Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, associate professor in George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government and global fellow in the Wilson Center’s Latin America Program, leads a conversation on the future of U.S.-Mexico relations.
CASA: Welcome to today’s session of the CFR Fall 2021 Academic Webinar Series. I am Maria Casa, director of the National Program and Outreach at CFR. Thank you all for joining us. Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/academic if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates. As always CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We are delighted to have Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera with us to discuss the future of U.S.-Mexico relations. Dr. Correa-Cabrera is associate professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and global fellow in the Latin America Program at the Wilson Center. She also serves as nonresident scholar at the Center for the United States and Mexico in Rice University’s Baker Institute, is a fellow at Small Wars Journal-El Centro, and is co-editor of the International Studies Perspectives Journal. Previously Dr. Correa-Cabrera was principal investigator of a research grant to study organized crime and trafficking in persons in Central America and Mexico, supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. She is past president of the Association for Borderland Studies and the author of several books. Welcome, Guadalupe.
CORREA-CABRERA: Thank you, Maria.
CASA: Thank you very much for speaking with us today.
CORREA-CABRERA: Thank you, Maria. Thank you very much to everyone, especially the Council on Foreign Relations, for the opportunity to talk to you about the relationships of my two countries, the United States and Mexico.
So today, I’m going to start by explaining what is the current state of Mexico-U.S. relations, but in the context of a very important event that took place some days ago, in the context of the U.S.-Mexico Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities. The bicentennial—so-called Bicentennial Understanding. There was a concern at the beginning of the current administration in the United States that the relationships between the United States and Mexico were going to be difficult. Notwithstanding the last, the current year has been extremely productive in many areas. And with this new understanding, the Bicentennial Understanding, that it states in the Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities, the United States and Mexico’s relation has been reframed in a very important way.
There is an understanding that the Mérida initiative that had been the center of the relationship between the United States and Mexico, focused on security, needed to be reframed. And then, you know, that was—that was considered that the priorities remained the same, the priorities of the two countries, with some changes that I’m going to be talking about. But the three—I mean, the high-level understanding, this high-level meeting told us what’s supposed to be—I mean, where we’re going to see in the future.
So I just wanted to point out some of the points that were discussed. This framework was informed by each country’s security priorities, that I’m going to be talking about. And the focus is addressing violence, but through a response that’s driven by justice and use of intelligence against organized crime, and based on tactical cooperation in law enforcement, based on the previous mistakes that had been identified. But currently, the focus would be on public health and development as a part of the strategy of cooperation between the two countries. I’m taking some words from the—from the communique of this understanding. And, you know, with the consideration of—for a more secure and prosperous region, the Mexico-U.S. Bicentennial Framework serves to reaffirm the friendship and cooperation that exists between the two nations.
You know, as you see, the language is very friendly. It’s based on an understanding that the relationship is important, cooperation is important. Apparently the two countries are in the same boat in this regard. The United States recognizes that support of militarization is not the way probably to go. And a greater focus on public health and development to address the root causes of violence in the southern hemisphere, particularly in Mexico, is probably the way to go, with an understanding to promote a more secure and prosperous region.
There are four themes—I mean, this is the idea. This was—I mean, that was the conversation that’s on the table. We don’t necessarily know ourselves today how this is going to be implemented, what are the particular policies that—or, the collaboration, or the amounts of money to make this happen. But this is kind of like the idea of the future of this collaboration. However, I am going to be talking about the opportunities, and particularly the challenges, considering the priorities of the two nations that, in a way, and when we have the meetings of this type, and when we listen to the language and read the media and talk to the politicians that were present, we have a sense. But then when everybody goes home, we kind of, like, think about this better and we see opportunities, but more challenges than we initially thought.
