Who Is Andrés Manuel López Obrador?
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (1953-), who often goes by the nickname AMLO, was elected president of Mexico in July 2018. López Obrador also served as mayor of Mexico City and made two controversial, failed attempts at the presidency before winning election. A leftist politician, he rose through the ranks of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), before forming his own MORENA party in 2014. His election marked a sea change in Mexican politics, the first time in nearly a century that someone from outside of the country’s two dominant parties won the presidency.
Early Life and Family
Andrés Manuel López Obrador was born November 13, 1953 in Tepetitián, a village in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. One of seven children, his parents were middle-class merchants, Andrés López Ramón and Manuela Obrador González, who later moved the family to the city of Villahermosa, where they opened a clothing store. The family suffered a tragedy during López Obrador’s youth, when a younger brother accidentally killed himself with a firearm.
López Obrador attended local schools, before studying political science at Mexico City’s National Autonomous University of Mexico. His studies were interrupted by his early political career, but he eventually graduated in 1987.
He married for the first time in 1979, to Rocío Beltrán Medina, with whom he had three sons. Following her death in 2003, he married journalist Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller in 2006. The couple has one son.
López Obrador, Donald Trump and NAFTA
Amid tensions between Mexico and the United States over border security, the war on drugs and trade issues, López Obrador campaigned against what he considered Enrique Peña Nieto’s willingness to concede to U.S. political demands. Although both he and Donald Trump ran populist campaigns, López Obrador has pledged to defend Mexico’s economic and political interests, leading to questions regarding the future the of U.S.-Mexican relations.
Start in Mexican Politics
While still a student, López Obrador joined Mexico’s powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI. The PRI had been formed in the late 1920s, following the Mexican Revolution. For nearly seven decades it had a stranglehold on Mexican politics and was the de facto “state party,” providing all of the countries presidents from 1920 to 2000.
During his early years with the PRI, López Obrador worked on indigenous issues, which he would continue to champion throughout his career, and consumer issues. During the 1980s, the PRI began a political shift to the center, prompting López Obrador’s departure. He joined a more left-leaning breakaway group, which eventually became known as the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD. He later served a three-year term as PRD president.
As with later elections, López Obrador’s first campaign for office was mired in controversy, after he lost a close election for governor of his home state of Tabasco in 1994 to a PRI candidate accused of electioneering.
López Obrador’s political ascent picked up steam in July 2000, when he was elected the equivalent of mayor of Mexico City, serving until 2005. During his tenure, he won accolades for his efforts to crack down on crime, revitalize the city’s historic areas and for business-friendly policies that attracted new investors. But he also stuck to his populist roots, improving social programs for the poor, including senior citizens and single mothers.
His tenure was not without controversy, however. He was criticized for spending heavily on traffic infrastructure improvements, and several of his cabinet members were reprimanded for their insensitive comments following the murder of undercover federal law-enforcement officers. Still, López Obrador left office with an 84 percent approval rating.
One of the most noteworthy episodes of his mayoralty may have been politically motivated. In 2004 Mexico’s Attorney General asked that López Obrador be stripped of the criminal immunity provided to all of the country’s elected and political officials. A likely precursor to prosecution on possible corruption charges, López Obrador’s supporters charged that the move was a way to prevent him from running for president, as anyone with a criminal record was legally barred from being a candidate. Amid López Obrador’s high popularity numbers, and higher tensions, President Vincente Fox announced that López Obrador would not be charged.
First Presidential Campaigns
López Obrador made his first of three presidential runs in 2006. Although he enjoyed overwhelming party support within the PRD, he was criticized by other left-leaning groups of aligning himself with more centrist members of his former PRI party to broaden his base of support, a challenge he dismissed.
López Obrador faced off against Felipe Calderón, a member of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN. When the votes were counted in July 2006, López Obrador had lost by just 0.56 percent. Almost immediately, López Obrador and his supporters challenged the results.
Weeks of nationwide protests broke out, with accusations of voter interference, irregularities and tampering. Hundreds of thousands gathered in Mexico City, and López Obrador gave several interviews proclaiming himself Mexico’s president-elect. An electoral tribunal agreed to a partial recount, which confirmed Calderón’s victory. López Obrador rejected their decision, and protests continued, targeting international banks and the levers of government, which his supporters considered corrupt. A rival inauguration ceremony was held in Mexico City, where López Obrador declared himself the “legitimate president.” López Obrador’s supporters continued to challenge the legitimacy and actions of the Calderón government throughout his term.
López Obrador ran for president a second time in 2012, again coming in second, this time to Enrique Peña Nieto, ushering in a return to power of the PRI. Once again, he and his supporters leveled accusations of voter fraud, but a wide scale recount upheld the results.
MORENA and the 2018 Election
In 2014 López Obrador left the PRD to found a new party, the National Regeneration Movement, or MORENA. He stated that the PRD had become too close to the Peña Nieto government and abandoned its roots.
In the lead up to the 2018 presidential election, López Obrador formed unlikely political alliances, including with far-right conservatives and religious groups. But he also stuck with his populist message, promising an end to corruption (which he claimed cost the country tens of billions annually) and to fix to the endemic, drug-fueled violence that has plagued the country for years. He called for improvements to social programs for Mexico’s poorest citizens, including increased spending on education and agriculture subsidies.
López Obrador earned a reputation for his common touch, living modestly without an entourage of security personnel and being able to distill political ideas and theory into easy to understand language that connected with people throughout the country.
As the election neared, polls showed López Obrador with a commanding lead. On July 1, 2018, he won roughly 53 percent of the vote, one of the largest margins of victory in recent Mexican politics. It was the first time in 90 years that a member not from the PAN or PRI had won the presidency. MORENA has already won a majority of seats in both houses of Mexico’s Congress.
Following his election, some critics feared that López Obrador’s brand of leftist politics would lead to the economic and political instability of similar Latin American governments, including that of the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and some in Mexico remain unsure of how he will pay for the improvements he campaigned on.
In a speech several weeks after his election, he announced a slate of internal economic reforms intended to curb corruption. He did away with pensions for former presidents, announced he would not reside in the official presidential mansion (instead turning it into a cultural center) and cut his own presidential salary by 60 percent and limited the pay of other government officials.
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