On Bicentennial of US-Mexico Diplomatic Relations, Former US Ambassador to Mexico Accuses AMLO of “Goading” Washington

On Bicentennial of US-Mexico Diplomatic Relations, Former US Ambassador to Mexico Accuses AMLO of “Goading” Washington 1

The thorniest issue remains, of course, the Russia-Ukraine conflict. “It is frustrating that Mexico does not pronounce itself in favor of [Ukrainian] sovereignty,” said the former US Ambassador. 

In case you missed it, yesterday (Dec. 12) was the bicentennial of US-Mexico diplomatic relations. To commemorate 200 years of US-Mexico ties, Joe Biden, who is still yet to visit Mexico since becoming president, gave a short speech on the country’s shared past and increasingly intertwined future:

We share an enduring commitment to freedom, democracy, and rule of law. And we share a strong and deepening economic and security partnership that has made North America the most competitive and dynamic region in the world…

Over the course of our shared history, Mexico and the United States have demonstrated that we are stronger and safer when we stand together. Our futures are irrevocably connected. And today – as we embark on the next century of our partnership with mutual respect and commitment to our shared aspirations – we remember that nothing is beyond our reach if we continue to work together.

To mark the occasion Mexico’s Ambassador to the United States Esteban Moctezuma was invited to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. In a short video address filmed at the Mexican Embassy, Moctezuma recalled how diplomatic relations between the two countries had begun with “serious conflicts,” which lasted more or less a century. But in more recent decades the bilateral relations, he said, have evolved “in a surprising way.”

On the same day, the former US Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobsen painted a somewhat different picture of US-Mexico relations. In an interview with the Bloomberg-affiliated financial newspaper El Financiero she accused Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador, or AMLO for short, of deliberately trying to provoke the US.

“There have been times when it seems that President López Obrador, almost intentionally, is trying to goad (challenge/defy) the United States. Either by inviting leaders of Cuba or Venezuela, making comments on the Statue of Liberty or on our human rights situation. That seems unfortunate to me, and it creates a lot of noise in the relationship.

First, a couple of observations:

  1. The exact verb Jacobsen used to describe AMLO’s actions is “picar,” which has myriad possible translations including “to bug,” “to stir,” “to annoy,” “to get a rise out of,” “to prod” and “to goad.” I thought that goad was probably the closest translation, particularly given the El Financiero article’s use of the two clarifying words “provocar” (provoke) and “desafiar” (challenge/defy).”
  2. For those who don’t know, Jacobsen’s mention of the Statue of Liberty is a reference to AMLO’s recent statement regarding Julian Assange in which he said that convicting Assange would imply that the monument in New York “is no longer a symbol of freedom.”
  3. AMLO’s recent decision to offer asylum to Peru’s recently deposed and incarcerated President Pedro Castillo, just as he did with Evo Morales following the coup in Bolivia in 2019, is also unlikely to have endeared him to Washington.

Based on her own direct interactions with President Joe Biden, Jacobsen said that the White House is willing to overlook such indiscretions in order to focus on achieving “concrete results”. That said, the former ambassador stated that there is frustration towards the positions that Mexico has taken at the international level. Put simply, the country does not seem to be “supporting democracy” (or at least the US version of it) and “other US values around the world”.

The thorniest issue is, of course, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, on which AMLO’s government has tried to maintain a neutral position. This is in keeping with Mexico’s long, albeit interrupted, history of neutrality dating all the way back to the early 1930s. In 1939, a neutrality clause was even added to its constitution by the government of then-President Lazaro Cardenas. This has made the country a haven for people seeking political asylum, including republicans fleeing Spain at the end of the Spanish Civil War and the emigres of the Southern Cone dictatorships of the 1960s and ’70s.

As the article in El Financiero notes, Mexico did not immediately reject Russia’s invasion. Nor has it endorsed US-EU sanctions on Russia.

“I think there is some frustration with some Mexican positions. It is frustrating that Mexico does not pronounce itself in favor of [Ukrainian] sovereignty, as many countries in the world have done, not only the United States, ”she assured.

In October, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said there is no room for neutrality when talking about countries that annex parts of others, which is kind of ironic given the US and Mexico’s shared history. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, which ended the “war” between the two countries, the US annexed a whopping 55% of Mexico’s territory, including the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, most of Arizona and Colorado, and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming. Mexico was also stripped of all claims to Texas.

