MEXICO – This is Bernie Sanders, from Mexico, according to his foreign fans. No, say critics, he looks more like a Mexican Hugo Chávez.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the new Mexican left-wing president, is quite different from the US senator and the last Venezuelan socialist leader. But like them, he is a man with a plan.
A big plan.
For López Obrador, known as AMLO, the six-year term beginning Saturday is not just a presidency. This is the "fourth transformation" – after the independence of Spain, the mid-nineteenth century political reforms and the Mexican revolution.
He promises to put an end to corruption. Transform the "neoliberal" economic model. To pacify a country where violence is soaring, invite Pope Francis to help, if necessary.
It might be tempting to make fun of some of his proposals. Free internet everywhere! A train connecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts! Two million acres planted with trees!
But in a country tired of politics as usual, he won a landslide victory.
Admittedly, he may be a megalomaniac, but his approach is appealing, said Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez, a political scientist at the Tecnológico University of Monterrey.
"Because for a long time we were in a consensus – of which many people in the world are fed up – that says we can not do anything," he said. Major social programs are impossible. The economy will not allow them. Progress will come only little by little.
"López Obrador says, of course we can do it. … We will convert to this great power of the 21st century, "said Silva-Herzog Márquez.
Economists question the new president's assurances that he could pay for his ideas by saving money on corruption reduction and the salaries and benefits of civil servants. The details are not exactly the strong point of López Obrador.
But the man has a plan. Here are some highlights of what he promised:
- Build a "Mayan train" linking five Southeast states.
- Modernize an old railway line to create a transport link between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
- Paving 300 roads in the poor southern state of Oaxaca.
- Provide Internet coverage throughout the country, with free access to schools, hospitals and public spaces.
- Double monthly payment to seniors.
- Provide regular financial assistance to one million people with disabilities.
- Create 100 public universities during this presidential term.
- Eliminate entrance exams for universities.
- Provide a monthly payment to students in grades 10 to 12 to reduce the dropout rate.
- Increase salaries for teachers, doctors, nurses, police officers and soldiers.
- Double the minimum wage in the region close to the US border.
- Offer paid apprenticeships to 2.3 million young people.
- Grow the Mexican economy by at least 4% a year.
- Do not spend more than what the government receives.
- Decentralize government, moving ministries into different states.
- Turn the presidential residence into a park and sell the presidential jet.
- Cut the salaries of civil servants (including those of the president).
- Get rid of the president's security force, the equivalent of the US secret service.
- Freeze gas prices for three years.
- Revive the fortune of the state oil company.
- Develop a plan to pacify violent areas involving religious leaders, academics, the United Nations, and human rights activists – and perhaps ask the pope for help.
- Create a national guard, under military command.
- Explore the possible amnesty for crimes of lesser gravity.