MCALLEN, RGV – It is vital that the Texas business community, state government and local municipalities engage heavily with the incoming administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico.
This is the view of Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.
Wood recently gave an in-depth presentation on what to expect from AMLO, as López Obrador is known, at the McAllen Performing Arts Center. The event was hosted by IBC Bank, the Rio Grande Valley Partnership and the City of McAllen.
Wood concluded his speech by asking if Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office on Dec. 1, would succeed.
“Andrés Manuel is an ambitious man. Andrés Manuel has vision. Andrés Manuel wants to be a good or a great president,” Wood said.
“In some ways he has already succeeded. He has won the presidency. He has got all the tools of power at his disposal and they keys to the kingdom are in his hands. He is centralizing power as we speak. That is success.
“But, is he going to be successful in terms of leaving behind a positive legacy, a country which is less divided, a country that is more prosperous, a country which is safer?”
Wood said he did not have an answer to this question and suggested his hosts invite him back in a year or two to see how AMLO is doing.
“But, I do think that one of the things we do have to emphasize at this point in time is the fundamental importance of ongoing engagement by the United States in Mexico. And not just from the federal government. It has to come from state governments, it has to come from municipal governments and it is vitally important that the private sector plays an active role in traveling to Mexico City and engaging with members of the new government,” Wood said.
“It is vitally important that universities and civil society organizations engage as much as possible because Andrés Manuel right now controls the Congress, he controls the governors, he controls the media because they depend on federal government revenue. He is attacking the private sector, he is attacking civil society.”
One counterbalance to the power AMLO has, Wood suggested, are international investors, the global markets and friends of Mexico. He said they could all “try to make sure that he follows a steady path, a steady course, to try to make sure that Mexico continues to be prosperous because we all care deeply about that and it is in all of our interests.”
In his speech, Wood spoke about AMLO’s rise to power, his stunning election victory on July 1, his plans for public safety, his energy policy and how relations with the United States might fare.
On the latter, Wood said: “Before the election a lot of people were very worried that Andrés Manuel, a radical, firebrand, leftist politician would almost immediately get into a bronca, a dispute with President Trump. It did not quite work out that way.”
One of the reasons for this, Wood said, was AMLO’s choice of Marcelo Ebrard, the former mayor of Mexico City, for foreign secretary.
“Marcelo Ebrard was at one time seen as being an acolyte of Andrés Manuel. Then he became a rival and now he is back in the fold, a very reasonable, slightly left of center, politician who is very knowledgable and actually does understand foreign policy and has already developed a good relationship with Jared Kushner and with many members of President Trump’s cabinet. That leads me to think things are not going to be as bad as many people have suggested. But, let’s reserve judgment for the time being.”
With regard to the new United States-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement, Wood said AMLO has been largely supportive.
“He understood that NAFTA and North America is an existential issue for Mexico and he would not have success without it. And so he told his chief negotiator, Jesus Seade, to support everything the current Mexican government was doing, with the exception of the chapter on energy and the part that made reference to the Mexico energy reform of 2013. He insisted that was changed and include the inherent right of every nation to control its own oil and gas reserves,” Wood said, noting that Mexico’s constitution gives the country sovereign right to control its energy reserves.
“They do have the sovereign right to control them, absolutely, according to their constitution. But, Andrés Manuel did not want to have any reference the energy reform or 2013 because he does not like it.”
On migration and Central America, Wood said AMLO and his new team are actually being quite positive with the United States by saying they want to work together on Central America.
“Andrés Manuel wants to work together in Central America. He is proposing a $13 billion development fund for Central America. He does not have the money for it. He would like the Americans to pay for it and the Americans are not too enthusiastic about that,” Wood explained.
“The Americans are much more interested in the Mexican state playing a much more active role in stopping Central American migration on Mexico’s southern border. But, Andrés Manuel is not a huge fan of that idea. That could turn into a nasty dispute very, very quickly.”