Blinken added that while the US recognizes the sovereignty of each country to determine its own foreign policy (thought readers might like that one), “the important thing is to ask if the values of the UN are reflected in Mexico’s position.”

In the end, Mexico voted to condemn Russia’ annexation of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia. In November, Mexico’s ambassador to the UN even voted in favor of a resolution to make Russia pay reparations, which AMLO later claimed did not have his support.

“At the UN, something was voted on that contravenes Mexico’s policy of neutrality. It was voted that Russia should pay reparations to Ukraine, but we don’t get involved in that sort of thing,” he said. “There is supposed to be a defined policy in the Constitution, which we must adhere to, of non-intervention, of self-determination of peoples, of peaceful settlement of controversies, and we have been supporting that policy and we will continue to support it”.

Energy, Corn, Chinese Technology

In her interview with El Financiero Jacobson said there are other big issues between the two countries, including disagreements over energy, GMO corn and Mexico’s recent purchase of Chinese technology for its border gates. These issues, she said, “are not just noise and must be resolved”.

As readers may recall, the US is already locked in a dispute with Mexico over Mexico’s nationalistic energy policy. In July, both the U.S. and Canada called for dispute settlement consultations with Mexico, arguing that the Mexican government’s favorable treatment of state-owned energy companies over private and foreign ones violates the USMCA trade pact. In the initial 75-day period of consultations no resolution was reached, which meant the U.S. and Canada could request a dispute panel to settle the case.

But for the moment the three countries have agreed to continue talks. If a panel was formed and ruled in favor of the U.S. and Canada, those two countries could impose punitive tariffs on Mexican imports. As Mexico News Daily reports, Mexico’s new Economy Minister Raquel Buenrostro, who in her previous role as chief of Mexico’s tax agency spearheaded the AMLO government’s crackdown on decades-old corporate tax dodging, is working around the clock to try to avoid such an outcome:

According to an Economy Ministry (SE) statement, Buenrostro proposed establishing “trinational working groups” that would meet in December and early January to “deal with the different aspects of the energy consultations.”

“If this plan is carried out satisfactorily, the progress could be presented at the North American Leaders’ Summit to be held in our country on Jan. 9 and 10, 2023,” the SE said.

“It was highlighted that Mexico seeks to reconcile differences in the consultation phase, without the need of reaching an arbitration panel and [while] guaranteeing national sovereignty.”

Another source of dispute is AMLO’s presidential decree of 2020 pledging to phase out GM corn imports and eliminate the herbicide glyphosate by 2024. As I reported in November, the proposed ban has caused wide-eyed panic and teeth gnashing among US corn growers and Big Ag corporations, for whom Mexico is their number one export market.

As I noted in that article, despite the growing threats from Washington, AMLO’s government remains unbowed, at least publicly, in its commitment to energy and food security. Energy and food sovereignty are two of the pillars of AMLO’s Fourth Transformation. But his government is now beginning to bow, albeit just a little at first. On Monday, Economy Minister Raquel Buenrostro announced that Mexico has offered to put off implementation of its ban on genetically modified (GM) corn until 2025.

More troubling still is a recent expose from Mexican investigative journalism website Contralinea revealing that Mexico and the US are working behind the scenes to significantly intensify and deepen their security partnership. Based on a confidential document leaked in a cyber attack on the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena), the article reports that the shared objective of the armed forces of Mexico and the United States is to interact “closely, efficiently and in an orderly manner to strengthen bilateral military cooperation in matters of protection and regional security, evaluating existing bilateral mechanisms in order to work with a common strategic vision.”

As Biden noted in his bicentennial speech, the US and Mexico already share a strong economic and security partnership, and that partnership is deepening. Mexico’s Ambassador to the United States Esteban Moctezuma echoed those sentiments, saying that the future goal of integration is “to create a North American region comprising the US, Mexico and Canada that will be the most competitive and most humanistic region in the world.” Moctezuma later said that this integration process will respect national sovereignty, which is a key priority of AMLO’s.

But Moctezuma also said that on this bicentennial of US-Mexico relations, the two countries “are not only neighbors, friends and partners; they are also allies.” But if there is one thing that the past ten months have proven (and that EU countries are only now learning the hard way), it is Henry Kissinger’s dictum that “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” Mexico should tread carefully.

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