MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, celebrated taking office Saturday with a festive gathering of supporters in the capital's main square in front of the centuries-old National Place where he will install his offices.
The 65-year-old leftist leader uses a compact car, shuns military bodyguards and refuses to live at the luxurious, heavily guarded presidential residence 6 miles (9 kilometers) to the west. He will reside instead at his modest home on the city's south side.
One of Lopez Obrador's first official acts was to throw open the gates of the secretive, sprawling presidential residence known as Los Pinos, located in a corner of Mexico City's largest park. Closed to the public since the first parts were built in the 1930s, the compound will now be used for public events.
Gabriela Barrientos, a retired secretary, and Jesus Basilio, a market vendor, were among the first of hundreds to line up at the gate to enter what Basilio called "the house of the people, an emblematic place we will be able to enter for the first time."
Yaneth Fierro, a housewife from Acapulco, expressed disappointment at the many completely emptied rooms. "We wanted to see the furniture, but the 'Gaviota' (the nickname of former first lady Angelica Rivera) took it all."
Alan Jemsani, a marketing researcher from an upscale neighborhood near the compound, went to another gate to peer in before the opening.
"It is a little sad," Jemsani said. "It was nice for the president to live in a good residence, like leaders in other countries do."
Jemsani said he worries about the effects Lopez Obrador's policies will have on the economy, noting stock prices and the Mexican peso have dropped in recent weeks. "People are nervous, including me," Jemsani said.
Inside the compound, successive presidents had built several homes, ranging from palatial to casual.
There were unmistakable signs of luxury: marble, art works, room-size closets and wood-paneled libraries and offices. There was a small cinema in the basement of one building.
"Nobody knew our presidents lived this way. It is like taking a mask off," said Homero Fernandez, who oversees the compound for the new government. "Under the pretext of national security, it was all very dark and ostentatious."
On Saturday, Lopez Obrador shook hands from the window of a modest car as his motorcade made its way to the National Palace for a dinner with foreign dignitaries and leaders after his inauguration.
The mood on the square was festive. Traditional folk dancers and singers of ranchera ballads performed on the stage, while supporters waved flags with pictures of Lopez Obrador and vendors hawked cloth dolls and plastic figurines of the new president.
Santa Flores was overwhelmed with emotion as she listened to Lopez Obrador. When he thanked supporters for joining what he described as a long-fought "movement" into power, Flores raised her fist in the air and shouted: "There we are!" Afterward, fighting back tears, she said she has backed the politician for more than 20 years, never missing a call to action or a protest march.
Flores, who lives in Mexico City, rented a hotel room near the Zocalo to celebrate the new government. Next to her, Maria Antonia Flores said Lopez Obrador is the president that Mexico deserves. "We love him because he's honest. He's hard-working. He has never let us down," she said. "He's not corruptible."
Sofia Zavala and her daughter Jacqueline Flores traveled from the northern border town of Mexicali to witness the inauguration of Lopez Obrador. The women said they feel like the previous president, Enrique Pena Nieto, looked out only for himself, seeking enrichment while neglecting vulnerable groups like Mexico's many indigenous communities.
"We hope this is a change for good," Zavala said while holding a flag with an image of the president.
Also present for the inauguration was Venezuela's embattled socialist president, Nicolas Maduro. Lopez Obrador supporters on the Zocalo cheered when Maduro appeared on the big screens, though legislators in Congress shouted "Dictator!" The crowd booed Pena Nieto.
Miguel Angel Tolentino, a salesman at one the many small jewelry shops that line one side of the Zocalo, said he didn't vote in the July 1 election because he couldn't decide on a candidate to support. But he had damning words for Pena Nieto. "He was the worst of all. We had more drug dealers, more deaths," Tolentino said as shoppers gazed at silver and gold medallions of the Virgin Mary that filled the shop's windows.
The Lopez Obrador campaign promises that most resonated with Tolentino were that the president would bring "radical change" to Mexico and that he would take away pensions from former presidents. The Mexican Congress, controlled by Lopez Obrador's Morena party, has already eliminated those pensions.
Tolentino shook his head disapprovingly at the practice of paying ex-presidents for life after "they already robbed a lot."