Mexico’s AMLO Just Made Washington and Ottawa an Offer They’ll Probably Refuse

AMLO’s proposal: to build an alliance of states within Latin American and the Caribbean, and then pursue economic integration with the United States and Canada. 

Over the past weekend Mexico hosted the sixth summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). A total of 16 heads of state, two vice presidents and 13 foreign ministers attended the event, which was held behind closed doors at Mexico’s National Palace. They included Cuba’s leader Miguel Diaz Canel, Peru’s recently elected president Pedro Castillo and Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro, who arrived as a surprise late addition on Friday afternoon. It was Maduro’s first foreign trip since the US Justice Department made him a wanted man, in March 2020, by putting a $15 million reward on his head for his alleged role in drug trafficking offences. 

Provocative Moves

Also present, though not in person, was China’s premier Xi Jinping, who delivered a three-and-a-half minute video address to attendees. In other words, as Javier Tejado Dondé writes in El Universal, a newspaper that was closely tied to the former Peña Nieto government, the seat of the Mexican government played host this weekend to the heads of state of three countries that Mexico’s most important trading partner and direct neighbour to the north, the United States, considers among its biggest geopolitical foes: Venezuela, Cuba and, of course, China.

It’s not the only provocative move Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO for short) made last week. To mark the celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day, on September 15,  he invited the Cuban leader Miguel Diaz Canel to be guest of honour for the military parade. In his speech AMLO asked the US, “respectfully”, to put an end to its 59-year economic blockade of Cuba:

“Hopefully President (Joe) Biden, who is politically attuned, acts with greatness and puts a permanent end to the (US) policy of aggression towards Cuba. He should also help the Cuban-American community by putting aside electoral or partisan interests; it’s time to leave resentment behind, understand the new circumstances and seek reconciliation.”

The US Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, was quick to respond to AMLO’s request, by stressing that the US will stay firm to its commitment to “continue fighting for the democracy of Cuba, of the people of Cuba.” He also issued what could be construed as a veiled warning to AMLO: “the important thing is that the United States and Mexico are more focused on the things we can do, we cannot be distracted from what we have to do now.”

AMLO’s Dream

The CELAC summit was supposed to serve as a springboard for Mexican president Andres Manuel Loprez Obrador’s vision of a united Latin America, as AMLO himself explained in his inaugural speech:

“In these times, CELAC can become the main instrument to consolidate relations between our Latin American and Caribbean nations, and achieve the goal of economic integration with the United States and Canada, within a framework of respect for our sovereignty.”

This is the second first time AMLO has proposed the creation of a Latin American union; the first was at the fifth CELAC summit, held on July 24, the birthday of Simón Bolivar, the Caracas-born revolutionary leader who liberated a large chunk of South America from the Spanish in the early nineteenth century.  

Since neither the US nor Canada are members of CELAC, there was no immediate response to AMLO’s invitation. But in all likelihood, it will be negative. It’s virtually impossible to even imagine senior representatives of the US and Canadian governments sitting around the same table as leaders of countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, let alone debating regional policy with them. As previously mentioned, Maduro has a price on his head. One of the last actions of the Trump Administration was to designate Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism”, for its “malign influence in Venezuela and the rest of the Western hemisphere.” 

AMLO, who is currently interim president of CELAC, called for the creation in Latin America of something similar to the European Economic Community, the six-member economic association formed in 1957 that would eventually evolve into today’s 27-member European Union. But he emphasised “the need to respect national sovereignty and adhere to non-interventionist and pro-development policies”. In a previous statement he also underscored that it must be “in accordance with our history, our reality, and our identities.” 

It is easy to understand the potent draw of AMLO’s dream, writes Kurt Hackbarth in Jacobin:

A union of Latin America and the Caribbean would bring together some 660 million people — 8 percent of the world’s population, and also 8 percent of its GDP. All of this is spread out over a surface area of some 7.8 million square miles, an area larger than the United States and Canada combined. Despite centuries of colonial plunder, it remains a region of abundant natural resources, arable land, a head-spinning diversity of peoples and traditions, and a culture of contestation that has produced some of the most transcendent political movements of the last century.

Hackbart sketches out what a Latin American Union should include, “starting with a public development bank to liberate itself from international financial institutions, as well as from the United States, EU, and, more recently, China”:

It should also establish a common green agricultural and energy policy to counter the effects of climate change and achieve genuine regional independence. It would need to lay emphasis on workers’ rights, including full freedom of movement, the right to collective bargaining, and a living wage. Such a union would need a comprehensive regulatory policy to prevent foreign multinationals from pitting one country against another; a joint diplomatic and defense framework to resolve regional conflicts and stymie attempts at foreign intervention; and integration of education, transport, scientific investigation, and health infrastructure, the lack of which has become glaringly evident during the pandemic. It would seek to promote sustainable, local development, including culture, sports, and the arts, instead of a reliance on resource extraction and development for tourism, and form a region-wide media body to counter the effects of corporate press oligarchies, both foreign and domestic.

Gargantuan Task

But bringing the continent together is not going to be a gargantuan task. Since the Bolivarian wars of independence in the early eighteen hundreds Latin America’s disparate nation states have been wracked by division, due to political ideology, territorial disputes and, most of all, colonial interference. Recent attempts at integration, such as the Pink Tide-inspired initiatives of the early 2000s — ALBA and UNASUR — ended up achieving little, while the US-backed proposals of the 2010s, such as the Pacific Alliance, the Lima Group, and PROSUR, have fallen flat. 

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