On September 1, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) delivered his first State of the Union address. Although the media labeled the event as the “third” official message to the nation—the first one delivered during his swearing in ceremony last December and the second one on the eve of the one-year anniversary of his electoral victory on July 1, 2018—his speech on Sunday was mandated by Article 69 of the Mexican Constitution, which requires presidents to submit a written report on the state of the country during the first day Congress kicks-off its regular period of sessions. This was the first for AMLO.
During his nearly 100-minute address, AMLO touched on a diverse set of topics—from economic well-being, to security and peace, to the progress and savings generated by his now famous austerity plan—all within the framework of the so called “Fourth Transformation,” an ambitious political project to transform Mexico under AMLO’s rule. But with the Mexican economy reporting 0 percent GDP growth for the second quarter of 2019, homicides escalating to record breaking numbers, and a migration crisis on both sides of the Mexican border, the Fourth Transformation seems to be falling short of addressing the country’s challenges, both nationally and internationally.
In what many called just another one of his long morning press conferences (“mañaneras”), AMLO offered an overview of his first nine months in office, recapping his plan of ending corruption and impunity across the country, criticizing—as in his two previous messages and multiple “mañaneras”—the neo-liberal economic model applied in the last 36 years by “filthy public and private actors.”
AMLO also used the moment to highlight what he views as another basic objective of the new regime: “to gradually discard the technocratic obsession of measuring everything based on simple economic growth.” For AMLO, the fundamental goal is not to reach quantitative achievements but the equal distribution of income and wealth.
As Valeria Moy—Director of the think tank México, ¿Cómo vamos?—pointed out during a conference call at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, AMLO had to switch the rhetoric and talk about well-being because in economic terms, the new government has nothing to brag about. For Moy, talking about well-being and development is perfectly valid, but AMLO—throughout the address and in his first nine months in office—lacks a single data point to support that the Mexican population is better off under the “new regime.”
Below, we fact-check four of the most important or controversial points AMLO made during his “Informe de Gobierno” and evaluate whether Mexico is better off, or if the president’s statements were misleading or true.
“We should recognize that a principal factor that is truly important for the strengthening of the economy, promoted from below, with the people and for the people, has been the contribution of our living heroes, Mexican migrants, who in the first six months of this year sent a combined $18.845 billion in remittances to their families, the highest amount recorded in the country’s entire history. Remittances are the main source of income in Mexico…a round of applause to our migrants.”
AMLO’s praise of Mexican migrants residing in the United States who send remittances back to their native Mexico was one of the most controversial remarks he made during his hour and a half speech on Sunday. While it is true that during the first six months of 2019 remittances sent to Mexico reached $18.845 billion, to say that remittances are a principal factor in strengthening Mexico’s economy, even above income generated by the oil industry, implies that Mexico alone cannot sustain itself.
As Jorge Santibáñez, president of the Mexa Institute, writes for the LA Times “remittances aren’t foreign direct investment…[they] are not an indicator of confidence in Mexico or its economy, quite the contrary, they are an indicator of dependence on jobs that are in another country…” To further drive this point, during his September 2 “mañanera” (the press conference offered a day after his Informe), AMLO admitted that without remittances the country would be “worse off.”
Remittances are extremely helpful to receiving countries, but they also have economic downsides. According to the Financial Times, “by helping to subsidise low incomes at home [remittances] provide a cushion against the impact of slow growth, which eases pressure on governments to reform their policies.”
On PEMEX and the oil industry…
“…That is why I am proud to say that in the nine months that we have been in government we have not seen a decrease in [oil] production, on the contrary, production has stabilized. In December we will produce an additional 50 thousand barrels per day, and recovery of the national oil production will begin. This is an important advance.”
According to Animal Politico, AMLO’s statement that his government did “not lose [oil] production” is false. Figures published by Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX)—Mexico’s state-owned oil company—show that from December 2018 to January 2019, Pemex produced 47 thousand barrels fewer than the previous month. Production lost 10 thousand barrels from February to March, April saw 16 thousand fewer barrels than the previous month, and May 12 thousand barrels fewer than that. Even when comparing crude oil production of the first quarter in both 2018 and 2019, production fell by 11 percent in 2019.
