Coronavirus slump threatens Mexican president’s crusade on poverty

(Reuters) – When President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won office with the biggest popular mandate since Mexico’s transition to democracy, he pledged to transform the country from the bottom up, putting the poor first.

Two years on, recession, rows with business and the coronavirus pandemic have jeopardized that ambition. Millions of people have lost their jobs and his response to the crisis has drawn criticism.

Lopez Obrador was elected in July 2018 with 53% of the vote, a far bigger share than the three other men to have run Mexico since one-party rule ended in 2000. He registered approval ratings of 80% after he took office that December.

But that optimism has faded in the face of political polarization, dismay over surging crime and frustration with the leftist’s tendency to pick fights with business.

Now, with fears growing about the economic impact of the pandemic, both critics and some well-wishers warn that without a more pragmatic approach, the 66-year-old Lopez Obrador will struggle to revive investment and tackle chronic poverty.

“And the president, with the best intentions of helping the poor, will end up impoverishing more people,” said Fernando Turner, a businessman and supporter who was Lopez Obrador’s pick for economy minister in the 2012 presidential campaign.

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