Mexico’s new ‘common man’ president hits the ground running

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds his first news conference as president, which started at 7 a.m. local time in Mexico City, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. 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. (AP Photo/Christian Palma)

MARIA VERZA | THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MEXICO CITY — 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.

“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 flight as president Sunday, boarding a commercial airliner with the rest of the passengers. He has promised to sell the presidential jet as an austerity measure.

The new president arrived at Mexico City’s National Palace in the same white Volkswagen Jetta 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 economy 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 10 months of 2018, homicides in Mexico have run at an average of 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, and which animal and tree species would be best for agriculture and reforestation programs. He didn’t even pause to take a drink of 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 provincial rally, pressing the flesh with locals and receiving petitions.
On Monday, Lopez Obrador also signed a decree creating a truth commission to investigate the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in an apparent massacre

Prosecutors have said the students from a teachers college in southern Guerrero state were killed by a drug gang and incinerated in a massive fire. But conclusive evidence has not been found or presented, leading the students’ parents on a frustrating, painful four-year quest for the truth.

The president and his staff also said Monday that the necessary work would continue to complete the foundations of a partly built 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 airport foundations being built on a former lake bed known as Texcoco. But 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 pay off $1.8 billion of $6 billion worth of outstanding airport bonds at a price as low as 90 cents on the dollar of principal amounts, suggesting some bondholders may take a slight haircut.

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