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Mexico's New 'Common Man' President Hits The Ground Running

Mexico's new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during his inaugural ceremony at the National Congress in Mexico City, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.
Associated Press
Mexico's new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during his inaugural ceremony at the National Congress in Mexico City, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018.
Mexico's New 'Common Man' President Hits The Ground Running
Mexico's New 'Common Man' President Hits The Ground Running GUESTS: Jerry Sanders, president and CEO, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce David Shirk, director, Justice in Mexico Program at the University of San Diego

Tens of thousands gathered in Mexico City Saturday to celebrate the inauguration of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also known by his initials Almelo. The new president has an almost overwhelming agenda everything from combating corruption in Mexico to finding a way to end migrant caravans from Central America. But the issue on the minds of some invited guests from San Diego was economic cooperation and whether the robust cross-border trade between the U.S. and Mexico will continue. Joining me is Jerry Sanders president and CEO of San Diego's Regional Chamber of Commerce. He attended this weekend's inauguration. And Jerry Sanders welcome to the program. Thank you very much Mary. What was the mood like in Mexico City for the inauguration. You know it's very festive. A lot of people crowded throughout the downtown area just to get a glimpse of the new president. And I think that from what I heard people were listening to Encore radios and radios were kind of blaring out his inaugural speech all throughout the city. So I think there's a lot of excitement by a lot of the especially working class people. How do you see yourself working with the new Lopez Obrador administration. Well we were optimistic because Amla has actually visited the Tijuana border a few times and he has also pledged to spend money on infrastructure at the border. So we think both of those are very positive signs in terms of working with his administration on the cross-border economy. So you think you can continue to promote the San Diego Mexico border as one binational economic region. You know that was the message we took. I was there also with the Los Angeles Chamber and the San Antonio Chamber both who are involved in cross-border trade and we met with the foreign minister the new when we've worked with him in the past and think that we'll have a very good opportunity to showcase the San Diego Tijuana border as a good example of what can be done through regional cooperation. The inauguration came a day before the U.S. Mexico and Canada signed a new trade agreement. What will this new deal mean for the binational economy here along the border. The new NAFTA agreement and they've renamed it is basically the same as it was before only upgraded. And we think it's a very positive treaty that works now in part of the work we did when we were in Mexico City and the governors of Arizona and California. It's really about figuring out the best way to be united in our lobbying with Congress because this has to pass both the House and the Senate. And some people have said that's going to be a tough thing to get done unless we're very effective at the lobbying effort. I've been speaking with Jerry Sanders head of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. Thank you so much for your time. You're welcome. Joining me now is David Shirk the director of the Justice and Mexico program at the University of San Diego and David welcome back. Thanks for having me. MARTIN OK so Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is the first leftist president in Mexico in more than 70 years. But what does that tell us about the way he might govern. Well arguably Mexico's had some leftist presidents in the 1930s there was a very significant shift to the left. Some people would argue that in the 1970s we saw some leftist thinking but what this really means I think for Mexico is a new emphasis on a renewed emphasis on looking out for the masses of people who continue to live on less than five or ten dollars a day 40 percent or more of Mexicans who live in poverty. So you think that most of his policies are going to be aimed toward relieving that kind of poverty. That's certainly what he has suggested. I mean he talks about a number of measures he's going to take to try to promote economic growth particularly changes he'd like to see in the energy sector. He's been skeptical of privatization which is a process that Mexico has been going through the last couple of years but he's also I think interested in trying to trim the fat in government reduce wasteful spending so that those funds can be redirected to social programs health programs and educational programs that can help the elderly and young poor individuals in one of his first acts as president Almelo signed an agreement with several Central American leaders hoping to stem the flow of migrants by creating a fund that would generate jobs. How difficult might that be to carry out. It depends partly on I think what the reaction is from the United States. I think that our government would be a really important partner in that initiative. Arguably we've been working for the last several years not only with Mexico but also with Central American countries to try to deal with violence through a number of US aid programs. And if we were to redirect more of our efforts to economic development and community resilience programs things like gang prevention programs that might help to address some of the issues that Lopez Obrador is trying to deal with. And what other challenges is he going to have to address right away. Certainly the most pressing issue in my opinion that Lopez Obrador government faces is that Mexico is in the midst of a massive and long standing security crisis. This year Mexico will probably have over thirty one over 32000 homicides in total and a record year beating last year's record year in the overall levels of violence. And the new government seems to believe that the answer to that problem. The answer to the security problem is also economic. Ultimately at the end of the day it's the dire situation of poverty and inequality that fuels or contributes to the need for young people to get involved in criminal activities. And so again his answer is more educational opportunities more work opportunities. He has however in the last several weeks began to become more focused on the practicalities of law enforcement and the need for boots on the ground. But his solutions he's suggested deploying groups of federal forces and groups of on average around 450 to 600 troops or federal police agents to different parts of the country with the idea that they'll try to restore public order and address the problem particularly of organized crime. I don't think that that has that strategy has been well thought out or well fleshed out yet but we'll see what he ultimately is able to accomplish with the section of those troops be deployed to the Tijuana Baja area because they're experiencing record homicide rate. So once again it's very likely Tijuana is one of the places in the country probably the place in the country we're seeing the largest absolute number of homicides. The rate in Tijuana is is much greater today than what we saw even ten years ago and back in 2008 and 2009 when we were very worried about what was going on in Tijuana. Now Lopez Obrador is setting out an ambitious agenda. Is there any reason to believe though that Almelo can reduce corruption in Mexico when so many other leaders have tried and failed. One thing we can say about Lopez Obrador is he seems to be very different from other leaders. When he was governor effectively of Mexico's federal district the capital Mexico City he drove a suruh and lived very simply. And I think one of the things that he wants to try to do is to lead by example to show that he is a public servant not someone who's there to enrich himself. And if Lopez Obrador is true to his word we are certainly going to see major changes in how public officials operate. One thing we've already seen is that he has dropped public salaries and has stated that no government official will will be able to earn more than the president. That has implications for the Supreme Court but it also means that at midlevel and lower level government positions people are going to be hurt in the pocketbook for working for the Mexican government. That could have actually rather bad implications because they may be looking for other ways to make money taking bribes on the side and that would not be a good thing for public policy. I've been speaking with David Shirk he's director of the justice in Mexico program at the University of San Diego. David thank you. Thank you Mary.

