He’s the leader of Mexico and, recently unbeknownst to at least two 2020 U.S. Democratic presidential candidates, he has a name: Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The 66-year-old, who also goes by the acronym “AMLO,” won the election for Mexico’s highest office in July 2018. He has vowed to reform the country from top to bottom, ranging from wiping out the longtime “mafia of power” in government to implementing a controversial “hugs not bullets” approach to deal with drug cartels.
“I confess that I have a legitimate ambition: I want to go down in history as a good president of Mexico,” López Obrador has said. “I desire with all my soul to raise the greatness of our country on high.”
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López Obrador, the founder of the left-wing National Regeneration Movement party, is also an outspoken critic of President Trump, once vowing that Mexico “will never be the piñata of any foreign government.”
Born in 1953 to a family of shopkeepers, López Obrador grew up in the town of Tepetitán, near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Early in his political career, he reportedly lived in a dirt-floor shack, built houses for the poor and marched for environmental protections against the giant state-owned, state-run oil company, PEMEX.
From 2000 to 2005, López Obrador served as Mexico City’s mayor. He gained prominence for launching welfare programs for the elderly and teaming up with the country’s richest citizen – telecom businessman Carlos Slim – to revitalize the city’s downtown, according to the BBC.
López Obrador launched his first of three bids for president in 2006. But when the results came in and López Obrador lost by only less than 1 percent of the vote, he led protests in Mexico City for months, calling the outcome an “electoral fraud.”
He tried again and failed in 2012, before succeeding on a third attempt in 2018 by presenting himself as a champion of poor and rural Mexicans who would root out corruption and give scholarships or paid apprenticeships to youth.
Since taking office, López Obrador has answered more questions from the press, flown in more economy-class flights, posed for more selfies with admiring citizens and visited more genuinely risky areas with little or no security than several combined decades of his predecessors, The Associated Press reports
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“You’re more likely to see López Obrador buying himself a $1 styrofoam cup of coffee at a convenience store or eating beans at a roadside restaurant than to see him rubbing elbows with foreign dignitaries,” the news agency wrote in a 2019 profile.
He also has emerged as a steady critic of President Trump, once ripping the latter administration’s policy of separating families who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally as “arrogant, racist and inhuman.”
When Trump moved to impose a blanket 5 percent tariff on all Mexican goods, López Obrador accused him of “turning the United States, overnight, from a country of brotherly love for immigrants from around the world, to a bolted space, where there’s stigmatizing, mistreatment, abuse, persecution, and a denial of the right to justice to those who seek – with sacrifice and hard work – to live free from misery.”
But not all has been smooth sailing for López Obrador in the first few years of his term, especially when dealing with one of the country’s biggest problems: drug-related violence.
The president has used the catchy phrase “hugs not bullets” – or “abrazos, no balazos” in Spanish – in his promise to clear out violent drug cartels, not by waging war but by changing communities tackling what he said is at the root of the problem: extreme poverty.
Yet Mexico’s homicide rate hit a new record high in 2019 at more than 35,500 murders, suggesting the approach isn’t working as well as he had hoped.
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In one attack, suspected cartel gunmen killed nine U.S. citizens, including three women and six children in northern Mexico, prompting criticism of the government by U.S. lawmakers and discussion of whether the U.S. should join Mexico in fighting the cartels. The attack caused his approval ratings to sink.
A luxurious former presidential jet that López Obrador has been trying to pawn off as part of his austerity program has also turned into a white elephant. It returned to Mexico in January 2020 after failing to find a buyer in the U.S., where it piled up about $1.5 million in maintenance costs.
Fox News’ Sam Chamberlain, Elizabeth Llorente, Lucia I. Suarez Sang, Bradford Betz, David Aaro and The Associated Press contributed to this report.