“Where previous neoliberal presidents had largely turned their backs on countries to the South, President AMLO made clear his desire to revive Mexico’s ties to Latin America.”
By David Raby
Latin America’s new progressive wave continues to inspire in a world dominated by opportunism and the rise of the right. But one major country which has taken the lead in this revival of the left and of Latin American independence has received remarkably little attention even from the metropolitan left and solidarity movements: Mexico.
Under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) Mexico has undertaken an ambitious plan of transformation, called the “4T” as it represents the fourth great change in the country’s history.
Unlike previous transformations the 4T is peaceful and democratic, and given Mexico’s appalling condition before 2018 its advance is far from easy. But advances there have been, some of them dramatic, and they deserve more attention. The fundamental changes are domestic, but the regional impact of Mexico’s transformation is dramatic, so here we will focus on foreign policy.
AMLO declared from the start that Mexico would return to its basic principles of non-intervention, respect for sovereignty and self-determination. This was no mere rhetoric and AMLO soon demonstrated its real significance, indicating that Mexico would no longer accept activities of armed US agents on its territory, and also that it would never support interventions, sanctions or blockades (as with Cuba or Venezuela).
Where previous neoliberal presidents had largely turned their backs on countries to the South, AMLO made clear his desire to revive Mexico’s ties to Latin America.
During his first two years in office, until December 2020, his main foreign policy concern had to be the very difficult and delicate relationship with the US under Trump, which the Mexican President and his Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard handled with remarkable tact, skill and firmness.
But there was one dramatic episode, in November 2019, which revealed in no uncertain terms Mexico’s identification with the popular democratic cause in Latin America: the right-wing coup in Bolivia against Evo Morales.
Mexico not only gave asylum to the Bolivian President, it saved his life by sending an air force plane (with diplomats on board to negotiate rights of passage) to rescue Evo from the coup-mongers.
This bold gesture was followed in early 2021 by a series of actions affirming a leading role in the movement for Latin American unity and sovereignty.
Mexico was already active in the Puebla Group of progressive governments and politicians, and in late February 2021 President Alberto Fernández of Argentina was AMLO’s guest at the formal celebration of two centuries of Mexican independence. The two countries signed a series of important agreements in agriculture, industry, education and culture.
This was followed a month later by a similar visit by Bolivia’s new President Luis Arce, with further significant agreements.
During this period Mexico held the rotating presidency of CELAC (the Community of Latin American & Caribbean States, which includes all hemispheric countries except the US and Canada). It was very active in regenerating CELAC which had been in decline, persuading member states to give it significant financing for a variety of development projects, even including a Latin American Space Agency.
When in July 2021 subversive demonstrations broke out in Havana (clearly promoted by Washington), AMLO immediately declared his support for Cuba and rejection of any kind of intervention. Soon afterwards Mexico sent two naval vessels with humanitarian supplies.
In mid-September (coinciding with another Mexican independence anniversary) AMLO hosted a CELAC Summit where he repeated his commitment to regional integration and opposition to the US blockade of Cuba. The guest of honour was Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel.
Not content with this, AMLO took the world stage in November 2021 when Mexico held the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council. He took the unprecedented step of chairing a session of the Council himself, and proposed a World Fraternity and Welfare Plan to be financed by 4% of the wealth of the 1,000 richest individuals and of the 1,000 largest corporations, plus 0.2% of the GDP of the G20 countries.
Not surprisingly the Plan was treated with indifference by the major countries, but in the General Assembly many countries expressed interest, and elements of it are slowly moving forward.
Early in 2022 AMLO was pushing through his Electricity Reform reversing most of the neoliberal privatisations of previous governments; it is not a complete nationalisation but does give majority control to the Federal Electricity Commission. Even more noteworthy is his nationalisation of Mexico’s large lithium deposits, a policy in which he has taken advice from Bolivia.
Together with AMLO’s previous rescue of public oil & gas company PEMEX it has enabled Mexico today to have the lowest energy price inflation of all 30 OECD countries. This was possible because he succeeded in persuading the US to accept exclusion of the energy sector from the Free Trade Agreement, a remarkable achievement.
The on May 5-8 AMLO went on a whistle-stop tour of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Cuba. This was no mere formality: it reaffirmed previous agreements since 2020 by which Mexico provides generous socioeconomic support to the four Central American countries so as to reduce the need for poor citizens to migrate through Mexico to the US.
Mexico finances the application in these countries of two of AMLO’s most successful social programmes, “Sowing Life” (an agroforestry scheme supporting poor peasants) and “Young People Building the Future” (an apprenticeship scheme); there are already tens of thousands of beneficiaries.
The US under Biden had agreed to provide $4 billion USD to support further extension of these programmes in Central America, but as AMLO complains, not a dollar has yet materialised (while the US Congress spends $40 billion on weapons for Ukraine).
In Cuba AMLO’s visit reaffirmed opposition to the blockade, also signing a health agreement by which Cuba will help train Mexican doctors and send 500 doctors to work in remote areas of Mexico.
Finally, AMLO led the way in the decision of many regional leaders not to attend the Los Angeles Summit of the Americas because of the US refusal to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua; the anachronistic Monroe Doctrine must end, he declared, and the entire Western hemisphere should seek integration based on equality and mutual respect.
- David Raby is an Emeritus Professor of Latin American Studies at Toronto University and a former Senior Visiting Fellow in Latin American Studies at the University of Liverpool.
- David has written for a number of publications on social movements across Latin America, with a focus on AMLO’s transformation agenda in Mexico since 2019. You can follow him on twitter here.