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TOPIC: amlo


Geopolitically, "Latin America" Does Not Exist

The election in Brazil of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) is being hailed by some as the confirmation of Latin American around a shared leftist project, yet even the left can't agree with itself. It's a story that goes back centuries, and can only change with a commitment to move beyond ideology.


BOGOTÁ — In 1826, the liberator and then president of (a much larger) Colombia, Simón Bolívar, convened the Summit of Panama, in Panama City, with the aim of uniting the recently liberated provinces of the Spanish empire. Bolívar's guest list excluded the United States and imperial Brazil. In spite of good intentions, the summit proved an utter failure.

There was no Latin American integration then, nor is there today, 200 years on, as the continent remains fragmented and divided. In geopolitical terms, there is no Latin America.

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Is Mexico's President Pushing For "Mexit" From Trade Pact?

In irking Mexico's chief trading partners with decisions affecting energy firms, the country's leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is tinkering with the free-trade pact that is the very engine and ballast of Mexico's vast, and vulnerable, economy.


MEXICO CITY — The key to having a nuclear bomb is to never use it. Its fundamental value is in its deterrence of other powers wielding the bomb. The same applies to negotiations between governments in areas like investments or trade. Clearly the risk is inferior, as the country will not face physical destruction, which may be why Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) sees no risk at all in raising the stakes in his spat over energy with the United States and Canada — the country's paramount free-trade partners.

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AMLO Power Grab: Mexico's Electoral Reform Would Make Machiavelli Proud

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, aka AMLO, says his plans to reform the electoral system are a way to save taxpayer money. A closer look tells a different story.


MEXICO CITY — For supporters of Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) the goal is clear: to keep power beyond the 2024 general election, at any price. Finally, the engineers of the much-touted Fourth Transformation, ALMO's 2018 campaign promise to do away with the privileged abuses that have plagued Mexican politics for decades, are showing their colors.

Current electoral laws date back to the 1990s, when unending electoral disputes were a constant of every voting round and impeded effective governance in numerous states and districts. The National Electoral Institute (INE) and its predecessor, the IFE, were created to solve once and for all those endemic disputes.

Their promoters hoped Mexico could expect a more honest future, with the electoral question resolved. The 2006 presidential elections, which included AMLO as a recalcitrant loser, showed this was hoping for too much. That election is also, remotely, at the source of the president's new electoral initiative.

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President AMLO's Misguided Nostalgia Creeps Toward Despotism

Mexico's socialist president is determined to restore a 'strong' presidency he believes will put things right in Mexico. To many, he is starting to look like another tropical dictator of sort.


MEXICO CITY — Napoleon Bonaparte once declared that one must be petty to win power, but high-minded and generous in its exercise. Three years into his presidency, Mexico's Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) seems only to have grasped the "petty" part. He doesn't — or refuses to — understand the difference.

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Luis Rubio

Post-Trump, Mexico Won't Rush To Reconcile With Washington

Mexican President López Obrador has made it clear that he prefers keeping the United States at arm's length.


MEXICO CITY — When divorce is not an option, the parties must get on as best they can. That's the logic that Mexico and the United States have long followed over their shared border. And it isn't, as a quick look around the globe reminds us, the worst of arrangements.

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Luis Rubio

PEMEX And The President: AMLO Must Take On Mexico's Oil Giant

If the López Obrador government really wants to restore the state oil firm's status as a cash cow, it needs to stop treating it like a sacred cow.


MEXICO CITY — Whether Mexico's oil resources are a blessing or, as the poet López Velarde opined, a curse, is an open question. What is clear is that PEMEX, our national oil company, is a dead weight that is sinking public finances and with them, the country.

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Eduardo Tzili-Apango

A Tale Of Three Pandemics: Tracing Mexico's Evolving Ties With China

Unlike the SARS and H1N1/09 outbreaks, which caused friction between the two countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has, if anything, improved Chinese-Mexican relations.


MEXICO CITY — The coronavirus pandemic is shaking international relations and revealing a number of situations, problems and processes that may have been unnoticed before. Evolving relations between China and Mexico are a case in point.

When the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic appeared in China, in November 2002, the country had recently joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) and was perceived in Mexico as unwelcome competition, as both countries had decided to use exports as a springboard for their overall development strategies. Even without SARS, Mexico was concerned about the prospect of China competing for its markets, especially the United States.

And so, at one point Mexico actually saw SARS as an opportunity to gain ground on China, an opportunity, nevertheless, that in retrospect was never exploited. China was thus an economic threat, but not seen as endangering Mexico's health. Having said that, SARS did fan the flames of long-standing, anti-Chinese xenophobia in Mexico. In April 2003, authorities confined 38 Chinese trainers in the Otomí Ceremonial Center to prevent contagion, even though the people had health certificates.

Mexico actually saw SARS as an opportunity to gain ground on China.

