MEXICO CITY — He is Mexico’s Bernie Sanders, according to his foreign fans. No, say critics — he is more like a Mexican Hugo Chávez.
In fact, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s new leftist president, is pretty different from both the American senator and Venezuela’s late socialist leader. But like them, he is a man with a plan.
A big plan.
To López Obrador, known as AMLO, the six-year term beginning Saturday isn’t just another presidency. It is the “Fourth Transformation” — following independence from Spain, the mid-19th century political reforms and the Mexican Revolution.
He is promising to end corruption. To transform the “neoliberal” economic model. To pacify a country with soaring violence — bringing in Pope Francis to help if needed.
It might be tempting to laugh off some of his proposals. Free Internet all over the place! A train linking the Atlantic and Pacific coasts! Two million acres planted with trees!
But, in a country fed up with politics as usual, he won a landslide victory.
Sure, he may be a megalomaniac, but his approach is seductive, said Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez, a political scientist at the Tecnológico de Monterrey university.
“Because for a long time we were in a consensus — which many people in the world are sick of — that says we can’t do anything,” he said. Big social programs are impossible. The economy won’t allow them. Progress will only come little by little.
“López Obrador says, of course we can achieve it. … We are going to convert ourselves into this great power of the 21st century,” said Silva-Herzog Márquez.
Economists question the new president’s assurances that he can pay for his ideas with savings from cutting corruption and official salaries and perks. Details are not exactly López Obrador’s strong suit.
But the man has a plan. Here are some highlights of what he has promised:
- Build a “Mayan Train” connecting five states in the southeast.
- Upgrade an old rail line to create a transportation link between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
- Pave 300 roads in the poor southern state of Oaxaca.
- Provide Internet coverage nationwide, with free access in schools, hospitals and public spaces.
- Double monthly payments to the elderly.
- Provide regular financial assistance to a million disabled people.
- Create 100 public universities during this presidential term.
- Eliminate entrance exams for universities.
- Provide a monthly payment to students in 10th to 12th grades to lower the dropout rate.
- Raise the salaries of teachers, doctors, nurses, police officers and soldiers.
- Double the minimum wage in the area near the U.S. border.
- Offer paid apprenticeships for 2.3 million young people.
- Make the Mexican economy grow at least 4 percent annually.
- Don’t spend more money than what the government receives.
- Decentralize the government, moving ministries to different states.
- Turn the presidential residence into a park, and sell the presidential jet.
- Cut officials’ salaries (including the president’s).
- Get rid of the president’s security force, the equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service.
- Freeze gas prices for three years.
- Revive the fortunes of the state oil company.
- Put together a plan to pacify violent areas involving religious leaders, academics, the United Nations, and human-rights activists — and maybe ask for the pope’s help.
- Create a National Guard, under military command.
- Explore possible amnesty for low-level crimes.