Left-leaning populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will be Mexico’s president for the next six years, once he takes the oath of office in December. He’s a stark contrast to the conservative, protectionist Donald Trump who has imposed harsh tariffs on Mexico and demanded a reworking of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
And yet, the elections of these two men are similar in many ways. Both are seen as a rejection of the status quo, and both amassed large followings by making promises that they will be hard-pressed to keep.
But how will the diametrically different stances of the two presidents affect the relationship between the two countries, and especially the border region that is directly affected by both?
Lopez Obrador, known popularly by his initials AMLO, was a longtime leader in Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, known by its Mexican abbreviation of PRI, and ran for that party’s presidential nomination twice. He formed the National Regeneration Movement, or Morena, party in 2014 with a coalition of smaller independent parties.
His socialist leanings are well known. He has long promoted bigger government control over the economy and was friendly with Venezuela’s communist dictator Hugo Chavez.
This raises many questions regarding whether he will reverse much of Mexico’s recent growth and privatization of major commodities and services, such as the telephone industry. Might he decide to re-nationalize the petroleum industry, which once was a source of national pride for its repudiation of U.S. oil companies?
Interestingly, analysts say, Trump’s efforts to decertify NAFTA remove many of the treaty’s stipulations that would prevent AMLO from taking such steps.
Any curtailment of private business and investment certainly would affect the Rio GrandeValley and other border areas that have benefited from the trade that has blossomed in the past two decades under NAFTA.
Nationalization of Mexico’s oil industry could affect the oil and gas sector’s recent growth in South Texas. In addition, any trade war, especially with regard to recent steel tariffs the Trump administration imposed on Mexico, will also affect our region, where the Port of Brownsville recently announced plans to construct the first industrial smelter in South Texas.
Worse, a return to a more socialistic government could dry up private opportunities for many Mexicans, who once again might see their best chance at a successful life north of the Rio Grande. After years of reduced immigration from Mexico, could a new wave of economic refugees challenge Trump’s decidedly anti-immigration policies, and put new strains on social service agencies in the Valley?
Such questions and more await to be answered until Lopez Obrador takes office. Regardless of the outcome, the Rio Grande Valley will continue to be the testing ground for many of the policies that are created in Washington and Mexico City.