On household income…
“Five out of 10 households in Mexico are receiving [financial] support, half in the general population so far. But in indigenous communities, nine out of every 10 households are receiving help, and before the end of the year, all households in indigenous communities will receive support.”
Since the campaign trail, AMLO has promised to fight for indigenous rights. No other plan supports this idea more than his 2018-2024 National program for Indigenous communities which would “give preference to the most humble and forgotten, especially the indigenous communities of Mexico.” AMLO also created the National Institute for Indigenous Communities (INPI) on December 4, 2018.
But while AMLO talks big on helping indigenous communities, a report by Animal Politico on August 7 showed that INPI used minimal resources for their programs designed to help indigenous communities. From the $128 million the institute had programed for the second trimester of 2019, it only spent $59.7 million, less than half its funding. The-least funded INPI program was the program for the betterment of indigenous production and productivity, which looks to finance productive projects like tourism or that focus on climate change mitigation. INPI also failed to utilize its budget even for its biggest project, the program for indigenous infrastructure. In the first half of the year, more than $30.4 million were left unused.
On human rights, security and the National Guard…
“Neither the Army nor the Navy have been used or will be used to repress society [during my administration]. The extermination war against the so-called “organized crime” is over. Raids, sweeps, or massacres are no longer allowed, neither is the disappearance of people allowed. The state has ceased to be the main violator of human rights.”
This isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last time AMLO claims the war on organized crime is over. Earlier this year, on January 30, AMLO said “officially there is no more war. We want peace, we will find peace.” And depending on what angle his comment is analyzed through, in this instance drug seizures as an indicator, he’s not wrong. During the first quarter of his first year, drug seizures by the National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA) dropped considerably compared to the previous year. And in the first seven months of his administration, SEDENA confiscated 13.7 percent less of the drug fentanyl, compared to the same time last year.
During the campaign trail AMLO repeatedly promoted peace. He promised to “remove soldiers from the streets [of Mexico]” and in his plan for peace and security proposed that the Mexican government negotiate the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of criminal organizations. But once in office, his stance changed. Although he continues to talk about peace and an end to the war on organized crime, he created the National Guard.
Although originally designed to tackle the nation’s public security crisis, the National Guard is currently being used to crack down on migrants—the very same AMLO claimed to invite and promised to protect—entering into Mexico through its border with Guatemala and traveling north through the country and into the United States. As Reynaldo Vizcarra-Mendez, partner at Baker & McKenzie Abogados, says “the National Guard was meant to be the new police to contain security problems in different regions of the country, not address the specific immigration problem.”
Not to mention that the rise in violence currently seen in Mexico is in part a result of this “war on organized crime.” Azam Ahmed from The New York Times writes, “Taking out the drug trade’s most dangerous leaders has not ended the trafficking. It has been all but proven that the so-called Kingpin Strategy pushed by the United States—in which the authorities try to cripple drug cartels by going after their leaders—has failed. Instead of destroying the cartels by cutting off their heads, the policy has spawned multi-headed hydras, smaller, less disciplined and often-deadlier spinoffs.”
Are the people in Mexico really happy, happy, happy?
During his speech AMLO assured that while the opposition is “morally defeated” given the change his regime has brought, most Mexicans support the [Fourth] Transformation and are “happy, happy, happy.” AMLO may still enjoy a 62.8 percent approval rating, but as he closes his first year in office, he won’t be able to distract attention much longer from facts that actually prove that the country is not that “happy.”
In fact, AMLO’s track record of reporting falsehoods or misleading information is one of the reasons thousands of Mexicans took to the streets outside of the National Palace, to protest his government that same Sunday. Throughout the protest, participants could be heard shouting “Fuera López” (Out López) and holding up signs denouncing AMLO as a “danger” to the country.
AMLO’s first Informe de Gobierno marks a new era for his government. Until now, AMLO justified any shortcoming in his government as an inheritance from the malfunctioning of past administrations. But from now on, as Moy says, “this address marks a turning point in his administration. No longer will he be able to blame past administrations, time has gone up and now has to be responsible for his own successes and failures.”