Mexico's newly inaugurated president hit the ground running Monday with his pledge to govern as a common man and end decades of secrecy, heavy security and luxury enjoyed by past presidents.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sported slightly ruffled hair at his first early morning news conference as president, which started at 7 a.m. local time.

"Isn't that a change, that I am here, informing you?" Lopez Obrador asked reporters. While past presidents have very seldom held news conferences, Lopez Obrador promised to do so on a near-daily basis, much as he did when he was mayor of Mexico City from 2000-2005.

Lopez Obrador took his first airplane flight as president Sunday, boarding a commercial flight with the rest of the passengers. He has promised to sell the presidential jet as an austerity measure.

Lopez Obrador arrived at Mexico City's National Palace in the same white compact car he used before taking office Saturday. Lopez Obrador refused the military bodyguards used by past presidents and travels with a small staff of aides who provide security. He usually travels tourist class.

"I feel safe, protected and supported by the Mexican people," Lopez Obrador said.

He also claimed that the number of murders had declined Saturday and Sunday, his first two days in office.

In the first ten months of 2018, homicides in Mexico have run at an average of just over 80 per day.

But Lopez Obrador said the average over the weekend was about 50, according to initial reports. He cautioned that those totals are preliminary and still under review. Nor did he offer any explanation about why homicides would have fallen.

Lopez Obrador took the formal oath of office Saturday and then participated in a ceremony performed by indigenous leaders who gave him a symbolic staff of power and traditional healers who blew incense smoke over him and brushed him with bundles of herbs to ritually purify him.

At 65, Lopez Obrador is the oldest president in the last half-century — six of his eight predecessors were in their 40s when they took office — and despite his slow manner of speaking, the gray-haired leftist has displayed impressive stamina.

Following a lengthy inauguration address, he spent more than an hour and a half speaking in Mexico City's main square, talking about government programs in granular detail: how concrete for roads would be mixed to maximize the use of local labor, which animal and tree species would be best for agriculture and reforestation programs. He didn't even pause to drink water.

"The only doubt at this point is how many cabinet secretaries and assistants are going to be able to keep up with the president's rhythm?" wrote newspaper columnist Salvador Garcia Soto.

Lopez Obrador then attended a military ceremony in the capital Sunday before making a round-trip commercial flight to the Gulf coast state of Veracruz and doing what he loves best: speaking at a provincially rally, pressing the flesh with locals and receiving petitions.

The president and his staff also said Monday that the necessary work would continue to safeguard the foundations already built at the proposed new Mexico City airport project he plans to cancel in favor of expanding existing airports.

Officials have not determined what will be done with the vast foundations built on a former lakebed known as Texcoco. But some further work is needed to keep the slabs from decaying or sinking.

Lopez Obrador has promised to protect investors who bought bonds to fund the construction, but on Monday the airport fund issued an auction offer to re-purchase $1.8 billion of $6 billion worth of bonds at a price of 90 cents to $1 on the dollar of principal amounts, suggesting some bondholders may take a haircut.