The incident was part of a broader process of building up a negative image of China, which has been widely studied. Notably, the Chinese government was not deeply concerned and the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, visited Mexico in December 2003. It was the first such visit to Mexico in eight years, and produced a strategic association and three agreements signed in areas including health care cooperation.

Five years later, in January 2009, H1N1/09 (swine flu) appeared in the state of Veracruz before spreading fast across the world. China repeated Mexico's earlier response to SARS and confined approximately 100 Mexicans to prevent contagion, even they had no symptoms. But unlike China, when the shoe had been on the other foot, Mexico did make vocal objections. There were complaints from both the government and the press, and accusations that China hadn't been transparent about SARS.

There was diplomatic friction, in other words, and bilateral relations hit their lowest point in recent history. But it was also symptomatic of the Mexican government's "erratic" approach to relations with China, with alternating bouts of submission and confrontation. That's been the pattern over time, and proof that Mexico never really had a clear foreign policy toward the People's Republic.


Arrival of the fifth plane from China with equipment to combat the coronavirus in Mexico. — Photo: El Universal/ZUMA

China was careful, nevertheless, to try and smooth things over as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that the country's then vice president, Xi Jinping, visited Mexico just one month after the swine flu outbreak. Also, in that same period, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, when asked about Mexico's reaction to the confinement of its nationals, said that the measures were not directed at Mexican citizens per se and that relations remained friendly and collaborative.

Fast forward another decade or so, and we have yet another pandemic. In this case, at least from a Mexican perspective, the virus arrived at an "opportune" time: in the context, namely, of a U.S.-Chinese trade war. While the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has repeated the "erratic" foreign policy pattern of preceding presidencies, it is also showing signs of a rapprochementwith China.

Recall that immediately after winning the Mexican presidency, López Obrador met personally with the Chinese ambassador and decorated him with the Order of the Aztec Eagle. The president also appointed a former Mexican ambassador to China to serve as deputy-foreign minister, and in the legislature, the lower house set up a China-Mexico Friendship Group.

The virus arrived at an "opportune" time: in the context, namely, of a U.S.-Chinese trade war.

This time around, there's been a careful effort to protect relations between the two countries. The López Obrador administration chose not to comment on the pandemic's origins — a highly sensitive issue for China — and strictly avoided any discourse that might discriminate against Chinese people or reflect on how the People's Republic handled the epidemic.

China, in turn, has highlighted Mexican solidarity in its initial efforts against the epidemic. And as part of its own "face mask diplomacy," Beijing sent tons of medical supplies to Mexico. There are no reports, furthermore, of either country confining the other's nationals.

In summary, Sino-Mexican ties seem, in this pandemic, to have moved away from the dynamics of the two earlier epidemics. In 2003, Mexico perceived an economic opportunity, which it then sensed was lost, while China moved closer to Mexico politically. In 2009, the Mexican government's positions alienated both sides, though relations eventually got back on track due in large part to Chinese overtures.


Plane from China with medical equipment for health personnel fighting coronavirus in Mexico. — Photo: El Universal/ZUMA

Today, Mexico has shown caution, if not submissiveness, toward China, which has in turn displayed a measure of its "soft power" through its palliative, face mask diplomacy. The submission might indicate the success of China's "soft power" measures, which have included a visit to China by members of Mexico's ruling party MORENA and promotional events for the "China brand" in Mexican state agencies. An example is the China Day held at the Economy Ministry, as well as Chinese cash injections to help keep PEMEX, the Mexican state oil firm, afloat.

Recent Chinese initiatives may be intended to outflank the revised North American free-trade pact's anti-Chinese clauses, and to enable it to participate in the current Mexican government's ambitious infrastructure projects (especially the Mayan Railway) that are ultimately in line with Beijing's global interests.

Either way, the relationship appears to be thriving for now. Still, Mexico needs to be careful: The absence of a clear, long-term policy toward China has caused problems in the past and remains a weakness.

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Luis Rubio

Society v. The State: Pandemic Undermines AMLO's Power Grab In Mexico

President López Obrador has failed spectacularly to manage the pandemic and its economic repercussions.


MEXICO CITY — "Before Elvis there was nothing," the singer John Lennon once said. Some might say the same of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. For a year and a half following his election in 2018, the president enjoyed enormous leeway to develop programs and forward his priorities. It was a grace period unlike anything Mexico had seen since the 1970s.

And yet, like presidents everywhere, López Obrador, known as AMLO, is facing a sudden and unexpected turn of events that has stopped everything and may ultimately alter everything.

Perhaps the pandemic's biggest impact, and an inevitable one, will be to strengthen society against the state, a trend exacerbated by the government's clumsy failure to fulfill a basic duty to protect the population. The consequences of this change will be seen in coming years and decades, and we may even see Mexican society finally free itself of an oppressive system that has blocked the establishment of a real democracy. Time will tell.

So far, society has not been acting in any concerted or organized fashion. Decisions are being made, rather, in isolation — by firms, families and individuals. It's an unprecedented situation, and it's bound to shape the future.

