MEXICO CITY (AP) — Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been president of Mexico for a year, after a landslide 2018 vote. He pledged a presidency close to the people, austere, with punishment for the corrupt and greater safety and economic wellbeing.
Not all has gone according to plan. The country’s murder rate continues to log record highs, while economic growth this year has been flat and borders on recession. Corruption and crime remain difficult plagues to eradicate, though the administration has taken on some high-profile targets.
Despite the hurdles, the president still has widespread popular support. Polls show more than half of Mexicans approve of the way he is running the country. Many of those who supported him in the election say it’s too early to cast judgment — that he needs time to transform the country. Their fervor is anchored in the belief that he is an honest person with good intentions, as humble as the poor Mexicans he says he aims to help.
Here are the voices of three Mexicans who supported López Obrador as he completes his first year in office:
FRANCISCO GALVAN, 18
Had Francisco Galván been old enough to vote, he would have cast a ballot last year for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, just like his parents did.
The cook from Ecatepec, a sprawling suburb of Mexico City, is saving money for university. He’d like to study gastronomy or maybe even law.
With López Obrador in office, he hopes that maybe he can obtain some financial assistance — such as the $50 monthly subsidy that some of his friends still in high school receive as an incentive to stay in school. A supplement like that is significant, he says.
“The changes haven’t been drastic, but you can see them,” he says.
His days remain long. He sets out in the morning on a two-hour commute that starts with a micro-bus, then a subway ride and then yet another bus to the high-end neighborhood of Polanco, where he works.
Yet his aspirations are growing alongside the possibility of support from a president who says reducing inequality is a top priority.
“The truth is he’s very honorable, humble,” says Galván. “He’s a good person.”
MARIA SARA GUZMAN, 62
An artisan from the Purépecha indigenous community of the state of Michoacán, María Sara Guzmán says she already feels disillusioned with López Obrador.
“He offered that the poor and the indigenous would be first, and it turns out that’s not the case,” she says. “It’s the opposite — they’re taking away benefits.”
Just as the president has expanded support for students from low-income families and the elderly, he has also scrapped some popular social programs. Guzmán says her children and grandchildren have lost scholarships they used to count on from the government.
As an indigenous woman who has lived in the capital for four decades, she feels discriminated against. Gesturing toward her full skirt, which billows out under a wide woven scarf — traditional attire of her village — she says: “Because of our dress, people see us as weird bugs.”
The hope she felt ahead of the election and that led her to vote for López Obrador has dissipated as she continues to struggle to make ends meet. Her biggest complaint is harassment by police in the capital – which has a mayor from the president’s Morena party — who chase her away from public sidewalks where she weaves hats out of palm fronds and embroiders. They also confiscate her wares.
“They take — they steal — the merchandise,” she says. “This is very complicated embroidery.”
Another concern for Guzmán is the large number of women being raped and murdered in the country; on average, 10 women are murdered every day. Violence against women has become a leading issue in Mexico.
Whereas she thought López Obrador would be an ally, Guzmán now describes herself as “fighting against the government.”
DAMIAN BANUELOS, 32
Damián Bañuelos is a Huichol artisan from the mountains of Nayarit, a state on the Pacific coast, who feels the Mexican president is far more accessible and in touch with the people than his predecessors.
Bañuelos was so inspired by López Obrador that he waited all day in a line to cast a vote for the president – the first time the artisan exercised his right to vote. He believed the promises to help the poor, and the indigenous, and he says the benefits have begun to reach the elderly and others in need.
López Obrador spends many weekends visiting small communities in far-flung corners of Mexico, such as Bañuelos’ hometown. These televised visits have led to unflinching devotion in remote and isolated places like Las Higuera del Nayar, where Bañuelos was born.
“He goes often to the Sierra — those before never went,” says Bañuelos. “He’s more accessible, you can communicate with him.”
Bañuelos left his tiny village of subsistence farmers for the state capital of Tepic years ago so that he could work and study. He has labored in construction, and picked tomatoes, all the while perfecting his embroidery skills.
Now from sunrise to sunset, he embroiders geometric Huichol designs onto bracelets and bags. The multicolored bag strung across his shoulder on a recent day in the capital’s main square took him about a month to embroider and would sell for more than $100.