So there are four main things in the United States-Mexico relations that need to be highlighted, plus one that has been also always important but today is more important due to the pandemic. Which is the theme of public health, where an important collaboration between Mexico and the United States has been observed but at the same time poses certain challenges with regard to the border management. Title 42 is still in place and the borders are going to be opened gradually, considering, you know, the vaccination status of people. But that has had a major impact on border communities, and certain impacts on trade and development, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The other four main themes of U.S. Mexico relations that I want to talk about are immigration, security, trade, and energy. I mean, I don’t want to place them in order of priority. I think that energy is going to define the future of Mexico-U.S. relations, but I’m going to mention the four in the context of the present—I mean, the present situation. So with regards to trade, the successful passage and, you know, implementation of renegotiation of NAFTA, today in the shape of USMCA, has been extremely successful. Poses some challenges, of course. And this is going to be connected with the last subject we’ll be talking about, the proposal of the Mexican government to reform the electricity sector. This is something that is going to be very, very important, and what are the priorities of the United States in the framework of build back better?
But with regards to trade, apparently their relationships could not be, you know, better than today. There are some challenges, of course, that have to be with labor rights and unions in Mexico that would cause some loss of competitiveness in the manufacturing sector. And in the framework build back better, of course, this is going to benefit the United States and it’s going probably to affect the manufacturing sector of Mexico. Let’s see how it works. But with regards to trade, things are mainly, you know, stable, with exception of the future. And this is going to be very, very important. The potential passage, we don’t really know, it’s very difficult that the electricity reform in Mexico will pass. But anyway, the president—the current president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has a very important amount of—I mean, segment of the population, and a very important support from his base that might help him to achieve his goal. I see it very differently, but we’ll talk about that.
So the next area that I would like to talk about is immigration. Here we have enormous challenges, enormous challenges that have been visualized with, you know, the current situations at the border that started since the beginning of this administration. During the past years, I mean, they had started to be increasing in magnitude, or at least in visibility. As I mentioned, Title 42 is maintained, and the migration protection protocol—Migrant Protection Protocols, so Stay in Mexico program, where a number of asylum seekers would have to wait for their cases to be decided in Mexico, there’s a new definition in this framework. The Supreme Court of the United States very recently made a decision with regards to the reinstatement of the Migrant Protection Protocols.
In the beginning the Department of Homeland Security, you know, made the declaration that they would—they would continue with that, but very recently they intention is not to continue with the Migrant Protection Protocols. In the end, and this is why this is very important in the very current conversation, in the end the continuation of this—of this program that has been highly criticized. Then it’s also—it has put the human rights of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers at risk. That might—this will not work if Mexico—if the government of Mexico does not accept it. We have to see what is going to be the result. But we have a definition in this regard.
The role of Mexico is key in the management of the U.S.-Mexico border, in the management of what some call migrant crisis, and then a crisis at the border. We observed that crisis very recently with a number of Haitian citizens that all left their country, went to South America, and from South America—from countries such as Ecuador, Brazil, Chile—traveled north through different countries, finding different challenges and dangers, and arrived to one point of the U.S.-Mexico border, with the help of a number of actors, such as migrant smugglers and corrupt authorities, but with the aim of making—I mean, escaping a terrible life and making a better life in the United States.
We have a caravan that’s now in direction to Mexico City. They were going go—they will put their demands on the table, but their intent is to continue going to the United States. There is a very big definition with regards to the migrant crisis, or what some call the migrant crisis, and the immigration issues that the government of the United States has recognized very accurately, and the Mexican government too, that there need to be collaboration to address the root causes of the situation that has to do with the development of the countries of Central America, of South America. And, you know, to achieve stability in South America, probably not through militarization. Secretary Blinken in a very surprising statement has led us to believe that today the United States is also reframing its aid to Latin America, to Central America and the Caribbean. And the focus is not going to be in aid in military equipment or in the militarization of the region. This is very important.