Wood said AMLO possibly does not realize just how much collaboration, cooperation and intelligence-sharing takes place between Mexico and the United States. When he finds out, Wood said, he might say, “Er, not so much, let’s reel it back in a bit.”
Wood said that same thing happened back in 2012 when Enrique Peña Nieto became president. “He was shocked by the extent of the cooperation and wanted to reel it in.”
Wood said that on foreign policy, he does foresee problems between the United States and Mexico.
“The current Mexican administration has been very vocal in its criticism of Venezuela, of (President) Nicolas Maduro, and has been a good strong ally of the United States. The new government will not do anything like that. In fact, Andrés Manuel has invited Nicolas Maduro to his inauguration ceremony and he has accepted. This will create some clashes.”
Trump and AMLO
Before the July 1 election, Wood said, some analysts were predicting that an AMLO victory would be “a recipe for disaster” when it came to one-on-one relations with President Trump. But, things have turned out differently, he said.
“On Election Night, President Trump tweeted his congratulations very early on in the evening, around 8:30 Mexican time. The tweet came through congratulating Andrés Manuel and a couple of days later they had a very friendly and extended telephone conversation. And then Andrés Manuel pulled a stroke of genius,” Wood said.
The stroke of genius, Wood explained, was AMLO’s decision to send Trump a letter.
“Who sends a letter to Donald Trump? A seven-page letter that, of course, he (Trump) was never going to read – including details about his economic plan for Mexico, about wanting to plant millions of trees in southern Mexico,” Wood said.
“But the key line in that letter was when Andrés Manuel said ‘You and I have both fought against the establishment our entire lives.’ It was a way to connect the two men on an emotional level and Donald Trump responded with a one-page letter that ended with, ‘It would make me very happy if Mexico is a prosperous and successful country’.”
That is exactly what AMLO wanted to have, Wood said. Not so much the content of the letter, but the letter and the response.
“You know why? His (AMLO’s) big hero, as I said earlier on, is Benito Juarez. Benito Juarez had extensive correspondence with Abraham Lincoln. Andrés Manuel is looking back at history and saying, if Benito Juarez is my role model, I want to pursue the same kind of diplomacy, and it is 19th Century diplomacy, with President Trump,” Wood explained.
“It works for him. It kind of works for Donald Trump as well. A bromance? Are these guys going to be besties, BFFs for ever? The problem is there are too many issues on which they can clash: immigration, security, foreign policy, independence in food production, energy imports into Mexico.”
Wood said there is an ample array of issues over which AMLO and Trump can clash. However, he said he believes AMLO wants to avoid that clash “at all costs” because he does not want to focus on the bilateral relationship.
“He wants to focus internally on his fourth transformation of the country. He wants to make sure that Mexico is remodeled according to his plan.”
The other three historic transformations of Mexico were the independence movement from Spain in 1810, La Reforma of 1867 and the 1910 revolution.
(Editor’s Note: Click here to read an analysis of AMLO’s ambitious push for a fourth transformation of Mexico by Sergio Muñoz Bata, contributing editor at large for The WorldPost and the Global Viewpoint Network.)
Wood said he did not have to tell those in the audience just how important Mexico and relations with Mexico are to the United States, Texas and McAllen.
“Is Mexico going to be as safe a place to invest now as it was before? I am worried and a lot of investors are worried too. On migration, if Andrés Manuel does not continue the policy of the Enrique Peña Nieto government, of trying to reduce the flow of Central Americans northwards, it is going to put extra stress and tension on the border,” Wood predicted.
“And if Andrés Manuel is unsuccessful with his national security strategy, that means violence levels could get even worse on the other side of the border.”
Editor’s Note: The above story is the third and final feature in our series on Mexico Institute Director Duncan Wood’s presentation on Andrés Manuel López Obrador to business, political and community leaders in McAllen. Click here to read Part One and click here to read Part Two.