-mexico-is-rising-again.