Fútbol (soccer) in Mexico City? Stay tuned. In Estadio Azteca (lead-up to World Cup), the US and Mexico played to impate, or a tie, Zero-Zero. Gone, until games in Qatar, is the familiar Mexican cry after a player kicks a goal: GOOOOOOOOOOLE!!! 

But in the political world, a world at war, another cry is heard, equally loud, but more anguished: NOOOOOOOOOO!!! NO! To Andrés Manuél López Obrador (Mexico’s President, AMLO)! No! To his pro-Russian attitude. No! To AMLO’s political party—Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (MORENA)—as it forms a “Mexican-Russian Friendship Committee.”

AMLO’s sexenio (limit, one, six-year term) runs from 2018 to 2024. A referendum looms ahead, April 10. Ifhe loses, he will be gone. He will not lose. To be considered valid, results require a clear majority, pro or con, and a 40% turn-out. The turn-out, if not the majority, is in doubt. His opponents, due to the confusing wording of the ballot, are urging their supporters not to vote. 

AMLO may survive the referendum. His popularity among the masses has already decreased, due to scandalous revelation of his son’s grand home in Houston. But he may not enjoy the anger of many Mexicans who oppose his support of Russia, his rather odd declaration of “neutrality,” as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine. Mexico will not impose any economic sanctions on Russia. Reason? AMLO says: “we want to have good relations with all the governments of the world” (AMLO, Reuters, 7 Mar 22). 

And what of Mexico’s “good relations” with Ukraine? (formal relations since 199l). Total trade never was voluminous, from a global perspective (US$253M)–autos shipped to Ukraine, ores and fertilizers to Mexico. But, at least, Mexico has recognized the “Holodomor,” or Russian (Soviet) genocide against Ukraine. And, at least, Mexico voted recently with the UN, condemning the February 24th, 2022 invasion. It seems AMLO wants it both ways. No military aid is to be sent to Ukraine, no sanctions on Russia. 

Mexico must know this exposes that great country, the US’s “good neighbor,” to isolation, perhaps to economic push-back, from private sources if not from the US government itself. Why, then, the confusing, contradictory policy, leaving Mexico vulnerable, its motives questionable? (Especially since proceedings have begun to declare Putin a “war criminal.”)

Explanation? Partly, it is to be found in Mexico’s long-vaunted desire to stay clear of bi-lateral, big power feuds, and, also, due to its certifiable role, from time to time, as a peace-maker (viz: US-Central America). It cannot—credibly—be attributed to “leftist” attitudes of AMLO or his party. (He is currently focused on re-nationalizing electrical energy, fitting with his own brand of socialism.)

For AMLO’s information, Russia is no longer communist, hardly socialist. But justification might include a kind of “survivors’ economics,” that is, Mexico needs all the help it can get. Yet, although US-Mexican trade is enormous, Mexican-Russian trade is not very large (US$1Billion – again, mostly autos and chemicals) Mexico is, after Canada, the US 2nd largest trading partner—US$4.5 Trillion—so why jeopardize that, why risk relations with the US? 

Some blame Russian institutional influence—the largest embassy in Latin America, and a large contingent of GRU members; they are Russia’s military intelligence, suspected of spying on US interests in Mexico (General Glen VanHeuck, Head of the US North American Command). A less satisfying but possible explanation may be linked to AMLO’s often-noted disinterest in foreign policy or even health policy. (viz: His approach to the Covid crisis? “Wear a religious amulet.” His approach to cartels? “Abrazos, no balazos,” Hugs, not bullets.) 

In such a vacuum, men such as Marcelo Ebraud, Secretario de Relaciones Internacionales, have more power, and have taken some initiative. (Ebraud promised one plane with mattresses and medicines for Ukrainian refugees in Romania; but that’s hardly a dent in the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.) 

For her part, Ukrainian Ambassador to Mexico, Oksana Dramarétska, disappointed by lack of Mexican support for her country, quoted (re their Russian support) the famous Mexican phrase:“dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres” or “Birds of a feather flock together.” She alleges unwise relations among government officials of Mexico and Russia  (Vallarta Daily News, 10 Mar 22). And what of the US response to Mexico’s policies?  

President Biden, overseas, has been too busy to respond directly. Neither side—US nor Mexico—relish stirring the pot too vigorously. The US position, then, has been proposed lightly: Vice-President Kamala Harris, speaking to the “Development in Democracy” Alliance (Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica), praised those countries for their support of Ukraine and carefully, without referring to Mexico, chided those who ignore this possible lead-up to a world war. For now, among average citizens, we are left to sort ourselves out of the confusion. One finds multiple possible responses.

Without question, the situation, both in the world and in the US, is ominous. One of my good friends, Spanish-speaking, a Mexico aficionado living in South Texas, admires AMLO’s policy of neutrality. He is making plans to move to Mexico—for him, better off facing cartels than Putin’s bombs or Trump’s minions. 

Mi amigo is convinced of a draconian near future. He fears a win by Republicans—many of whom also supported Russia—in 2022. Then, he reasons, Trump—who coddled Putin and admired him as “a genius”–wins in 2024. His scenario: finally, Trump and supporters continue their lawlessness, begin their purge, in which progressives and ethnic minorities, such as he, are doomed. 

Yes, my friend may be way off base (Dios mediante). But things are now considered that bad by many on both sides of the border. Not by me; I’m not that hopeless. My advice? Do what you can for Ukrainians. Go, enjoy your soccer, March Madness, and other entertainment, while you may. God be with us all. 

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by UT-Rio Grande Valley Professor Emeritus Dr. Gary Joe Mounce. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Mounce can be reached by email via [email protected]

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Russia President Vladimir Putin and Mexico President Andrés Manuél López Obrador. (Photo credit: Agencias)

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