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Mexico - Can AMLO transform his current agenda?
The Biden administration wants Lopez Obrador's government to focus more on money laundering. That's something AMLO promised in his campaign but has yet to deliver.
I posted this to Twitter yesterday:
Here are some links for context:
Increased the role of the military. This Washington Post article from December is a great overview on the expanded role of Mexico’s military. There was also a good WOLA podcast on the Cienfuegos case in January that discussed the growing political influence of the military.
Attacked feminists. Yesterday’s protests were met with fencing and police repression. The protests were inflamed by AMLO’s typically horrific comments about women - the president said that calls by women to domestic violence hotlines are mostly fake to justify his ignoring the statistics regarding violence against women in the country. The feminist movement in the country has become a key base of opposition to Lopez Obrador and instead of trying to improve the situation for women, the president has attacked them as “conservatives.”
Backtracked on the environment. The NYT had a good article summarizing AMLO’s reforms to the electricity markets. Bloomberg reported on how AMLO’s reforestation plans have actually led to greater deforestation.
The results of AMLO’s policies have been ugly. The Economist headline a few weeks ago summarized it nicely as “Mexico’s president has yet to make people’s lives better (But he has grabbed a lot of power for himself).” The number of excess deaths during the pandemic is among the highest in the world. The security situation remains awful with homicides near record high rates. Economic growth will be among the slowest in Latin America to return after the pandemic-induced recession. Electricity and gasoline prices are up and Pemex finances are a disaster.
However, the one result that matters to AMLO is his own political project. He remains popular and his party appears on track to do well in the midterm elections, though there are still a few more months to go and the races at the local and state levels are not as positive as the national polling.
Biden pushes AMLO to do something AMLO promised
The point of the long lead-in isn’t just to complain about AMLO (as deserved and fun as that is), but to set up a question of whether any of AMLO’s policies may change in the coming years. Is AMLO set in his ways or could some of what I wrote above change given the correct political incentives or pressure?
Bloomberg reported last week that the Biden administration wants the US and Mexico to reconsider the strategy in combating the cartels and improving Mexico’s security.
“Elements of the Merida Initiative as originally designed may not be effective for the challenges of today,” the NSC said. “We should be doing more to target money laundering, precursor chemicals, the role of China in fentanyl trafficking through Mexico, as well as investing in economic opportunity and crime prevention.”
The Biden administration’s consideration of changing strategy comes from the rather obvious reality that the current efforts to combat transnational organized crime are not going well in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America. There are reasons to be skeptical. Drug war inertia in the US is real and previously promised reforms in US strategy have fallen short. But it’s a new administration so let’s be optimistic that some strategy rethink is occurring.
However, the Biden administration’s understanding of a strategic rethink may not be the same as AMLO’s. Lopez Obrador government is reportedly ecstatic by this shift in US policy because:
They live in a “hugs not bullets” world in which they believe they have made major changes to security policy when they really haven’t. They see the US government as coming around to their position. In reality, the Biden administration is trying to help AMLO’s government realize that real reforms are still needed.
They have an old-school PRI view of the world that sees the Merida Initiative as a violation of Mexico’s sovereignty and want the parts of it that promote intelligence sharing repealed (so did EPN early in his term).
Lopez Obrador’s government is working to legalize marijuana and may also regulate poppy farming. These ideas have some merit, but are unlikely to significantly impact the security situation in the country. It’s also almost certainly not on the list of reforms the Biden administration considers as important.
Mexico’s short and long term security would definitely benefit if AMLO focused more on money laundering and stopping the trafficking in fentanyl and other synthetic drugs and less on HVTs and military operations. Those are policy changes, particularly on money laundering, that AMLO promised in his campaign but largely failed to deliver in his first two years in office.
In trying to improve cooperation on stopping money laundering, the Biden administration seems to be pushing AMLO to fulfill something the president promised to do just three years ago while he was campaigning. That seems like a reasonable goal. Two big questions will determine whether that will be successful:
Does AMLO understand that his government has fallen short so far but could still succeed?
Will AMLO be willing to cooperate and share intelligence with the US after everything that occurred with Cienfuegos?
Thanks for reading
Yesterday’s newsletter looked at the protests and impeachment push in Paraguay. Tomorrow I’ll have comments on politics and poll numbers around the region. This newsletter is supported by paying subscribers who also receive additional content. Please consider subscribing for $9 per month.