Mexican diplomacy in the times of López Obrador

MEXICO CITY (HPD) — Doing diplomacy with a president who has openly shown his lack of interest in international politics —“the best foreign policy is the domestic one,” repeats Andrés Manuel López Obrador— and who speaks daily to the press without any filter, it is not an easy task.

The crisis between Mexico and Peru, where the Mexican president has gone much further than the rest of the countries that consider themselves part of the Latin American left, is the latest example.

“He has left the regional script and is acting on his own,” said Rafael Elías Rojas, a professor at the Center for Historical Studies at the Colegio de México university.

The problem, adds Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican diplomat from an opposition party, is that the tone of the morning presidential conferences — marked by lack of seriousness, jokes, and lashing out at his critics — has “contaminated” foreign policy in the face of a diplomatic corps internationally considered “very professional”.

Hence, on occasions, diplomats or the Foreign Ministry itself have juggled dialectics to qualify some of the president’s comments without discrediting him.

This week, Peru expelled the Mexican ambassador in Lima, Pablo Monroy, for comments by López Obrador in which he accused the Peruvian congress of a “soft coup” against Pedro Castillo – who tried to dissolve Parliament -, criticized that they were “very respectful of the law” and attacked the new government of Dina Boluarte as a repressor of the protests, words that Lima considered interference in internal affairs.

Despite the call for diplomatic attention, the president maintained the tone of the comments but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs chose not to break relations, according to the president himself.

On Friday, with Monroy already in Mexico and present at the morning conference, the president stressed that it was “a sign of pride that our ambassador is declared persona non grata for fulfilling the mission of saving lives and asserting… what best of our foreign policy…. the right of asylum”.

Since the last century, Mexico has been characterized by a foreign action marked by non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, a position that avoided external scrutiny of its national policy and that allowed the country to interact both with the United States as with the Soviet Union, Cuba or China, while defending the self-determination of the peoples and sovereignty in Latin America.

The undoubted tradition of asylum meant that those fleeing civil wars, armed conflicts or military dictatorships sought refuge in Mexico, and diplomatic ruptures were rare — with the Germany of the Third Reich, with Franco’s Spain, after the victory of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua or with the coup d’état of Augusto Pinochet in Chile—because the so-called “State doctrine” (1930) was generally imposed, which eludes the government “recognition” process. That did not prevent times of a certain “freeze” with some countries.

López Obrador has appealed to this principle in order not to rule on the new Peruvian leader but, above all, he insists that he will defend asylum and “non-intervention” although the latter concept is always subjective.

Monroy insisted on Friday that he acted in accordance with Mexican, Peruvian and international law, betting on dialogue and respectfully expressing “legitimate concerns” because, as he indicated, there are doubts about whether the rules were followed when detaining Castillo, who had presidential jurisdiction.

Castillo’s wife, Lilia Paredes, who is being investigated in her country for corruption issues, and her two youngest children have been in Mexico since Wednesday, with a “broad-effect” political asylum, Monroy said, which could shield her from possible prosecutions in your country.

Since the beginning of the administration, in December 2018, Mexico has tried to have Latin American leadership and, at the same time, strengthen its strategic relationship —and not without tension— with its neighbor to the north.

The result, in the words of Rafael Elías Rojas, is a foreign policy “framed in two extremes”: pure pragmatism with the United States and Canada, and a relationship with Latin America based on “ideological sympathies” that, paradoxically, entails greater activism in certain Andean countries and more “condescension and passivity” in places like Nicaragua or El Salvador “where authoritarianism advances in various ways.”

According to the historian, this is due to the fact that López Obrador has wanted to take over the leadership that the Bolivarian countries used to have precisely to counteract their drive for North American integration.

In fact, his speech towards the United States, although he always reiterates good relations, is ideologically much more combative with the current president Joe Biden than with his predecessor, Donald Trump, although the Republican was very harsh in his pejorative statements towards Mexicans.

The current tension with Peru, where López Obrador accuses the United States of interference, is the latest example after avoiding condemning serious human rights violations by the Venezuelan government of Nicolás Maduro or the Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega; or to make Cuba the guest of honor for Mexican independence just after strong protests that ended with almost 400 people sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

In addition, López Obrador was reluctant to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine in front of a foreign ministry that was more forceful, he has reiterated his offer of asylum to Julian Assange —the founder of Wikileaks accused of espionage by the United States— or opted to boycott the summit hemispheric meeting held this year in Los Angeles because Biden did not invite Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.

With Spain, López Obrador also set a different rhythm for relations than the rest of the region by putting relations on “pause”, a non-diplomatic concept, because Madrid refused to apologize for the Conquest. However, strong economic, historical and cultural relationships remain.

In Peru, Mexico joined Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia in a statement of support for Castillo, but the Mexican leader was his most ardent defender, comparing his offer of asylum to the one he gave to Evo Morales — although the Bolivian did not try to dissolve Parliament — and distanced himself from the positions of other allies such as the elected president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva or the Chilean Gabriel Boric.

Certain bets by Mexico in favor of greater development policies, for example, to contain migration, have been well received in various sectors, but the former diplomat Guajardo assures that the leadership that the government claims to have does not translate into concrete support. He mentions what happened in the election of the new president of the Inter-American Development Bank, where the Mexican candidacy was widely defeated by the candidate from Brazil, a country “whose president is already leaving.”

López Obrador, however, does not give up. On Thursday, he said that in his meeting with Biden he will ask that North American free trade be opened to all of America, a program for the poor of the region and that there be no more “interference” because although the United States talks about freedom and democracy “they do what opposite”.

From Washington, silence. Rojas insists that out of pragmatism. Guajardo believes that out of patience because the dependency relationships between the two neighbors are too great. “They don’t want to be distracted by the nonsense of President Mexico and they ignore him.”

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