Covid in the Americas

Photo: Segurilatam

By ANTONIO GARZA, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico

Over the past months, our lives have been transformed by the covid-19 pandemic and its destructive economic consequences.

In just 75 days, we Americans will be casting our votes in the November presidential election.

And in terms of foreign policy toward Latin America, I believe that the United States should take this moment and commit to a principled and forward-looking approach that reflects the region’s critical importance.

This includes strengthening democratic governance and anti-corruption efforts, increased economic prosperity and integration, and unequivocal support for human rights. And Mexico should be at the forefront of any U.S. foreign policy, given its strategic importance to the United States.

Regarding the newly minted United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement (USMCA), my belief is that the trade agreement is not the silver bullet for establishing immediate regional economic stability and prosperity. However, it is a major regional achievement and another bet that North America makes on itself for a stronger economic future.

Even during these slower summer days, there have been a number of significant regional events.

The ongoing covid-19 pandemic continues to spread across North America. The United States reports more than 5,000,000 cases — the most in the world — and 169,000 deaths. While the number of new cases has slipped slightly from the mid-July peak, it’s still at one of the pandemic’s highest levels.

Mexico has also reported more than 520,000 confirmed cases, 56,000 deaths,  and half of the country’s states continue to only allow essential activities.

However, while the United States and other countries have pumped money into their economies during the global health crisis, Mexico has largely rejected these counter-cyclical responses. The government did direct $10 billion toward the poorest citizens, but has avoided any support for companies or workers and promoted deep public sector spending cuts. The country’s economy is expected to contract by 10 percent this year with a slow recovery. On Monday, Aug. 17, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced that he will present his economic recovery plan in two weeks.

Mexico’s energy sector continues to be redefined as AMLO moves to regain state control over the country’s oil and electricity sectors. In a July 22, 2020, memorandum directed at state agencies, López Obrador outlined his desire to rescue the state owned oil and electricity companies, Petróleos Maxicanos (Pemex) and the Federal electricity Commission (CFE), as they struggle with crushing debt. The memorandum suggested that even constitutional changes could be on the table, likely undoing much of the 2013 energy reform that opened the country’s energy sector to greater private investment.

High-profile corruption stories have also grabbed headlines in Mexico. This past month, Mexican federal prosecutors extradited Emilio Loyoza — who served as the head of Pemex from 2012 to 2016 — from Spain to face bribery and money laundering charges. Since returning to Mexico, Lozoya has testified that he disbursed $5 million to foreign consultants working on former President Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2012 presidential campaign, and has gone as far as to implicate Peña Nieto in the case.

ANTONIO GARZA is a U.S. lawyer who served as his country’s ambassador to Mexico between 2002 and 2009. In recognition of his work, in 2009, the Mexican government bestowed on him the Águila Azteca, the highest award granted to foreigners. Prior to his appointment as ambassador, Garza served as Texas’ secretary of State from January 1995 to November 1997 and was also chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. He is currently a lawyer at White & Case, specializing in cross-border issues. He is also currently a director at both Kansas City Southern and MoneyGram.

…Aug. 19, 2020

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