PARAÍSO, Mexico – Every day before dawn, a group of unemployed men gather at the door of a construction site, hoping to find a job to build a new oil refinery that the president of Mexico promises will bring wealth to this forgotten corner of Southeast of Mexico
They remain until noon before drifting in the haze of the Gulf Coast sun. They will return again the next day, trusting that the commitment of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for oil will pay off. "He is trying his best," said one of the unemployed men, Geovanni Silván.
That patience suggests why López Obrador continues to enjoy great approval, one year after his presidency, despite a stagnant economy and relentless violence.
He promised to make the state work for the people rather than for the elites favored by their predecessors. And many Mexicans feel that they have begun to do just that: invest money in social programs, travel the country on commercial flights to speak directly with ordinary Mexicans, cut government salaries and give up the pomp of previous presidents.
So, although Mr. López Obrador has little to show for his efforts so far, many Mexicans remain hopeful, willing to give time to deliver The revolution he promised.
According to analysts, the support he enjoys personally exceeds the opinion of Mexicans about his government.
"The power of his leadership is that there is consistency in what he says and what he does," said Edna Jaime, director of México Evalúa, a research group that analyzes government policies.
In his first year, helped by a flexible majority in Congress, he changed Mexican politics, dismantling the policies of his predecessors to chart a leftist course aimed at correcting the country's enormous inequalities.. He raised the minimum wage, won a new labor law, took strong measures against fuel theft and pressured Mexico to do more to produce its own food and energy.
Even when his actions have largely followed those of his predecessors, his rhetoric has moved away from theirs. With a new force called the National Guard, he kept the military at the forefront of the fight against organized crime and deported tens of thousands of Central American migrants, all while declaring the welcome of migrants and the end of the war against gangs.
"The transformation we are undertaking is in sight," he said in a speech on Sunday, adding that he needed another year to make those irreversible changes. "We are practicing politics in a new way," he said. "Now we are guided by honesty, democracy and humanism."
Critics accuse him of trampling the fragile institutions of the country while concentrating power. His answer is to say that the institutions were created by "snobs,quot; to serve neoliberal interests and to fill them with loyalists. He has alienated rights groups with his handling of the Mexican human rights commission. Economic analysts argue that he has made erratic decisions, undermining investor confidence, and has not convinced anyone that he has a strategy to deal with organized crime.
That failure is evident with each new spasm of violence, including the murder of three mothers and six children near the US border last month. On Sunday, while López Obrador declared his commitment to protect lives, authorities said 21 people had died in a two-day battle between armed men of security forces in the northern state of Coahuila.
But the discredited opposition makes an easy role for its rhetorical attacks against corruption, the origin, he says, of the evils of Mexico.
And his daily press conferences at 7 a.m. they allow him to frame the national discussion, erasing his opponents and even his political allies.
"He is a formidable narrator," said Blanca Heredia, a political analyst at CIDE, a university in Mexico City. "It has won people's trust and almost a kind of faith."
That belief remains strong in Paraíso, an oil port in the home state of López Obrador, Tabasco, which has become a laboratory for the president's plans to develop the poor southeast of Mexico.
"You can't touch Andrés Manuel here," said Ana Luisa Castellanos, a former supporter and local member of the left-wing party that the president led for years before separating.
Rivers and land merge into a giant delta of marshes and mangroves where Tabasco is located on the curve of the Gulf of Mexico. Like the rest of the region, Tabasco has sunk far behind the states of central and northern Mexico, where billions in manufacturing investments have transformed the economy.
One of Mr. López Obrador's main promises was to correct that imbalance. The prize for Tabasco was the new Dos Bocas refinery, part of the president's strategy to rescue the state oil company in government debt, Pemex, and curb Mexico's dependence on gasoline imports.
López Obrador also launched one of his characteristic social programs in Tabasco, an effort to revive the abandoned countryside and strengthen national production by paying small producers to grow fruits and vegetables and plant fruit and timber trees.
Those who skip meetings or do not show up for homework at the daycare centers lose the monthly subsidy of $ 230.
Critics argue that the program is little more than a booklet, but for many who participated, it has been transformative.
After the disease swept through its coconut trees, Romana Segura Ramón, 64, had abandoned her 2½ acres. Now, she and her husband grow beans, corn and other crops, and have planted mahogany trees. "We are dedicated to our land again," he said..
Elizabeth Genesta, 29, said the biggest advantage is what she has learned from lifelong farmers. A biochemical engineer who left the oil industry to raise water buffaloes, Ms. Genesta discovered that it was a "titanic job,quot; to plant trees to restore her land, and sought help.
"It's fantastic how we all benefit from each other," he said.
It is a sign of the president's priorities that when Congress approved an austere budget last month, Pemex accounted for almost half of all infrastructure spending, and the welfare ministry received billions in new money.
However, without further government investment, Mexico's private sector has stopped its own plans and that uncertainty has contributed to stopping the economy, said analyst Jaime.
"The president's plan to revive the southern economies will not close the gaps," he added.
Whatever the results of the long-term strategy, there is an early optimism in Tabasco Last week, the hotels were full and the oil workers with neon-colored monkeys seemed to be everywhere: crowding the buses at dawn and filling the boats that returned them from the offshore platforms.
José Luis Delgado Burgos, 35, spent much of 2018 unemployed before finding a job as a human resources manager on an oil platform a year ago. He gives all the credit to the president. "They had closed the platforms and thanks to him they opened them," Delgado said.
Industry analysts argue that building a new refinery is a mistake that will deplete billions of Pemex, which is already the world's most indebted oil company, and will put additional pressure on government finances. Environmental groups warn that the location of the site at the edge of the sea makes it vulnerable to accidents.
But in Paradise, if there are doubts about the refinery, they pale next to the expectations that thousands of promised jobs will materialize when the pace of construction accelerates.
"All that is development is a good project," said Ciro Burelo Magaña, a local lawyer who opposes Mr. López Obrador. Then he added: "In a moment the sea will swallow it, due to climate change."
The hope of new jobs does not hide other problems. Paradise residents fear that local criminal gangs will become bolder. Last week, the dismembered body of a local police officer was left outside the home of a former City Council member.
And as everywhere in Mexico, there are no signs that the authorities have the capacity, or the will, to stop the violence.
In June, Juan Luis Ligonia, 40, was returning with a load of fresh fish from Yucatan when armed men stopped him and robbed his truck, finishing his business of supplying fish to Mexico City. When he went to the police with information on where they had seen the truck, he was told that he had to pay a bribe if he wanted them to investigate.
"I voted for him thinking there would be a change," Ligonia said of the president. Instead, he said: "There is no improvement."