Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

AMLO Update: What to Make of His Controversial Airport Vote

Reading Time: 2 minutesThe first day of the president-elect’s Mexico City airport consultation showed the risks of improvisational politics.
Reading Time: 2 minutes


Reading Time: 2 minutes

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Highlight of the Week

contentious national debate over the fate of a new Mexico City airport shifted focus this week to AMLO’s public consultation on the $13 billion project.

In a four-day nationwide vote that began Thursday morning, López Obrador is asking Mexicans to decide between continued construction on a project currently underway outside the capital, or a cheaper alternative touted by the president-elect and his team. (See our Oct. 12 update for more on Mexico City’s airport options.)

But the first day of voting reinforced concerns over of the consultation’s organization and legitimacy. Arranged privately and without the backing of government institutions, consultation voters marked ballots in plain view of pollworkers, a website offering information on where to vote crashed early in the day, and washable ink was used to mark participants’ fingers, rather than the indelible kind. Several people reported voting multiple times.

AMLO’s staff said that numerous reports of irregularities would not invalidate the poll; incoming interior secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero discounted concerns, calling the consultation a political tool, not a legal one. 

Some analysts believe López Obrador has already made up his mind on the project, and is using the consultation for political cover – though they’re split on which direction he’s decided. On Thursday transition officials reported that more than 180,000 people took part in the first day of voting.

What they’re saying: How financial markets might react if the airport project is canceled; José Woldenberg on the questionable legality of the consultation; Genaro Lozano on why Mexicans should participate in the vote, despite its flaws. 

Military Decisions 

López Obrador surprised oddsmakers by selecting General Luis Cresencio Sandoval to take over for General Salvador Cienfuegos as Mexico’s secretary for national defense. AMLO said that both Cienfuegos and President Enrique Peña Nieto supported the decision. 

Sandoval, who has spoken favorably of the military’s role in public security, has strong ties to the U.S., including time as a military attaché at the Mexican Embassy in Washington. AMLO this week also named Admiral José Rafael Ojeda as secretary of the navy. 

López Obrador said he asked for an investigation of the candidates by Mexico’s national human rights commission prior to making his picks. The announcement came as the incoming administration finalizes its security strategy, which is expected to be revealed in coming days.

What they’re saying: César Gutiérrez Priego tells Aristegui Noticias that Sandoval’s independence makes him a “perfect” choice as secretary; MX Security Blog on the task ahead for Sandoval and Ojeda; Leonardo Curzio discusses the results of AMLO’s security forums with incoming security secretary Alfonso Durazo. 


Speaking in the southern border state of Chiapas, AMLO said he would insist that U.S. President Donald Trump move forward on a plan to reduce migration from Central America by bringing jobs and economic development to the region. 

Members of AMLO’s incoming cabinet met with officials in Canada to discuss cooperation on mining, work visas and trade policy, as well as the possibility of Mexico following Canada’s lead on marijuana legalization. 

López Obrador criticized state oil firm Pemex’s plan to import crude oil from the U.S., calling it “an example of the failed neoliberal or neo-Porfirian economic policy of the last 30 years.” 

Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, a key figure of the Mexican left, asked the Senate not to to ratify Mexico’s recent trade agreement with Canada and the U.S., raising the prospect of wider-spread opposition to the deal from within AMLO’s base. 

Quote of the Week

“The lion thinks that we’re all like him.”

López Obrador responded to criticism that the format of his airport consultation left its results open to manipulation, implying that many of the survey’s opponents only see a chance for corruption because they are corrupt themselves. “El león cree que todos son de su condición” is a common phrase in Spanish. 

AQ’s AMLO Update returns Nov. 9

Russell is AQ’s correspondent in Mexico City


Benjamin Russell is a writer based in Los Angeles and Mexico City, and a former editor of AQ.

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