Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was born on 13 November 1953 to a family of modest means in the southeastern state of Tabasco. Lopez Obrador worked for the state’s indigenous affairs bureau in the 1970s.
As a boy in the state of Tabasco, he played center field on the local baseball team and sold imported U.S. clothes at his father’s store. It was the 1960s, and some of his friends thought López Obrador might join Mexico’s burgeoning business community.
In his early 20s, López Obrador took a job working with an indigenous group called the Chontal Maya, some of Mexico’s poorest people, who happened to be sitting atop billions of dollars in untapped petroleum. The unfairness enraged him. He lived in a dirt-floor shack and slept on a hammock with his young wife. He cultivated a group of activists, poets and disaffected oilmen, meeting late in the night.
López Obrador began his political career with the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which had been at the heart of Mexico’s authoritarian system since 1929.
“At the time, there was no other option for an aspiring politician,” said José Agustín Ortiz Pinchetti, a former top aide to López Obrador who wrote a recent biography of him.
Even during his PRI days, López Obrador saw himself as an activist, representing the state of Tabasco in negotiations with Pemex, trying to convince oil workers that they should demand better wages and benefits. He named his son Jesús Ernesto after Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Marxist guerrilla who fought with Fidel Castro in Cuba. When a nonprofit group invited him to visit the United States, his only demand was that he get to tour a Native American reservation.
He was a member of outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto’s PRI. In 1988, López Obrador left the PRI, joining a leftist opposition party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Although he ran and lost twice for governor of Tabasco — results that he said were fraudulent — López Obrador remained an icon of the opposition and rose to become the national leader of the PRD. He assailed the corruption he saw across the ruling party.
He lost in Tabasco’s governor race two times.
In 1994, after his second loss, he staged a protest march to the capital, helping raise his profile, especially during a time of growing opposition to the PRI.
By the late 1990s, his activism helped him build a public profile that expanded beyond Tabasco. Even though López Obrador had no governing experience, he was elected mayor of Mexico City in 2000, the year the PRI finally lost the presidency. The mayor’s job was a position that gave him considerable influence and allowed him to show his pragmatic streak.
López Obrador inherited a city with surging crime. He hired former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani as a consultant, paying him $4.3 million to help solve the problem, which remained serious during his five-year term.
He ran for president in 2006 on promises to “put the poor first”. Opponents likened him to then-President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and launched a campaign branding him “a danger for Mexico”.
While Lopez Obrador has a significant number of supporters, he has remained a controversial figure. Some of his critics still fear he could become a Mexican version of Hugo Chavez.
Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s ex-chancellor and Ricardo Anaya’s campaign coordinator said that AMLO “represents a return to the nationalism of the 70s of the last century”. Castaneda also claims that AMLO believes in old-fashioned protectionism, statism and subsidies.
At the time, López Obrador rejected parts of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a stance he has since abandoned. His critics said then — and continue to say — that López Obrador has a shaky grasp of national economic and public policy.
“You look at his books, and the only citations are Bible verses,” said Esteban Illades, the editor of Nexos magazine.
When he lost the election by half a percentage point, López Obrador alleged fraud and refused to accept the results. He and his supporters held protests in downtown Mexico City, blocking traffic and erecting encampments.
He ran again in 2012, losing by a larger margin to Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI. But since then, as Peña Nieto’s presidency has been buffeted by corruption scandals and a rising homicide rate, López Obrador’s popularity has soared. By this past March, he was leading his competitors in the presidential polls by more than eight points. By late June, he was up by 17 points.
In an effort to appease the business leaders of Mexico, Lopez Obrador has promised there will be “no expropriations, no nationalisations”. He has promised his social programmes will be funded entirely by the money saved from stamping out corruption. In doing so, he says, he will not have to raise taxes.
His critics question the feasibility of the plans and contend the proposals lack concrete details.
Lopez Obrador has also said reviews of contracts under the energy reform would seek only to guarantee they were not won through corruption.
López Obrador once said he would not allow Mexico’s oil “to return to foreign hands.” But his advisers have met with millionaire American investment managers to assure them of López Obrador’s affinity for the free market. The oil industry, which played such a huge role in his own political evolution, will be a crucial litmus test.
Some of his old friends in Tabasco see a onetime aspiring revolutionary who became a centrist.
“He’s not the same man. Now he spends his time with PRI-istas and business executives. The talk of revolution is gone,” said Jaber, the longtime friend and human rights lawyer.
Opposing the ‘power mafia’
Casting himself as an anti-establishment candidate, Mr López Obrador has directed his biggest criticism at what he says is a “power mafia” that has ruled Mexico for decades.
His plans include increasing scholarships for young Mexicans and expanding social welfare programmes for the elderly.
Following a bruising war of words with prominent business leaders, whom he accused of acting “like they owned Mexico”, Mr López Obrador has extended an olive branch, offering “good relations” with the private sector.
Standing up to Trump
Faced with hostility towards Mexico by US President Donald Trump, Mr López Obrador has maintained an attitude of proud defiance.
He said that he would not allow Mexico to be Mr Trump’s “whipping boy”, but added that he wants “friendship” and “mutual respect” with the US and that he would seek to avoid any trade war.
However, he has blasted Mr Trump’s anti-immigrant policies as “irresponsible” and “racist”.
- Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Biography and Profile