The Presidents of Mexico and the United States had their first telephone conversation on January 23. According to press reports, Joe Biden started the dialogue by pointing out with amusement that he was not Donald Trump, to which Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) seriously replied that he had a great relationship with the former president and tycoon of New York.
The anecdote confirms what we already knew: AMLO was a secret Trumpist in the US election. Some explain the tabasqueño’s affinity with Trump, pointing out that they are political soul mates. They are not wrong. Both are populists, demagogues, rioters and despise science and intellectual elites.
Their mutual affinity was evidenced in the lengthy introductory letter AMLO sent to Trump in 2018, in which he highlights their similarities: “Politically, I am encouraged that we both know how to do it. what we say and face adversity successfully. We have succeeded in putting our voters and our citizens at the center and to displace the establishment or the regime in place. “
With that nod, AMLO earned points with Trump by presenting himself as one of his own: an outsider whom the arrogant elites in Washington and Mexico City considered unfit to occupy the high dignity of the presidency. But, spectacularly and surprisingly, they’ve proven just how wrong they are.
Such camaraderie and warmth contrasts with the coldness (bordering on rudeness) that AMLO displayed in resisting to congratulate Biden on his unequivocal victory last November. Under the spurious argument that the US electoral process was not over, AMLO promoted Trump’s baseless accusations of electoral fraud that turned into a crisis with the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill.
AMLO’s logic, however, cannot withstand scrutiny. His government has always been the first to congratulate the presidents of the same political group as himself, as was the case with Alberto Fernández of Argentina.
It seems to me, however, that AMLO’s aversion to Biden is more prosaic: it is not based on character differences, but on cold and calculating political strategy. The truth is, AMLO preferred Trump because he let him do and undo what he wanted without the slightest disapproval. Things will be very different with Biden in at least three areas that will directly affect the Mexico-U.S. Relationship.
The first area is the environment, a subject that does not concern the AMLO government. For example, so far, during this six-year term, the now irrelevant Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) has had three new leaders. The current leader is an unknown member of the highly questionable Green Ecological Party of Mexico (PVEM).
For all intents and purposes, the Mexican government has abandoned environmental protection as state policy, and the consequences are obvious. They ordered the clearing of an entire mangrove forest to build a refinery in the President’s home state, continue to pump money into PEMEX and promote the use of fossil fuels and promote construction in protected areas, such as the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. Much to AMLO’s dismay, the Biden administration will place the environmental issue at the center of the diplomatic agenda with Mexico.
The second area of conflict will be democracy. Former President Trump liked to shake hands with autocrats. Deep down, he admired them and would have liked to become a strong man in charge of his nation like Vladimir Putin or Erdogan. Also in this case, AMLO lost with the victory of Biden.
The new administration has already warned that defending democratic values will return to the US agenda. This will necessarily have repercussions on AMLO’s direct and frontal confrontation with the National Electoral Institute (INE) and its advisers, which it also disqualifies every two days.
It doesn’t end there. If AMLO canceled this year’s June election under the pretext of a pandemic, or rejected the results by accusing the INE of committing fraud, he would have to explain himself to the Bureau of Hemispheric Affairs in Washington.
The third and final area is the growing militarization of the country. Here, the question of the arrest and subsequent release of General Cienfuegos is crossed. Bridges between the DEA and the FBI with the Mexican armed forces exploded when Cienfuegos was arrested at the Los Angeles airport in October last year.
It was a blow to the military, which in Mexico enjoys wide support and recognition among political actors. The general’s subsequent release by US authorities on Trump’s orders and AMLO’s accusation of the DEA of fabricating evidence only made matters worse.
The result is that today we have a Mexican president who uses the military to secure his political project, and a new administration in Washington that distrusts the Mexican armed forces. These are the elements of a perfect storm that could turn into a serious diplomatic conflict.
This is why AMLO preferred Trump to Biden. Bad luck for him, because now he will have to dance with the ugliest ones.
Translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima
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