Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies “hosted” a video conference with Zelensky last week, becoming only the second legislative chamber in Latin American to do so since the war began. But the event turned out to be a lot less than met the eye.
Over the past couple of years, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka AMLO) has tried to steer a more independent course for his country, both in the realms of economic and foreign policy, and has been facing ever increasing pressure and interference from Washington as a result. Mexico already had a 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, which also nationalized Mexico’s oil and gas a year earlier.
In May last year, AMLO reiterated that position in relation to the Russia-Ukraine/NATO conflict:
The policy stays the same, we do not want to get directly involved in sanctioning any country. We want to have a position of neutrality, we have been expressing that in the United Nations so that dialogue can be sought in this way. If we lean in favor of one position or another, we lose authority and therefore cannot, if requested, participate in the possibility of reaching an agreement, of conciliation.”
A Significant Turnaround (Or Perhaps Not?)
But on Wednesday last week, reports began emerging in Mexican and international media that Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies had invited Zelensky to speak to the Mexican nation in a video conference, becoming just the second legislative chamber in Latin American to do so since the war began. On the surface, it represented a significant turnaround. After all, the AMLO government has steadfastly refused to endorse sanctions against Russia while AMLO himself has repeatedly criticised NATO’s relentless arming of Ukraine as well as Zelensky’s own role in the conflict.
But the event turned out to be a lot less than met the eye. In reality, just a small group of opposition lawmakers called the Mexico-Ukraine Friendship Group*had invited the Ukrainian president to speak. The event was not held in the Chamber of Deputies but a much smaller side chamber where roughly 100 of the Chamber’s 500 deputies, all from the opposition PAN, PRI and Citizens’ Movement parties, were gathered. That didn’t stop the Chamber’s President Santiago Creel, who presided over the conference, from condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and expressing Mexico’s solidarity with Ukraine.
This takes some chutzpah given that: a) it is the executive, not the legislative, branch — and more specifically, the Foreign Ministry — that sets foreign policy in Mexico; and b) only around one-fifth of all the Chamber’s deputies were actually present at the event, and those who were absent included all members of the governing MORENA party.
In fact, shortly after the event the Political Coordination Board of the Chamber of Deputies, headed by MORENA member Ignacio Mier, released a statement clarifying that the meeting of the Mexico-Ukraine Friendship Group “does not represent the consensual position” of the Chamber of Deputies. The speeches at the event, it said, were given in a purely personal capacity. In other words, this was not in any way a bilateral meeting between States and Creel was in no position to speak for the Mexican people.
Zelensky Escalates His Charm Offensive
As readers know, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (and his US-EU backers) have been trying to build support for Ukraine’s cause across Latin America and the Caribbean ever since the early days of Russia’s special military operation, albeit with limited success. While most of the governments in the region did condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, few were willing to support Western sanctions against Russia, as I reported in my March 11 2022 piece, Latin America, As a Whole, Refuses to Embrace Total Economic War Against Russia:
Only four out of 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries — Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Bolivia — abstained in the vote to condemn Russia’s invasion during the emergency meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. The real number would have almost certainly been five if Venezuela’s diplomats hadn’t been barred from attending the vote after Maduro’s cash-strapped government had fallen behind on its subscription fees.
On the other side of the divide, a small number of governments in the region have publicly endorsed the West’s… economic sanctions against Russia. They include Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Guatemala. The rest of the countries occupy the vast middle ground between the two polar extremes. Despite condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they have expressed opposition to the US-NATO-led push to isolate Russia from the global economy.
Most importantly, they include the two heavyweight economies of Latin America, Brazil and Mexico, which together account for roughly 60% of the region’s GDP. To put that in perspective, the two largest economies of the European Union, Germany and France, account for just under 40% of the total GDP of the European Union.
In early October, Zelensky issued another call for Latin America to support Ukraine in its war efforts, this time in a speech to the UN General Assembly. The following day, AMLO responded by blasting sanctions as “irrational” policy instruments that only serve to exacerbate “the suffering of the people.” Like Argentina, and Brazil, Mexico refused to sign a statement of the Organization of American States summit that condemned Russia alone for the war in Ukraine.
In late February, Zelensky announced plans to escalate his diplomatic offensive in Africa and Latin America, just days after Western governments had spectacularly failed, at the Munich Security Conference, to persuade governments from the two continents that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine represented an existential threat not only in Europe but across the globe…
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