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

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 relations between the two countries had begun with “serious conflicts,” which lasted on and off for more or less a century.

“So far from God…”

Mexico’s proximity to its powerful, expansionist northern neighbor once prompted the wily President Porfirio Díaz to quip, “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.” But according to Moctezuma, recent decades have see the bilateral relations between the two countries evolve “in a surprising way” (more on that later).

Former US Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobsen paints 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”.

Russia-Mexico Relations

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.

Readers may recall that in late March US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar told Mexican lawmakers that Mexico can never be close to Russia:

The Russian ambassador was here (in Mexico’s Congress) yesterday making a lot of noise about how Mexico and Russia are so close. This, sorry, can never happen. It can never happen.

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 unresolved issues between the two North American neighbors, 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…

Read the full article on Naked Capitalism

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