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Violence, crime, Trump: the new Mexican president's inbox

Monday, 2 July 2018

Violence, crime, Trump: the new Mexican president's inbox

AFP - Anti-establishment leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won a resounding victory in Mexico's presidential election Sunday -- but he won't have much time to celebrate.

From endemic corruption to record crime, from a lackluster economy to the phenomenon that is Donald Trump, the man known as "AMLO" inherits a messy to-do list when he takes office on December 1.

- Violence -

Lopez Obrador vowed in his victory speech to change the government's current strategy for fighting the country's powerful drug cartels.

The blowback from the military crackdown the authorities launched in 2006 has been enormous.

Fragmented cartels battling each other and the authorities have unleashed a wave of violence. Last year, a record 25,000 people were murdered.

Lopez Obrador promised to combat "the root causes of violent crime," citing inequality and poverty -- though his speech was short on details.

But the violence is unlikely to end soon, said Mike Vigil, former head of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

"Criminal groups are fighting each other for control of opium poppy crops, heroin distribution networks, and I think the violence won't decrease for a long while," he told AFP.

The keys, he said, will be training local police forces and rooting out corrupt officials who are allied with the cartels.

- Corruption -

This is Lopez Obrador's number one issue.

Outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto's government and party were mired in a seemingly bottomless series of scandals.

Lopez Obrador calls corruption the root of all Mexico's evils, from inequality to poverty to violence.

"The issue of corruption was the outlet where much of Mexican society's dissatisfaction was channeled," said Arturo Sanchez of the Technological University of Monterrey.

"People will be expecting immediate results."

- Trump -

Mexico's relations with its powerful neighbor the United States have been rocky since President Donald Trump won the White House in 2016, on a platform that featured anti-Mexican insults and promises to build a massive border wall.

Lopez Obrador has lashed out at Trump in the past, vowing to "put him in his place."

But he said in his victory speech he wanted a relationship of "friendship and cooperation."

Trump meanwhile tweeted he was "very much looking forward to working with" Lopez Obrador.

"AMLO is not going to pay for the wall, that's for sure," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

"But he has made it clear that he wants good relations with the US."

- Economy -

Latin America's second-largest economy, after Brazil, has had lackluster growth in recent years.

And Lopez Obrador faces deep skepticism from the business sector -- though both sides extended tentative olive branches Sunday.

The president-elect vowed to pursue market-friendly policies, while the head of the Business Coordinating Council, Juan Pablo Castanon, pledged to "work together... to build an agenda for stability, trust and development."

Among the stickiest issues on the economic to-do list: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Canada, which Trump insisted on renegotiating.

Negotiators from the three countries failed to strike a deal before the elections, and may now have to start over with a new, trade-skeptical Mexican president in charge.

The deal is crucial for Mexico, which sends some 80 percent of its exports to the United States.

The ongoing NAFTA talks are expected to resume this month and run into 2019.

"Reaching some sort of deal will depend mostly on the US softening its stance and abandoning some of its most controversial proposals," said consulting firm Eurasia Group.

- Migration -

Trump has also lashed out over the issue of Mexican and Central American migrants arriving in the United States.

His administration's "zero-tolerance" policy on undocumented migrants and separation of migrant families have newly strained ties.

Lopez Obrador said under his government, "those who want to migrate will do so because they want to, not because they have to."

But he has been short on specifics.

The new president will need to support regional development and ensure Mexico itself is "treating Central American migrants humanely," said Laborde.