False Dilemmas

Luis Rubio

Alexander Pope, a XIX-century English poet, penned the phrase “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Mexico’s relation with the United States is, was and will be complex and variegated as long as Mexicans do not resolve the fundamental problems of their own development, which would presumably raise their standard of living, thus rendering irrelevant the majority of the matters that make current interaction difficult. Just like Canada. But from that to having to confront a dilemma concerning the country’s foreign policy priorities -the United States or Latin America, for example- is simply ludicrous or, as the initiated would say, a non sequitur.

Mexico has its future strongly structured with its neighbors to the north not only by dint of the obvious proximity, but also through a contractual mechanism that guarantees the access of Mexican merchandise to its markets, converting exports into the principal motor of its economy. No one in their right mind would place in doubt such a cardinal relationship even though its administration will not always be easy, and the priorities will nearly always be those of the more powerful partner.

In the four decades since Mexico opted for converting the bilateral relationship into a lever for its development, no government, including the present one, has stopped recognizing the complexity of the alliance or has failed to address the problems that come into play along the way. President López Obrador, whose government is the only one since 1982 that surely would have preferred greater distance instead of greater closeness, not only adjusted to Trump’s demands when in May, 2019 -and in frank violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] in force at the time-, he threatened to link migration with exports, to the detriment of Mexico, but rather proceeded with negotiation on the ratification of the new treaty, the USMCA, until its fruition. That is, beyond the rhetoric, all the governments from the eighties to date have accepted and ratified the transcendence of the relationship with the United States and have done whatever necessary for it to work.

But the propinquity with the United States does not imply distance with respect to Latin America or restrictions regarding Mexico’s framework of action in that region. Of course, it is common sense that there be congruence in the exercise of a country’s foreign policy with its essential values, as well as recognition of the real factors of power inherent in the geopolitical situation of each nation. From that perspective, much of what is frequently discerned as contradictory or offensive (and as such untouchable) for preserving the relationship with the U.S., is nothing more than self-imposed constraint. In other words, there is no reason that compels choosing the OAS or USMCA over CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

Mexico has a long history of a relationship with countries such as Cuba without that constituting an element of affront or conflict with Washington. Likewise, today’s government elected to withdraw from the so-called Lima Group, which united nations critical of the Venezuelan regime, without this translating into hostilities toward the north. As long as the foreign policy does not contravene the direct interests of the United States in the region, or assumes infinite tolerance on its part, the margin of action is quite broad. Just as an example, promoting the Independence of Puerto Rico or excessive closeness with China would imply a head-on confrontation. Same if Mexico continues to ignore the issue of migration. On the other hand, it is functional for Washington for Mexico to urge negotiations among the Venezuelans, as it did previously with the Salvadorans. As Jesús Reyes Heroles would have said, “if you’re not against it you’re for it.”

The ever-changing Latin American panorama, where the region’s governments often experience great veers from one extreme to the other, forces frequent definitions and redefinitions in regional alliances, just as long as there is no confusion between dictatorships and democracies. A week ago, Mexico’s government crossed the line when it provided Diaz-Canel, Cubas’s president, with a preeminent platform, which proved the decisive moment that derailed the CELAC meeting on which López Obrador had bet so much. Mexico’s national interests do not require choosing between north and south, but Mexico must acknowledge, and make good, the enormous differences that divide the continent, starting from the fact that Mexico is a democracy, albeit an incipient one.

Defending democracy and not accepting impositions. Trump not only put the original NAFTA at risk, but also menaced with closing access to the nation’s exports. Being able to count on a treaty such as USMCA -yet with the limitation of its requiring periodic renegotiation- entails a wide latitude of freedom. The notion that it is necessary to choose between one region and the other or between head and heart is devoid of meaning. As long as no lines are crossed.

The foreign policy of a nation is a pivotal component in its development and should be conceived as a means of advancing the interests of the country, simultaneously reducing its vulnerabilities. The key does not lie in choosing between friends and enemies or near or far, but in securing the country’s development, which should be its chief objective. Decidedly advancing on this road would eliminate conflict and exigencies stemming from the north, as these would no longer be perceived as necessary. When Mexicans achieve that, they will have attained integral development.