New President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador went to one of his most important meetings yet Tuesday by cruising through city traffic in a compact car with the windows down and no visible security detail, establishing a casual new style of leadership that has some expressing concerns for his safety in violence-wracked Mexico.
In place of police outriders, a half dozen television cameramen on motorcycles buzzed around Lopez Obrador’s car en route to a meeting with outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto at the National Palace in the heart of Mexico City.
“The people will protect me,” Lopez Obrador told reporters who asked about the lack of security.
He suggested journalists would also cover his back, but jokingly complained that “I have been hit a few times by cameras” and he asked reporters: “Don’t squash me.”
Lopez Obrador met with Pena Nieto to discuss the transition for his taking office Dec. 1, hoping to ensure an orderly transfer of power after a heated and polarizing campaign.
Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department, meanwhile, said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Mexico on July 13 to met with Lopez Obrador, the first high-level meeting with a leftist populist who has long denied accusations of being anti-American.
Lopez Obrador praised the Mexican team that has been leading talks under Pena Nieto to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“I have the impression they haven’t done a bad job,” he said, though he also wants his team to sit in on the talks.
The administration of President Donald Trump has demanded higher U.S. or regional content in key sectors like autos and a phase-out clause for the 1994 trade agreement.
Lopez Obrador also has been critical of NAFTA in the past and has suggested it include issues such as immigration.
Lopez Obrador said that he has already met with businessmen after his crushing victory in Sunday’s election and that he planned a Tuesday night meeting on inviting international figures — including Pope Francis, rights activists and the United Nations — to help come up with a plan to solve Mexico’s problem of soaring violent crime.
That violence was on many minds as television stations carried live images of Lopez Obrador weaving through Mexico City’s notoriously chaotic traffic in the front passenger seat of a compact car that was at least five years old.
One television reporter on a motorcycle even interviewed Lopez Obrador briefly through the car’s open window.
Lopez Obrador, 64, confirmed that he won’t budge on his decision to forgo secret service protection. He said he will essentially dissolve Mexico’s equivalent of the secret service back into the army, of which it is unit. He also vowed to sell off government airplanes and travel on commercial flights, where he usually goes tourist class.
“He who fights for justice has nothing to fear,” the president-elect said. “I do not want to have bodyguards.”