By THE WILSON CENTER MEXICO INSTITUTE
Given the current political and social panorama in Mexico, there will be three major things to watch for in the months ahead regarding U.S.-Mexico relations:
As border apprehensions of undocumented migrants reach record levels, the Joe Biden and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) administrations strive to collaborate to reduce the flow and improve the treatment of those who reach the Mexico-U.S. border.
Following the Biden administration’s recent acknowledgement of Mexico’s concerns about the treatment of migrants, the López Obrador administration accepted resumption of the Migration Protection Protocols (aka, “Remain in Mexico”), which the Biden administration sought unsuccessfully to terminate.
Collaboration is also underway to address the drivers of migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle.
Expansion of Mexico’s tree-planting Sembrando Vida program may provide immediate cash transfers while its new Sembrando Oportunidades program provides skills development opportunities.
Until these efforts bear fruit, sizable groups of migrants seeking to cross Mexico in caravans will offer AMLO a bargaining chip for use in other areas of the bilateral relationship.
Agreement on a new bicentennial security cooperation framework in October marked the end of the often-decried and mischaracterized Merida Initiative.
Criminal organizations’ dominance in large areas of the country has fueled much of Mexico’s violence, highlighted the military’s lack of complete territorial control and undermined AMLO’s “hugs, not bullets” strategy.
Precursor chemicals and fentanyl increasingly flow from China through Mexico into the United States, while small arms and cash flow south.
The success of the new framework depends largely on the reestablishment of trust between law enforcement and justice agencies.
Mexico’s resumption of the issuance of visas for DEA agents is a good first step though a great deal of work that remains to resolve this multifaceted bilateral challenge.
Government actions that reduce independence and inhibit performance of their duties are steadily eroding the faith Mexicans place in their institutions.
The National Electoral Institute (INE) successfully organized Mexico’s largest-ever election in 2021, yet faces budget cuts and potential reforms that would politicize its membership.
A recent decree declaring virtually all public works projects as matters of national security (requiring regulatory and other agency approvals within five days) undermines public oversight and regulatory institutions’ autonomy.
Interference in the independence of academic institutions and criticism of those who express views contrary to those of the government stifles independent thought.
The increasing use of governmental investigative bodies to harass political opponents under the guise of anti-corruption efforts undermines faith in the judicial system.
Continued efforts to undermine institutions will likely invite further comparisons to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, while constraining the Biden administration’s ability to engage with AMLO.
#1 U.S. Foreign Policy Challenge: Energy
Meanwhile, the most serious foreign policy challenge in terms of the bilateral relationship will no doubt be regarding changing energy rules in Mexico.
Proposed efforts to reverse Mexico’s 2013 energy reform, which opened the sector to foreign direct investment, present the United States with economic, environmental and national security challenges.
AMLO has long advocated for Mexican energy self-sufficiency, which he associates with the restoration of the primacy of the state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE).
Long an opponent of the 2013 reform, AMLO has proposed a constitutional reform that, inter alia, would grant CFE control of at least 54 percent of domestic electricity production and prioritize dispatching electricity from CFE’s own generation facilities over that of private facilities, replacing the current economics-based dispatch framework with an ownership-based framework.
Many of CFE’s generation facilities burn bunker oil, or combustóleo, a byproduct of oil refining for which there is limited use because of its high sulfur content.
Consequently, Mexican electricity would be more costly than electricity derived from renewable sources (primarily solar and wind), and “dirtier” due to the reliance on combustóleo.
Furthermore, the proposed reform would deny firms the right of self-supply – much of which currently comes from investment in renewables — likely undermining Mexican efforts to attract firms seeking to bring production back to North America from Asia.
Moreover, the reliance on dirtier energy will undermine efforts to meet corporate global emissions reductions targets, thus discouraging investment.
In addition, the proposed reforms likely violate the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Failure by the United States and Canada to challenge the reform’s compliance with the agreement will undermine confidence in the agreement overall.
Finally, reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation calls into question Mexico’s ability to meet its Paris commitments and those made during the recent North American Leaders Summit regarding collaboration with the United States and Canada to address climate change.
This article was compiled with the contributions of Mexico Institute Director ANDREW RUDMAN, Wilson Center’s Vice President DUNCAN WOOD and Mexico Institute Board Co-Chair and Wilson Center Public Policy Fellow EARL ANTHONY WAYNE, who served as ambassador to Mexico from August 2011 to July 2015. It first appeared on the Wilson Center Mexico Institute webpage. It is being republished in Pulse News Mexico with express prior permission.