As problems grow, Mexicans maintain faith with their president

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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.

"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.