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AMLO Defends 1st Year: Mexico More Equal, More to Come

Michael O'Boyle

(Bloomberg) -- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador celebrated his first year in office touting his achievements in reducing inequality in the country, while defending an economy that fell short of targets.

AMLO, as the president is known, said in a speech Sunday before thousands that his push to establish new cash aid programs for the elderly, unemployed youth and the disabled improved the quality of life in Mexico. He promised to further expand those programs and to boost economic growth after Mexico fell into a mild recession in the first half of 2019.

“There still hasn’t been economic growth like we want, but there is a better distribution of wealth,” he said in the speech in the capital’s central plaza.

Lopez Obrador won in a landslide last year on a campaign promise to root out corruption, fight rising violence and boost the economy. His high popularity ratings have begun to falter as the murder rate is set to notch a fresh record this year.

As AMLO held his rally, thousands of Mexicans -- mostly dressed in white -- marched in the capital in another plaza carrying signs that criticized his security strategy, local media reported. AMLO defended his record on security in his speech, saying that his social programs aimed at reducing drug use in Mexico would help curb violence.

AMLO also thanked U.S. President Donald Trump for his “solidarity” after a failed attempt to capture the son of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman sparked shootouts in the capital of the western state of Sinaloa in October, as well as the massacre of nine dual U.S.-Mexican citizens in early November.

Trump has been respectful of his decision not to accept U.S. aid, he said, but Mexico also wouldn’t accept “intervention” in its affairs. Last week, Trump said he would designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist groups, which has raised concerns of U.S. military intervention in Mexico.

At least 20 people were killed over the weekend in battles between security forces and gang gunmen in the northern state of Coahuila, the state government said on Twitter. Troops were pursuing men who used at least four trucks mounted with heavy machine guns to shoot up government buildings in Villa Union, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the Texas border town of Eagle Pass.

Meanwhile, AMLO’s Morena party is locked in a bruising battle over internal leadership. On Saturday, Morena leader Yeidckol Polevnski said that the contest to pick the next leader would be postponed until after the first quarter of next year, daily Milenio reported.

Lopez Obrador said earlier this year that economic growth could reach 2% in 2019, but the economy flat lined amid a drop in business investment. The central bank is projecting no growth this year. AMLO’s decision to scrap a $13 billion airport project before taking office last year hit business confidence, and a slump in construction has pummeled the nation’s building industry.

Last week, AMLO unveiled a $44 billion infrastructure program of private investment designed to boost growth. However, analysts said many of the projects had been previously announced and did not expect the plan to have a big impact on the economy.

(Corrects state name in paragraph six to Sinaloa from Culiacan.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City at moboyle7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brad Olesen at bolesen3@bloomberg.net, Steve Geimann, Brendan Scott

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