The relationship between Mexico and the United States, which is never simple, is visibly deteriorating. Economic, political, health, insecurity and environmental frictions that have emerged in recent weeks are beginning to lead to a rarefied climate in which, without a doubt, Mexico would bear the worst consequences, given the enormous inequality that exists in the correlation of forces between both countries.
Among the economic tensions, those arising from the new trade agreement that includes more severe restrictions on the automotive and general maquiladora industry, as well as more demanding salary and labor arrangements (with which Washington tries to reassure its own workers sectors, formerly related to Democratic politicians). Nor can the pressure from some US business interests, particularly in the energy sector, be underestimated, affected by the counter-reform promoted by the Andrés Manuel López Obrador administration.
Beyond the controversy that may arouse the intention of the Mexican government to grant the State greater interference and control over these issues, the truth is that many of the contracts signed with foreign companies in the previous six-year term are truly lion and have forced a rethinking which causes obvious annoyances in the affected companies. Apart from the lobbying of these powerful groups on the Capitol and the White House, they are favored by the fact that they can pass off some of their interests as environmental arguments. President Biden’s inclination for alternative energies and his fight against global warming contrast with the proclivity of the Obradorista government to the use of fossil resources. A reason for growing disagreement between the two governments.
For now, the most acute tension stems from the divergent treatment of the pandemic. The closure of the border dictated by the neighbor to the north, which affects “non-essential travel”, disrupts life on both sides of the wall and despite the efforts of the Mexican government, which is vaccinating 100 percent of adults in the bordering cities, Washington has not been satisfied. Worse still, there is a risk that some type of veto will be extended to areas that depend on tourism such as the Mexican Caribbean or Los Cabos.
The issues of public security and the fight against drug trafficking are not going through a good time either; The DEA has not yet recovered from the friction generated by the case of the former Secretary of Defense arrested in the United States, accused of having ties to organized crime. The protection granted him by the Mexican government and the strong accusations against the US agency, branded as an interventionist, generated a nuisance that will take time to dissipate.
Political instability in Cuba opened an unexpected front in this inventory of disagreements between the two countries. While it is true that López Obrador has tried to cultivate a neutral relationship with the geopolitical issues that interest Americans, under the slogan that the best foreign policy is domestic policy, the Cuban case is an issue that he could not ignore. Traditionally, even in neoliberal governments, Mexico has maintained an independent attitude towards the Caribbean island, contrary to the isolationist policy promoted by the United States. The fuel shipment announced in recent days can be interpreted by the hawks of the State Department as a boycott of their strategy. An office that was already showing irritation over AMLO’s statements a few days ago about the need to replace the OAS with another organization less aligned with Washington.
It is not an easy task to explain within the limits of this text the reasons why López Obrador had such a cordial, even warm, relationship with Donald Trump and one so distant with Joe Biden. On paper, it must have been the opposite. And it is not easy because much of that explanation resides in issues attributable to personality. Despite their contrasting origins, Trump and AMLO seemed to be united by a mutual awareness of being outsiders of the political elite, nationalists distrustful of multilateralism or globalization, and a blind belief in the power of personalist voluntarism exercised since the presidency. Without confessing, at least López Obrador, they would seem to view Biden as a professional bureaucrat. For his part, Biden has been very careful to express any opinion about López Obrador, but has made it clear that he prefers not to have to do directly with him.
None of this supposes a severe political or economic crisis in the relationship between the two countries, of course. There is too much interdependence and the complexity of links between the two nations and at so many levels, that most of the inertias occur regardless of the phobias and filias that the politicians in turn profess and their respective idiosyncrasies. However, the blows that may cause these disagreements cannot be dismissed either. A hardening at a negotiating table or the simple desire to send a warning message, can translate into tragic consequences for avocado exporters, for the transport or maquiladora industry or for a tourist enclave, to name a few sensitive areas.
The neighborhood between two countries so contrasting and yet so interdependent causes friction that is natural and even necessary so as not to be swept away by the implications derived from differences in size and power. Many of these open fronts respond to the legitimate right of Mexico to maintain its sovereignty and defend interests that are vital for the country and its citizens. But we should be attentive to the damage control that these frictions cause because some Mexicans have life and fortune in it. And, above all, avoid those gratuitous confrontations that simply come out of the desire to vent from the sometimes irritating neighbor or attributable to what Fito Páez would call incompatibility of characters.