A February 4 article on The Huffington Post by Cory Siskind, a member of the global consultancy group Control Risks, entitledPena Nieto Can Fill the Void of Chavez’s Regional Leadershipdiscusses Mexico’s potential, under its new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, to become a regional leader in Latin America. Although comprehensive,Siskind’s analysisdoes not address a number of potential challenges to Mexico’s foreign policy under the EPN administration in the coming years.
Siskind is correct in saying that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’songoing battle with cancerappears to have created a Latin American and Caribbean leadership void that could potentially be filled by Mexico. In discussing which regional leader could fill this void, the analyst further argues that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is “focused on frying bigger fish, like negotiating with Iran,” and may not be interested in focusing on Latin American issues.
This is a questionable statement to say the least, since it is debatable to what extent Brazil is willing to ignore interregional politics. For example, it was under President Dilma that the MERCOSUR bloc accepted the ever-controversial Venezuela as a member. In addition, Dilma still sees the promotion of United Nations (UN) reform as an important national interest in continuing efforts to attain a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. For this to happen, Brazil must maintain constant Latin American and Caribbean support. Nevertheless, it is true that Dilma has also made several trips to Europe and seems to be interested in also reproaching African and Asian powers. AsBen Tavener wrote for theRio Times, Dilma’s “visits [to Europe] cement Brazil’s position as chief bridge nation between Latin America and Europe.”
Siskind also argues that Mexico has become a leader among the Alliance of the Pacific countries, which include Chile, Colombia and Peru. These nations have enjoyed major economic growth over the past decade under governments that have promoted greater free trade, international investment and generally pro-Washington diplomatic postures.
Siskind also highlights how Mexico has pushed for greater integration with Central America via the Mesoamerica Integration and Development Project. President Pena Nieto may not be able to use Mexican oil as a diplomatic weapon like Chavez has done with initiatives like PetroCaribe, but he can certainly push for greater investment in order to improve diplomatic relations.
Pena Nieto faces challenge in gaining support of LATAM countries
The Mexican leader is lucky to have inherited a nation that is enjoying stable economic growth and has several prominent and extremely wealthy citizens, such as Carlos Slim,the richest man in the world. In theory, Pena Nieto could rally the aid of wealthy Mexicans to promote some kind of “checkbook” diplomacy in exchange for cementing diplomatic alliances. Such “checkbook diplomacy” certainly has worked for China.
Moreover, there are many organizations in the existing alphabet soup of Western Hemisphere agencies that Mexico could take leadership in. For instance, Mexico could revive the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), which is perhaps the most obscure and least known of Latin American agencies. The ACS was created in 1994 and has twenty-eight member States encompassing the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America.
Nevertheless, just as Siskind correctly points out, it will be difficult for President Pena Nieto to gain the support of countries like Bolivia, Nicaragua or Ecuador, given the more radical and anti-Washington ideologies of their Heads of State. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa is likely to be re-elected in the country’s upcoming presidential elections, so Quito’s current foreign policy path will most likely continue.
Indeed, Pena Nieto’s greatest challenge will be how to address the historical assumption that the Mexican government is Washington’s organic ally in the Western Hemisphere. It is true, as Siskind argues, that “Pena Nieto will not have to rely on finding a scapegoat (‘Yankee imperialists’) to garner support,” but the region as a whole continues to focus its aim on how to “escape” from the U.S.’s historical influence, as exemplified by the growing demands that the Cuban embargo be lifted and for Havana to join the Summit of the Americas meetings.
A straightforward statement by Pena Nieto on what his goals are for the future of U.S.-Mexico and Mexico-Latin America relations may help clarify the situation. This move may also assist Mexico in gaining new allies, even among those that may be ideologically different, like the states that make up the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) , such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela. When Pena Nieto, as president-elect,met with President Barack Obama last November, it was interpreted as a sign that close ties between the two North American governments would continue, in particular in jointly fighting transnational drug trafficking. When Pena Nieto eventually meets with the new U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, we will have a better idea of how the relationship between the two countries will evolve in the coming years.
Ultimately, a successful foreign policy is not created instantly. Mexican presidents are elected to six-year terms, so EPN has plenty of time to develop a comprehensive continental policy. The question that remains to be answered is whether the diplomatic alliances Pena Nieto forges will be maintained by the next administration, which will come to power in 2018.
Since Mexican presidents cannot run for re-election, it will be a question of whether Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucionalor PRI) can remain in power in Mexico and thus maintain the continuity in the country’s new foreign policy. Then again, seven decades of PRI leadership were not particularly kind to Mexican domestic politics, especially when it came to governmental transparency and combating political corruption. Nevertheless, we are likely to witness positive developments in the foreign policy realm under EPN’s rule.
Cory Siskind’s commentary for The Huffington Post provides us with a strong analysis of Mexico’s potential role in the Western Hemisphere during the Enrique Pena Nieto administration. It remains to be seen whether the new President of Mexico is ambitious enough, as well as properly-advised, to take on the regional trade and diplomatic initiatives which would lead it to fill the void that Chavez has arguably left.