By ANTONIO GARZA, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico
Less than 48 hours ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the U.S. Congress, directly appealing to President Joe Biden to do even more to support Ukraine. Following the emotional speech, Biden announced $800 million in additional military support to Ukraine. Today, Friday, March 18, the Biden will speak with China’s Xi Jinping about the the conflict, and he plans to travel to Europe next week for an in-person discussion with allies.
It’s now been nearly a month since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor, leading to massive devastation and a humanitarian crisis that has already forced more 3 million Ukrainians to flee the country.
In early March, Mexico joined the United Nations resolution to condemn Russia. However, unlike the United States and its NATO allies, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that Mexico will not impose sanctions on Russia and he denied Ukraine’s request for military assistance. Even though the conflict has led global oil prices to skyrocket, López Obrador has pledged that the state-owned oil giant Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) will not raise fuel prices.
The war in Ukraine comes at a contentious political moment for Mexico’s president. Experts have increasingly expressed concerns about the current state of Mexico’s democracy, going so far as to encourage the United States to more directly engage with Mexico’s political leaders and civil society activists. López Obrador has increasingly challenged autonomous public institutions, human rights and anti-corruption organizations, and media outlets critical of his administration.
In the last month, López Obrador’s approval rating dropped to 58 percent, likely due to recent scandals close to home. This is an all-time low for his presidency, yet still a fairly high rating for a global leader. And in just a few weeks, on April 10t, Mexican voters will head to the polls to vote in a referendum on López Obrador’s presidency, which is expected to turn out in his favor. And in the June gubernatorial elections, the president’s coalition appears poised to gain state houses.
The murders of eight Mexican journalists so far this year has drawn international attention to Mexico, one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern and the European Union Parliament passed an official resolution condemning violence in Mexico against journalists.
On security, Mexican authorities on Sunday, March 13, arrested a high-profile leader of the Noreste Cartel in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and deported him to the United States. After meeting with a U.S. delegation earlier this week, Mexico reiterated its commitment to the new Bicentennial Framework, a step in the right direction for bilateral security cooperation that had markedly deteriorated.
Mexico’s economy has faced an uneven recovery. Inflation in February hit its highest point in more than two decades, accelerating faster than previously projected. Mexico’s Central Bank (Banxico) now forecasts that the country’s GDP will grow 2.4 percent in 2022, compared to its prior estimate of 3.2 percent. Various experts have attributed this slow economic rebound to Mexico’s policy direction in areas as diverse as energy, trade and the limited fiscal response to the covid-19 pandemic.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) projects that Mexico’s economy will return to pre-pandemic levels by this year’s third quarter, due to growth in U.S. consumer demand and an upswing in Mexico’s labor market. In 2021, remittances to Mexico reached a record $51.6 billion, a 27 percent increase from 2020, providing a boost for the country’s consumer base.
Earlier this week, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas met with the Mexican government in Mexico City to discuss ways to stop the high flow of migrants arriving at the southern border amid rising food and energy prices. Last week, the U.S. Center for Disease Controls (CDC) terminated the use of the Title 42 public health authority for the expulsion of unaccompanied children at the border and is reportedly considering whether to end the policy altogether.
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 specializing in cross-border issues at White & Case, which was recently named the most innovative firm in North America for 2020 by the Financial Times. He is also currently a director at both Kansas City Southern and MoneyGram.