Why does Mexico not have a Vice President?

Biden's victory, Mexico's defeat?

The outcome of the presidential election in the United States also has far-reaching implications for its relations with Latin America: While the right-wing governments in Brazil and Colombia have lost a close ally in Donald Trump, Cuba and Venezuela in particular are hoping for it president-elect Joe Biden took a significantly less confrontational course. Indeed, Biden, who already had close relations with Latin America as Vice President under Barack Obama, is relying on a long-term policy of rapprochement that is more strongly oriented towards human rights and environmental protection.

It is all the more surprising that the left-wing nationalist president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador - in Mexico called AMLO for short - had not sent Biden any congratulations even three weeks after election day. “We will wait until all legal issues are resolved. We [...] want to respect the self-determination of the peoples and the rights of others, ”he indicated. [1] Trump "never made a decision without consulting us and always respected us," he even praised him. [2] In the (Latin) American and European public, López Obrador's behavior aroused incomprehension and outrage. Shouldn't the Mexicans be happy to get rid of the "rough" President Trump, who insulted Mexicans as "criminals", "rapists" and "drug traffickers" and had a wall built between the two countries? Also the political opposition in Mexico - above all the conservative Party of National Action (PAN) around ex-President Vicente Fox, the Party of Permanent Revolution (PRI), which ruled Mexico like a state cartel for 70 years, which López Obrador co-founded , moderately left Democratic Revolution party (PRD), but also social movements - criticized the reluctance harshly. Several governors even congratulated Biden and his vice-president Kamala Harris on their election victory in their own letter. Obviously, the political opponents are trying to ally themselves with the new administration in the USA - against the incumbent president.

From scapegoat to partner

However, if you look behind the scenes, the behavior of López Obrador turns out to be by no means as irrational as it seems at first glance. Rather, it is an expression of the complex network of relationships between the two countries, which have always been closely linked. On the one hand, Mexico is heavily dependent on the US economy: around 80 percent of Mexican exports go to the USA and the majority of foreign investments come from there. For the United States, Mexico ranks third among foreign trade partners. The daily value of US imports from Mexico is one billion dollars. [3] On the other hand, both states are closely interwoven through the large number of US Mexicans. Around 38 million Mexicans live in the United States and send $ 36 billion to their loved ones back home every year. In return, 13 million Americans vacation or seek medical treatment in the neighboring country every year. [4] Both factors are existential for the Mexican economy. In view of this, the country has always sought stable relationships with its powerful northern neighbor - regardless of the political orientation of the respective US presidents.

In addition, Mexico’s population, and even more so the US Mexicans, are divided in their attitudes towards Trump. Some feel deeply hurt by his blanket defamation and condemn the construction of a wall. The others share his conservative views on socio-political issues. Relations between the two countries have been shaped in recent years by Trump's verbal derailments and his loud threats. Trump repeatedly demanded, under threat of sanctions, that Mexico should pay for the construction of the border wall. López Obrador, who has been in power since 2018, also disliked the Trump administration's strong commitment to fighting organized crime in Mexico. Washington urged its administration to extradite dozens of suspects to the United States. Specifically, the actions of those subordinate to the US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), he increasingly felt as an encroachment on the national sovereignty of his country and criticized the lack of cooperation with Mexican authorities. Within the USA, this approach primarily served to satisfy the predominantly racist and Latinophobic Trump supporters.

López Obrador and Trump: allies in secret

Nevertheless, there were definitely reasons for López Obrador to put up with the Trump camp and to distance himself from the Democrats. Because the relationship between him and Trump had another side, which, however, was hardly open. It brought Mexico not only economic benefits, but also support for the president's domestic political endeavors. The T-MEC free trade agreement with the USA and Canada negotiated under Trump was a success from López Obrador's point of view. Compared to the previous NAFTA agreement, it had important advantages for Mexico: It regulates the labor rights of Mexican employees in the USA, guarantees Mexico's sovereignty in the energy sector and also gives guarantees for Mexican companies in the processing sector, in which goods from US companies are processed and then imported back to the USA become. The new free trade agreement brought stability to companies in the auto industry in particular - not least because US corporations are increasingly relocating their supply chains to Mexico in view of the trade disputes between the USA and China. Large sections of Mexican entrepreneurship therefore associate Trump with continuity and predictability. According to a survey, only 31 percent hope for a better future under Biden. [5] Many companies fear that the new president could rely on more protectionism. [6]

The two presidents also got along better and better recently when it came to migration: When López Obrador visited Trump in July 2020, there was no more talk of the wall being built. Instead, both presidents gave the go-ahead for the Mexican military and the National Guard to act as border guards to stop migrants from Central America on their way to the United States. The USA shifted its border security to the south; Mexico takes on the "police work" for the USA - both on its northern and southern borders with Guatemala. In addition, with financial support from the US government, López Obrador had camps built for migrants in Mexico, from which they can apply for asylum in the USA.