The immediate challenge must be to deal with the sudden impoverishment of so many Mexicans, as jobs and incomes vanish. This is both an intellectual and practical challenge, and its resolution will decide the nature of the recovery that follows. That is why social initiatives are so important right now, along with efforts by Congress to block the government's push for authoritarian rule, though again, time will tell if they were enough.

Society has not been acting in any concerted or organized fashion.

Many governments in the world anticipated the pandemic's effects, which led them to build up potentially viable responses. That was blatantly not the case in Mexico. Not only did the López Obrador administration deny there was as a crisis, but its actions have also exacerbated, deepened and prolonged it. For a government that touts itself as concerned for the poor it was pathetic.

The combination of a mistaken strategy from the start of this administration — oriented toward imposing decisions on domestic and foreign economic actors — and its lack of foresight and inability to respond to the crisis, will inexorably take the country toward economic contraction. And worse, these will hinder a swift recovery. To this government's distorted vision we may add the intrinsic ills of a political system marked historically by impunity.

Protestors in front of Mexico City's National Palace demanding justice from federal authorities. — Photo: Armando Martinez/El Universal/ZUMA

A scenario marked by recession, unemployment, political crisis and distrust of the government may have political consequences that may be good, or bad. The conditions may strengthen democracy or boost the most radical elements in the president's party, Morena. All vestiges of order may disappear. Crime may increase to unchecked, indiscriminate levels. The government may become more radical both in economics and in its legal initiatives. Social breakdown may prompt more migration. There is no limit to the ways the country might deteriorate.

Instead of applauding society's activism, the president has criticized and fought it.

What can be done? The first question we should all ask ourselves is whether the president will face up to the new reality or keep trying to squeeze it into his own preconceptions. The cost of that conduct will be measured in lives lost, jobs destroyed and in the speed of the recovery.

In the meantime, criminal, political, military and paramilitary forces will try to replace government functions, which should prove enough of a motivation for the government to take us out of this sinkhole. We need this recovery to be via institutional leadership that is effective and suited to the conditions.

Unfortunately the signals emanating from the government say the opposite. Instead of applauding society's activism, the president has criticized and fought it. His hostility to the business world is well known and has historical explanations, though one still wonders: How do you expect to improve the livelihoods of 70% of Mexicans in the age of globalization, without private investment?

His conduct suggests a preference for stressing social and class conflict, without considering its consequences in terms of recession and poverty. Clearly for him, the priority is not growth, the poor, ending corruption or contributing to the country's development. So, what next?

The president and his government have so far lived off the support of a considerable portion of the electorate, which has allowed them not to pay for their enormous mistakes. But the virus is changing that circumstance. Once active government resumes, it will have to give an account of itself, on what really matters. That would be a great opportunity to rectify before it is too late.

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Luis Rubio

Mexico: How Weak Institutions Paved The Way For One-Man Rule

The weakness of institutions in Mexico once gave its presidents leeway to reform the state. Today President López Obrador is using it as a tool to accumulate more and more power of his own.


MEXICO CITY - A viral tweet in October foresees the British prime minister flying to Brussels in 2192, to ask for another delay to the fateful Brexit deadline. Nobody knows when the tradition began, the tweet quips, but "every year it attracts many tourists from all over the world." The complex negotiations between Britain and the European Union have prompted all manner of jokes, for reflecting on institutions so solid as to force legislatures and legal bodies on both sides of the Channel to track a litany of procedures, votes and fine print.

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Luis Rubio

Why Mexico's López Obrador Is Playing With Fire

The new president is uniquely positioned to fix the country's long-ignored economic shortcomings. But he should work with the system, not brush it aside, writes economist Luis Rubio.


MEXICO CITY — Some years back, as China prepared to receive the heads of the intergovernmental Asia-Pacific forum APEC, the city government of Beijing shut down factories and banned millions of cars from circulating. The idea was to cut pollution and give a cleaner impression of the city.

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Fernando Chavez iQ

100 Days: AMLO's Presidency Has Not Crashed Mexico's Economy

Fears of an economic meltdown in Mexico provoked by the new socialist president  have not materialized, even if the economy has slowed and must remains to be seen.


MEXICO CITY - In the first 100 days of the presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), Mexico has embarked on a process of major social and political change in a context of economic and market uncertainty, even instability. It may be too early to adequately untangle the nature and scope of our economic problems at this stage of AMLO's six-year term. Still, certain signs indicate that despite the persistence of a kind of national inertia, certain government decisions are creating new conditions that could change something in our economic life.

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Arlene B. Tickner

Maduro, The Sequel: Can Venezuelan Democracy Be Saved?


BOGOTÁ — The Lima Group, a multilateral body of 14 American countries focused on resolving the institutional and democratic standoff in Venezuela, has declared Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's new term in office illegitimate, taking the firmest position so far on his conduct as ruler of Venezuela. But the group needs the support of more regional actors.

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