July 2018

By Daniel P. Erikson and Gabriella Ippolito

Latin America’s year of elections continues with final electoral results in Colombia and Mexico. 


In Colombia, Ivan Duque won the presidential election on Sunday, June 17. Duque is a conservative politician and the political protégé of former President Alvaro Uribe, although he insists that he is his own man.

Duque beat his opponent, the former mayor of Bogota Gustavo Petro, by 12 percentage points and received 54 percent of the vote. His win was widely expected and predicted by virtually all of Colombia’s major polls. He will be sworn in on August 7 for a four-year term. 

Duque is Colombia’s youngest president ever- he is 41 years old. He has limited experience in government and previously served as a senator from 2014 to 2017 and worked at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington. On the economic front one can expect relative continuity with President Santos’ policies. Duque has said he wants to create a business-friendly environment by cutting taxes and boosting investment. 

His running mate, Marta Lucia Ramirez, will become Colombia’s first female vice-president. She is an experienced politician and a former senator who served as Minister of Defense in the Uribe government. Marta Lucia had made an initial run for the presidency as well, until she aligned herself with Duque. 

In his acceptance speech Duque said that his goal is to unite Colombia and tackle income inequality. However, he also stated that he wants to overhaul the 2016 Peace Accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group.  Duque, and those who voted for him, want tougher punishments for the crimes committed by the rebels and want to change the rules that granted former rebels 10 seats in Congress.

The Peace Accord was President Juan Manuel Santos’ most notable achievement and one for which he was granted a Nobel Peace Prize. President Santos has said that the Accord could be improved but that it cannot be undone because the country’s constitutional court ruled it binding on the three governments that follow the Santos administration. 

Implementing the Accord will be a challenge for the Duque government – particularly the integration of former fighters and the development of the Colombian countryside which had been under guerrilla control for over 50 years. The new president will also have to deal with over a million displaced Venezuelans who have fled their failing country for Colombia, and who have added an additional stress to Colombia’s social services.


In Mexico, the country elected the leftist populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who often goes by “AMLO”) of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) Party on Sunday, July 1. López Obrador's campaign was fueled by anger at the corruption which has been plaguing Mexican politics in recent years, as well as at the violence which the country has been subjected to (120 politicians were murdered during this election cycle). 

As with Colombia, Lopez Obrador’s victory was predicted by the polls which had shown him 20 points ahead. Forty-five minutes after the polls closed, his two main opponents, Jose Antonio Meade of the PRI and Ricardo Anaya of the PAN party, conceded. After an initial vote count, Lopez Obrador is expected to have taken 53.6% of the vote compared to Anaya’s 22.6 percent and Meade’s 15.5 percent. Lopez Obrador won the largest percentage ever in a presidential election since Mexico became a democracy 20 years ago.

Lopez Obrador is the former mayor of Mexico City and this was the third time he ran for President (he ran in 2006 and 2012). Over 3,400 federal, state and local races were contested in this election. Although the Congressional coalitions have yet to be formed it is expected that Morena and its allied parties will have a majority in both the lower house of Mexico’s Congress and the Senate. 

In his acceptance speech Lopez Obrador sought to unify Mexico after a divisive and bitter electoral campaign. He said that he would look out for the poor and engage with Mexicans of all backgrounds. Regarding the relationship with the U.S., Lopez Obrador said that he would seek a relationship that is "rooted in mutual respect and in defense of our migrant countrymen who work and live honestly in that country." AMLO changed his tone towards the U.S. during the election – his language was initially more combative. President Trump tweeted his congratulations to Lopez Obrador after the acceptance speech.  

Lopez Obrador has been a controversial figure in Mexican politics. Many members of the business community and Mexican elite fear that he will return Mexico to a state-driven economy and undo many of the economic reforms which have been implemented over the past 20 years. Lopez Obrador has said that though he intends to, for example, review all oil contracts made by the Peña Nieto government he will not undo major reforms and has insisted that he is not a leftist populist like the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. 

Lopez Obrador’s economic platform was not well-defined during the election although he said that by tackling corruption he will reduce inequality. He also said that he will appoint a new negotiating team for NAFTA, while President Trump has said that he would not sign any new deal until after the U.S. congressional elections in November.  

Lopez Obrador will have many challenges facing him when he becomes the President including Mexico’s stagnating economy and wide income inequality, violence perpetrated by transnational criminal organizations, and a tricky bilateral relationship with the U.S. We will be watching Lopez Obrador’s personnel appointments and policy pronouncements during his five month period as president-elect, in order to assess how his presidency will potentially unfold.