In return, Trump also accepted the militarization of the Mexican state. It should not only serve to fight the powerful drug cartels and massive corruption in the country, but also secure the project of the “fourth transformation”. With this, López Obrador wants to create nothing less than a new development model that differs from the neoliberal policies of his predecessors. Although he also protects transnational capital, he wants to significantly strengthen the role of the state vis-à-vis it and flank a policy of industrialization with socio-political elements. However, environmental standards do not play a role.

In order to advance his project, the President relies on the military: He dissolved the Federal Police and formed the National Guard from parts of it, as well as from the army and navy. This is subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and takes on internal tasks such as the fight against drug trafficking and border security. In addition, he entrusted the generals with public tasks - such as a leadership role in the construction of the Santa Lucia airport or the construction of the "Maya train" issued as a tourism project, but actually aimed at the economic development of southern Mexico, as well as the control of the ports and the management of the Customs. The military is also increasingly influencing civil life: it distributes school books, organizes tree-planting projects and is involved in fighting pandemics.

So there are definitely weighty reasons for López Obrador to remain loyal to Trump. In addition, the US President will remain in office until January 20, 2021 and could put his southern neighbor under considerable pressure out of vindictiveness. And ultimately, López Obrador also knows: In all likelihood, given the power balance in the Senate, the Trump camp will continue to exert considerable influence on US foreign policy in the future. His reluctance is therefore also characterized by the fear of jeopardizing success in the partnership with his northern neighbor.

In addition, the reluctance towards Biden seems to be paying off already. This is illustrated by the case of former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos. The DEA had arrested him in the USA in mid-October without prior consultation with the Mexican government for drug trafficking and money laundering - the latter saw this action as a clear violation of their national sovereignty. [7] Last but not least, the arrest scratched López Obrador's image of the “clean” military, which gave his political opponents a considerable boost and angered his closest ally, the military. The tide turned, however, when Secretary of State Marcelo Ebrard successfully negotiated with US authorities to refer the Cienfuegos case to the Mexican prosecutor. US prosecutors later said that the Trump administration had given maintaining its relationship with Mexico priority over prosecuting the case in the US. [8] But that amounts to a change of course for Trump in the fight against drugs, as he had always insisted on prosecution in the USA.

The event is an extraordinary diplomatic and domestic political success for the Mexican government. On the one hand, it strengthens Mexico's national sovereignty and, on the other hand, affirms López Obrador's announcement that all crimes within the army will be punished with the strictest punishment - even if, given the high level of impunity in Mexico, it is questionable whether the case will actually be fully resolved.

The redefinition of relationships

Despite this proximity to Trump, López Obrador will have to come to terms with Joe Biden from January. His government hopes that this will result in significantly more moderate rhetoric, but also closer cooperation in the area of ​​migration and in international institutions. The nomination of Julie Chávez Rodríguez - Obama's former advisor on equality and integration of Latinos in the USA - is a ray of hope for the American Latino community and thus also for the Mexican President.

Nevertheless, the cooperation under Biden will not get any easier - new areas of conflict are already emerging. Biden wants to revive the old leadership role of the USA on the subcontinent, which Trump designed with his short-term interests America-firstNeglected politics.

He can also be expected to show greater commitment to environmental issues and a migration policy that is more strongly oriented towards human rights. The role of Mexico as the "migration police" of the USA, which also brought the country financial advantages, will certainly be redefined. Biden will also be careful not to give the impression of an open border. However, his focus will be on combating the causes of flight in the crisis countries of Central America, for example through measures for their economic development and the fight against corruption. The environmentally damaging large-scale projects launched in the course of the fourth transformation run counter to Biden's approach, as does the strong role played by the Mexican military.

One thing is certain: both states are so closely interwoven through their close economic ties and the many Mexicans living in the USA that external and internal affairs of the countries influence one another. From this perspective, the Mexican government's most recent foreign policy fluff is also an expression of the domestic political struggle between the government and the opposition over the project of the fourth transformation.

And in the United States, too, a variety of forces determine foreign policy towards Mexico - in the dispute between the camps over Trump and Biden, but also between the left and moderate wing of the Democrats. Relations between Mexico and the USA will therefore continue to be marked by considerable contradictions.

[1] Horacio Jiménez, Aliancistas le llevan a AMLO la contraria y reconocen triunfo de Biden, www.eluniversal.com.mx, 11/12/2020.

[5] Ehringfeld / Busch, Brazil and Mexico, loc. Cit.

[6] Klaus Ehringfeld, Viva Donald Trump? What Latin America can expect from Joe Biden, www.handelsblatt.com, 11/11/2020.

[7] El caso que pone en conflicto a México y EEUU: así impactó la detención de Cienfuegos, www.infobae.com, 11/10/2020.

[8] Schmidt and Kitroeff, U.S. to Drop Case, loc. cit.