The triumph of the Democratic candidate opens a stage of uncertainty in bilateral relations with Mexico
The Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has avoided congratulating Joe Biden on his victory in the United States elections until “legal matters are resolved” in the elections, in reference to the legal offensive that the Republican has started Donald Trump. The Mexican president said, during an emergency visit to Tabasco, his native state, that he wants to be “respectful of the self-determination of the peoples” and based his position on his own experience. He recalled the 2006 Mexican elections, when former Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero congratulated Felipe Calderón shortly after, despite the fact that the current Mexican president had already started a campaign denouncing an alleged fraud. “It was reckless,” López Obrador added. The Mexican has been an exception among leaders and dignitaries from around the world, who congratulated the Democratic candidate shortly after his victory was recognized. However, the Mexican president, who has a good relationship with Donald Trump, has limited himself to emphasizing that he has known Biden for more than a year. decade.
Reactions were immediate in the United States. Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro was very critical of the Mexican president. “This represents a true diplomatic failure of the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, at a time when the incoming Biden administration seeks to usher in a new era of friendship and cooperation with Mexico,” he wrote on Twitter. During the campaign, Joe Biden also did not lavish much in references to Mexico, a country that is the main trading partner of the United States. Focused on defusing Trump’s lies and projecting a hope of reconciliation in the face of strong polarization in his country, his few nods to the neighboring country have been more the product of a regional gaze. The interest, for example, in finding solutions to the migration crisis in Central America, already demonstrated since the Obama Administration. A clue of what could become a first hinge with the Mexican Government, forced by the threats of the Republican president to reverse his humanitarian promises and today become the border police.
In theory, the return of a Democratic president to the White House represents a greater ideological harmony with the Morena government. But on the bilateral agenda, a battery of thorny issues is marked in red: the divergences in the future of energy policy, the Democratic pressure during the negotiation of the free trade agreement, or the closeness of López Obrador with Trump risk a future relationship with more doubts than certainties.
Play in favor that Biden is an old acquaintance in Mexico. In March 2002, the then vice president of the United States traveled to the Mexican capital to meet with the four presidential candidates of the moment. One of them was Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The still candidate of the PRD conveyed to him the need to set up “a new model of cooperation for development” that is not based only on a military approach, insecurity and violence, and that serves to “temper the phenomenon of migration with jobs, work and development ”. The Mexican president spoke about this on Saturday afternoon, who is visiting Tabasco, his native state, attending to the population affected by floods. “I have known him for more than 10 years, that we interviewed. There are no bad relationships, ”López Obrador said at a press conference.
Eight years later and with both interlocutors already presidents, the terms of the conversation will not change much. Biden has vowed to restore Obama’s spirit of diplomacy. A commitment, yet to be realized, for international cooperation to address poverty, violence and corruption, assumed as the main causes of migration and institutional weakness in the region.
Biden’s plan, which already convinced congress in 2015 to approve a 750 million dollar aid package for the region, could also fit into Mexico’s initial strategy, and would relaunch its role as regional leader that it timidly began to show. with the asylum of Evo Morales and support for a Marshall Plan for Central America. An initiative sponsored by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), based on investment and employment, with which Mexico tried to compensate for Trump’s slap that forced him to greatly toughen immigration controls in his territory, giving a tough political defeat for López Obrador.
Biden has promised to demolish the legal framework built by the previous Administration. Their plans even include undertaking immigration reform, one of the eternal Democratic promises, in addition to reversing the agreements imposed by Trump so that third countries, Mexico among them, act as containment dams for migrant flows.
Beyond the programmatic lines, when reviewing what happened during the Obama era, deep contradictions are detected. During his presidency a record of deportations of immigrants was registered. And despite the big words about cooperation and understanding, Obama barely changed the bilateral scheme with Mexico in matters of security during his two legislatures. Agreed on in 2008 by George Bush, the Merida Initiative is a program geared towards police work, with delivery of US military equipment and training of border authorities. López Obrador’s roadmap was to end the Mérida Initiative and dedicate old resources to strengthening the justice system. But for now, the change is stuck.
The bilateral framework that is still in force allows the establishment of economic sanctions, by means of the withdrawal of support, if certain objectives are not met. The last threat came during the full electoral campaign. Trump once again threatened to sanction Mexico if it does not “do more” in the fight against drug trafficking. Despite acknowledging that the Morena administration has increased the number of drug lord extraditions, suspicions have increased in recent months. As evident evidence, the two recent arrests on US soil of two powerful former Mexican officials: Genero García Luna, Secretary of Security with Felipe Calderón; and Salvador Cienfuegos, chief of the Army with Enrique Peña Nieto. Both are accused of having worked for wages for organized crime. And in both cases, the Mexican government has complained about the lack of communication between the US authorities and their Mexican counterparts.
The capture of Cienfuegos aroused one of the few Mexican criticisms of its northern neighbor during these four years. Given the dimension that the media trial can reach and in an attempt to maintain at least some control, López Obrador demanded just two weeks ago that the DEA share the information of the case to open a judicial investigation in Mexico. It remains to be seen if he continues with that line of demand in the negotiations with the new Democratic Cabinet.
So far there has been no news of a satisfactory response from the United States, nor is there any other of the recurring issues that Mexico puts on the table: the fight against arms trafficking. Attempts to move toward greater control have been a fruitless struggle for at least two decades. Also during the Obama era, who also carries on his shoulders the thunderous failure of Operation Fast and Furious (Fast and Furious, in English). Between 2009 and 2010, the US authorities delivered a large quantity of weapons to the Mexican drug cartels with the ultimate goal of tracking the weapons and thus uncovering the ins and outs of organized crime. But the only thing that was achieved was to lose track of the weapons and for some of them to appear at crime scenes on both sides of the border.
Mexican diplomacy will also have the challenge of facing the objectives of its agenda in an initial environment of certain mistrust on the part of the new team of the US president. In the Democratic environment, they have not liked the progressive approaches that López Obrador has had with Trump. Two apparently ideologically antagonistic politicians, but who have shown to share an outrageous dedication to the politics of gestures, their break with traditional codes and, at least in discourse, a permanent war against the establishment. A side to which Biden belongs, with 50 years in the front row of the old Democratic guard.