Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador acknowledged a grim tally of violent crimes and a weak economy as he delivered the first state of the union address of his six-year term on Sunday.
Homicides in Mexico are at a high and the economy is struggling nine months into his administration, but Lopez Obrador, who campaigned on promises to end corruption, continues to enjoy approval ratings of more than 70 percent after winning the presidency and a near-majority for his political party in the Mexican Congress in last year’s elections.
Stamping out corruption and impunity remains a top priority, Lopez Obrador said in his address to Cabinet members, generals, businesspeople and journalists at the National Palace.
Tackling corruption is a tall task. Mexico scored 28 out of 100 points on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index last year, where a lower score indicates higher levels of corruption, putting Mexico on par with Russia and behind countries such as Bolivia and Honduras.
“Nothing has damaged Mexico more than the dishonesty of its rulers — and this is the main cause of the economic and social inequality, and of the insecurity and violence, that we suffer,” the president said.
Lopez Obrador took office on promises to help the country regain its moral compass.
The transition has been bumpy, with three top Cabinet members having already resigned. Austerity measures have gutted key institutions, such as the public health system, and contributed to a growing hesitance among Mexicans to invest and spend.
The president touted 145 billion pesos (US$7.23 billion) in savings from spending cuts and other measures that have taken effect since he took office on Dec. 1.
His administration has confronted fuel theft from the state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, slashed public salaries, eliminated a major social program and decommissioned government offices abroad that promoted investment in Mexico.
The president said that curbing violence is the country’s “main challenge.”
Mexico set a new record for homicides in the first half of the year — 17,608 killings, fueled partly by cartel and gang violence in several states.
Lopez Obrador has opted against confronting cartels head-on, saying that he would rely on a newly minted National Guard to safeguard Mexicans.
“The extermination war against so-called organized crime is over,” Lopez Obrador said. “The country will be pacified.”
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