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Opinion | Trouble Looms for Mexico’s New President

Category: Diplomatic Relations,Politics

Next, the new president will have to ensure that current sanctions on Mexican steel and aluminum exports are removed and that the U.S.M.C.A. is something that the United States Congress will actually approve. With a new Democratic majority in the House, this will be a task more arduous than many believe. As happened 25 years ago, when President Bill Clinton had to struggle with his own party to ratify Nafta, this time practically every Democratic vote in the House sought by Mr. Trump will require a Mexican concession, in annexes or side letters, or on separate issues.

Then, Mr. López Obrador may decide to go forward with his bold and praiseworthy ideas of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and poppy cultivation to produce painkillers in Mexico. The country imports legal morphine in large quantities and exports illegal heroin. If he proceeds this way, however, he may face serious reprisals by an American administration concerned about the opioid crisis and drugs in general.

Finally, Mr. López Obrador’s sympathy for the regimes in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, given the United States’ animosity toward them, will add more tensions to the relationship. If AMLO and his team had any experience in handling these matters, or if Mr. Trump showed any inclination to back off on trade, immigration and drugs with Mexico, all of these disagreements could be managed, as they have been in the past. Neither of these two conditions exists today.

As long as nothing occurs that threatens Mexican economic stability, this state of affairs is regrettable but tolerable. But if a crisis, like Mexico’s economic and financial meltdown in 1994-95, were to arise, neither the American president nor Mr. López Obrador is well suited to confront it. Mr. Trump’s constant manipulation of immigration issues for domestic politics and Mr. López Obrador’s penchant for impetuous and poorly thought through decisions work against the type of crisis management that both governments produced a quarter of a century ago.

Misguided policies like the cancellation of a new Mexico City airport by AMLO via popular referendum; the authoritarian drift seen in the militarization of Mexican public safety and law enforcement; the sending of American troops to the common border by Mr. Trump, and his insistence on building a wall along the border and recklessly imposing trade sanctions all show just how trigger-happy both leaders can be.

The Mexican economy has collapsed at least four times over the past 40 years. It can happen to any country. But not all countries can prevent collapse, or fix it. Mr. López Obrador and Mr. Trump are on their own, together and terribly mismatched. Hoping that everything will work out is perfectly understandable, and perfectly naïve. Troubled times, indeed.

Jorge G. Castañeda, Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000 to 2003, is a professor at New York University and a board member at Human Rights Watch.

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