ROME — For the first time in its modern history, Mexico has a left-wing president, newly-elected Andres Manuel López Obrador, who took office on Saturday.
He replaces Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which has had almost hegemonic rule over the country since 1929. (The center-right National Action Party broke this hegemony in 2000, holding the presidency for twelve years.)
In his opening speech, López Obrador promised to fight corruption and said that he has “no right” to fail his countrymen, who made AMLO — as he’s known — the president with the most votes in Mexico’s contemporary history.
In politics for the past two decades, this was the third time he ran for the presidency, and as leader of the Movement of National Regeneration (Morena) he didn’t have trouble distancing himself from his predecessor, who left office sinking in the polls.
A well-known politician in Mexico – though not admired by everyone – López Obrador presented himself as an alternative to the establishment in a country that is facing growing violence from organized crime, deep-rooted corruption and a migrant crisis with over 6,000 people from Central America currently at the border with the United States.
The Mexican bishops are on the fence with the new president, with most taking a “let’s wait and see” attitude, but some have shared their thoughts, either in editorials or through interviews.
Among them is Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico City, chosen by Pope Francis to lead one of the world’s largest dioceses. In the diocesan newspaper Desde la Fe, he published a column on Saturday saying that the new government has to address three crises right out of the gate: The weakening of the social fabric, the crisis of legality, and the crisis of morality.
In all of them, Aguiar wrote, “the Church and the government have an unavoidable and unpostponable responsibility.”
According to the cardinal, it’s “scandalous” that in a country with such deep Catholic roots (82 percent of the population is Catholic), the principles that sustain coexistence and social unity are so disrespected.
On the other hand, he wrote that Mexicans have turned laws into “norms susceptible to negotiations,” giving leeway to generalized corruption.
Regarding the moral crisis, he said it’s also affected the Church at times, that instead of being an example of “honorability,” it’s produced a “weakening of the people’s religious base.” In addition to this, there’s a moral crisis in the political class, that has “lost its conscience.”
Father Mario Angel Flores, rector of Mexico’s Pontifical University, also had a column in the same weekly newspaper, writing that the Church favors unity, but not authoritarianism.
According to the priest, the biggest challenge Lopez Obrador faces is politics itself and the way he’ll address the growing violence, social inequality, poverty, education and public health.
“This is a government that has awakened a great expectation in an ample sector of society,” he wrote. Yet, “the time for campaigns has ended and it’s time to govern. Politics, the priest wrote, is the “art of creating trust in the environment so that things happen. It’s a space of dialogue, negotiation and agreements for the common good.”
Flores believes that in the weeks leading to the installation, López Obrador began “on the wrong foot,” by wasting “the enormous political capital he has,” by making “arbitrary and unfounded decisions.”
The new president has been criticized for the cancellation of the Texcoco airport, a $13.3 billion project that was already underway.
Yet the strongest words from the archdiocese came in the editorial, under the headline, “We will be collaborators, but not accomplices.”
“Certainly, the political, social and economic reality of our country and of the world has changed, though its fundamental elements continue to be the same: The clamor for dignified and stable work, security, respect for the institutions, promotion of specific groups, empowerment of women, bigger spaces of education and culture, and an ample etcetera well known,” the editorial says.
It also says that as the six-year presidency begins, the Catholic Church must not stay at the sidelines of “important decisions,” but participate “with legitimacy in public life, favoring the processes of transformation and adding from its wisdom to the construction of a more fraternal Mexico, one that is more charitable and at peace.”
“The Church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It wants to be up to the challenge and demand of each government what we must give: an always generous response to the same challenging reality, Mexico,” the editorial says.
Bishop Antonio Gonzalez Sanchez, of the Diocese of Victoria, questioned the new president’s “lack of proposals,” saying that ever since his victory, he hasn’t spoken about the violence in Mexico, about how he’s going to address it, regardless of the fact that, according to the bishop, “it’s one of the country’s key issues.”
On Monday, López Obrador did address an historic tragedy. He established a truth commission into the disappearance of 43 students in the town of Iguala in 2014. They were killed, most likely by members of the security services. No one has ever been prosecuted for the crime.