This week’s Summit of the Americas lays plain the truth of the current state of the U.S.-Mexico relationship: Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is pursuing a strategic shift away from close bilateral cooperation with the United States and the shared values of democracy and free markets. This reversal of a 20-plus year consensus in Mexican policy—that cooperation with the United States was in Mexico’s best interest—is driving the bilateral relationship back toward a pre-NAFTA period when security cooperation was weak and Mexico pursued a foreign policy whose major aim was to confront the United States. The AMLO direction on economics and trade policy, the treatment of U.S. and other foreign investors, bilateral security cooperation, foreign policy, attacks on democratic institutions, and deterioration of human rights is increasingly harming U.S. interests and requires immediate attention from Congress and the Biden Administration.
Every indicator in the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship is headed in the wrong direction:
Six Recommendations for Congress and the Biden Administration:
1. Secure the Southwest Border from the U.S. Side, Period. The United States cannot afford to continue giving AMLO leverage by outsourcing border security and immigration policy to Mexico and incentivizing illegal border crossings. AMLO believes that he has leverage over the Biden Administration because of immigration and border policy.
2. Washington needs to be firm, and public, on violations of USMCA, the deteriorating investment climate, and the mistreatment of U.S. companies. The Biden Administration is seen by Mexico as unserious about protecting the rights of U.S. investors. Mexico perceives that in order to appease Washington on USMCA, it only has to cooperate on labor investigations. Congress must urge the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to do more than file labor cases (so far four and counting) against Mexico. It is time for USTR to vocally defend U.S. investments and the integrity of USMCA. If USMCA is seen as a model trade agreement, it must be enforced.
3. Address AMLO’s attacks against independent institutions and his anti-corruption agenda. While the Biden Administration has been overtly vocal on challenges in El Salvador and Guatemala, it has remained silent against AMLO’s relentless attacks on Mexico’s independent institutions, thus emboldening AMLO. It’s time for public statements, public pressure, and for Congress to implement conditions on assistance to Mexico to address AMLO’s anti-democratic tendencies and efforts to undermine democratic institutions. AMLO’s anti-corruption agenda has amounted to little more than using the idea, and his power, to target and persecute his political rivals, often without evidence.
4. Congress should call on the Administration to produce a comprehensive strategy to reboot security cooperation. This strategy should:
5. Congress should send bipartisan STAFFDELs and CODELS to Mexico to send a consistent U.S. message and to discuss economics, trade, and security cooperation as well as foreign policy and Mexican institutions. The Biden Administration’s approach to foreign policy, in general, and its soft touch with Mexico so far, requires that Congress fill the void and deliver strong bipartisan messages.
6. The Biden Administration should postpone the July bilateral meeting it reportedly plans with AMLO and send a clear message from the United States that enough is enough. The message must be that the preferred path on all areas is cooperation, but if AMLO continues to flout democratic norms and devalue the relationship, the U.S. will publicly pressure his administration and take firmer positions across the spectrum of the U.S.-Mexico relationship.
This paper is a product of the Forum for American Leadership’s Latin America Working Group.
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