Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador held a mass rally in Mexico City’s main square on Saturday, attended by tens of thousands of people.
Although it was meant to commemorate Mexico’s 1938 expropriation of the oil industry, many at Saturday’s rally agreed that it was the de facto opening of the 2024 elections that will choose the president’s successor.
Perhaps aware of recent tensions with the United States over a spate of US overdose deaths from fentanyl smuggled from Mexico, López Obrador spent part of his speech praising former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who did not actively oppose the 1938 the firms were American.
“The best example of the authenticity of his policy of ‘good neighborliness’ was his respect for the sovereignty of our nation,” López Obrador said of Roosevelt.
It could be one of the last rallies to be led by López Obrador, who is known for his grassroots style and charisma. The process of nominating a presidential candidate for his “Morena” party will begin at the end of this year. After that, the party’s candidate is likely to appear in the center.
But most agree that few presidential contenders can match the popularity of a president whose approval rating typically exceeds 60%. This is especially true of the Morena party, which was largely built around López Obrador.
Alberto Martinez, 59, said he hopes Mexico City Mayor Claudia Scheinbaum will be the party’s candidate. “We like his education, his thoughtfulness,” Martinez said. But he’ll settle for anyone Morena chooses.
Most polls show Sheinbaum as the frontrunner in the race, followed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard.
“The important thing is that López Obrador’s ideology continues,” Martinez said. “This train is already in motion, somebody just get on and drive it.”
Former President Lázaro Cárdenas, one of López Obrador’s heroes, delighted Mexicans when on March 18, 1938, he expropriated the largely foreign-owned, privately operated oil industry.
One of López Obrador’s key policy initiatives has been to rescue the state-owned oil company founded by Cárdenas from crushing debt and low oil production.
Those attending the Zócalo rally gave hearty endorsements to López Obrador, who has taken a nationalist stance by dramatically reducing the ability of US drug enforcement agents to operate in Mexico.
Blas Ramos, 69, an electrical engineer, held up a sign that read, “Get out of Mexico, FBI, CIA, Gringo.”
He said the president was right to oppose U.S. calls to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations or to use the U.S. military to crack down on the gangs.
“They’re hypocrites,” he said of US politicians calling for such measures, “because they’re not doing anything to reduce drug use” in the United States.
The synthetic opioid fentanyl, which kills about 70,000 Americans a year, is mostly produced in Mexico with precursor chemicals smuggled in from China.
López Obrador claims that Mexico does not produce fentanyl, which many experts disagree with, and that the US has a fentanyl problem because American families don’t hug their children enough.
Ramos was confident that the president’s movement, which he calls “Mexico’s fourth transformation,” will not end when he leaves office in September 2024.
“This is a movement that started a long time ago,” he said. “We have spent our whole lives waiting for this movement.”
“This movement has not ended in six years,” Ramos said, referring to the length of presidential terms in Mexico. “This is a process that will last 30, 40 years.”