Mexico put an end to months of dire warnings, hand wringing and speculation on July 1 with a presidential election that appears to have taken place without large scale violence or tampering. To recapitulate, leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the election by a wide margin and the losing candidates conceded without delay. The election was widely covered in the international press so we will not go into the details here. We would, however, like to offer up some comments from our perspective on what’s happening during the five-month transition period before Mr. López Obrador is set for inauguration as Mexico’s next president on December 1.
López Obrador (also commonly referred to in Mexico as AMLO or El Peje) has been a busy beaver since the election, naming proposed heads of ministries for his government and announcing major policy initiatives he plans to pursue. Based on the frenetic series of announcements, in our estimation so far there has been no major shocker to validate fears (or hopes, in the case of a few hard core chairos) that El Peje will be turning Mexico into Venezuela forthright. Of course, the guy is still months away from the presidency, but the people he has identified to head key agencies seem to have legit credentials. This is a welcome sign of sobriety given our concerns that he would use the ministries to reward his deep trove of unsavory political allies (eg. CNTE, APPO, CETEG, Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, Ricardo Monreal, etc.), but we will have to see how things play out after December.
Various of the proposed ministers, like their boss, have been largely cautious in their statements to the media to avoid setting off alarm bells on the right. Proposed Energy Minister Rocío Nahle, for example, has downplayed AMLO’s past threats to cancel the current administration’s wide ranging energy sector reforms, focusing instead on improving oil refining capacity by rehabilitating existing refineries in poor operating condition. Also reassuring is the proposal of Jesus Seade to lead Mexico’s NAFTA negotiating team. Mr. Seade, reportedly an Oxford-trained economist whose résumé includes the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, has reiterated the incoming government’s commitment to updating the trilateral NAFTA agreement rather than abandoning the accord. Interestingly, López Obrador’s transition team recently published a letter from the President-elect himself to U.S. President Donald Trump urging him to pursue swift completion of a new NAFTA agreement, in part to provide certainty for investment. Pardon us, but this is not the kind of declarations we are accustomed to from past AMLO political campaigns. We are, however, well pleased with the change of tone so far.
One of the most toothsome tidbits of the transition thus far has been the proposal of Marcelo Ebrard as Minister of Foreign Relations in the new government. Oh, how sweet it must be for Mr. Ebrard. We have long described Marcelo Ebrard as a political crocodile, a wily and powerful beast who prefers to remain mostly hidden in the weeds while others thrash about in the media, only to pounce once the moment is right. Ebrard served as mayor of Mexico City from 2006 to 2012, during which he battled Andrés Manuel López Obrador for the their party’s nomination as presidential candidate. In customarily wily fashion, Ebrard achieved the near impossible by fighting and nearly defeating AMLO for the party’s highest nod without permanently destroying their personal and professional relationship. Once López Obrador was named candidate for the second time, Ebrard sucked it up and put his game face on. He would have stuck around to be a loyal soldier but alas he had to hightail it to France to escape charges of corruption due to a public transport mega-project that went pear-shaped during his mayoralty.
Ebrard has spent most of the current government’s six year term lurking in the weeds of foreign exile to be on the safe side, but do you think he gave up his cherished dream of the presidency? He did not. Once it started looking inevitable that AMLO’s campaign was at long last steaming toward victory, Marcelo Ebrard appeared genie-like at the candidate’s side as a key member of the campaign team. His designation on July 5 as proposed Foreign Minister represents a triumph of tenacity, guile and political rehabilitation. Whether the portfolio was Foreign Relations, Hydraulic Resources or Silly Walks is immaterial; the challenge for Mr. Ebrard now will be to navigate the roiling waters of Mexican national politics and position himself as Morena’s 2024 presidential candidate without self-immolating along the way. For all we know, the handshake on that deal may already have taken place.