And this brings me to talk about the third important—the third theme in the U.S.-Mexico relations. Mexico’s security—the relationship of Mexico and the United States in the past few years has been focused on this connection between security and immigration. That’s in the end centered on a specific attention of border enforcement, of border security cooperation. The situation in Mexico has deteriorated in the past few years, and the situation has not improved in an important way. Mexico’s homicides remained at high levels, despite the pandemic. During the pandemic the decrease was very small, but today and we expect that this year the homicide rate continues growing in a trend that does not seem to be going down.
The approach of the Mexican government since the transition period was—I mean, I can be summarized in the phrase talks not bullets. Which means, like, a completely—I mean, a complete shift of the declaration of Mexico’s war on drugs to some other, like, approaches that will focus as well to solve the root causes of violence insecurity in Mexico, mainly development frameworks. However, the prior militarization of criminal groups in different parts of the country, and the events—the shootings and the diversification of criminal activities by armed groups in the country—has also caused a very complicated situation. The count of homicides in Mexico shows that killings remain essentially unchanged, more than 36,000 homicides in the year 2020. As I mentioned before, this year we expect an important increase.
I don’t know what will be the magnitude, but we have observed since the beginning of the year very unfortunate events. For example, at the U.S.-Mexico border, in the city of Reynosa, the massacre of migrants, and also assassinations and disappearances in a very key highway of Mexico from Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey. We still remember the Culiacanazo in the year 2019, which was a very complicated year. And today the situation in states like Michoacán, Guerrero, and Sinaloa, the massacres that be found, and people who disappear—or, that remain disappeared, is a very big concern, both to Mexico and the United States.
There is not really an understanding of how this collaboration with regards to security will be framed. However, there was a very big advancement in the Bicentennial Understanding initial talks that the Mérida Initiative, at least on paper, supposed to be ending. But there’s going to be a focus on dismantling transnational criminal organizations, probably in a different way and not with a focus on the military sector or on armed forces. At least, this is what we have on the paper. Mexico has been very straightforward with regards—and very critical with regards to the role of the DEA. And that has caused several tensions in this relationship.
We also have the issue of security and the—I mean, the priorities of the United States with regards to build back better proposal or reform. And then we have, as I said, the reform of the electric sector in the Mexico state, who want to recover the control of the management of electricity, of the electricity market, and the capacity of the state to manage the lithium. So Mexico has—and the Mexican government has three main projects: the construction of the refinery in—the Dos Bocas in Tabasco, the Santa Lucia airport, and the Maya Train. There is a tension between Mexico and the United States with regards to priorities.
Mexico has a priority to continue with the support of oil and gas. This is—this is reflected in the construction of the refinery. And here, we’re probably going to see the main point of tension. Because of build back better and the commitment with build back better, and also focus on U.S. internal markets where Mexico has been benefitting from the growth of its manufacturing sector. We don’t really know how this is going to be playing out, but at least, you know, on paper things are going to be good. But definitely the priorities with regards to energy are very different, and the focus of the U.S.-Mexico government on the lessening of climate change. And this focus is going to be very different—very difficult. The United States is committed to meet its climate goals, create millions of jobs inside the United States. And that has really changed their relationship.
So we can talk more about these. Thank you for listening to this. And as I said, we’ll probably be talking a lot about energy and the inequalities that public health and vaccination rates, that will also cause tensions. And immigration is another point that we need to talk about in greater depth. Thank you.
CASA: Thank you, Guadalupe, for that introduction. There certainly is a lot to talk about. Now let’s open this up to questions from our participants.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
Let’s see. We will start with a written question from Paul Haber, who’s a professor at University of Montana.
He asks: Can you please provide some detail regarding the changes in labor required in Mexico by the USMCA? And what has happened to date? And do you expect a real deepening of the reforms between now and the end of the AMLO administration?
CORREA-CABRERA: This is a very important question. With regard to the USMCA, mainly the main point that might cause tensions have to do—has to do with labor unions, particularly in the maquiladora sector, in manufacturing sector. The United States has been very clear with regards to that requirement, but that would, at the same time, lower the competitiveness of Mexico’s manufacturing sector. As I said, there have been, I mean, in the past couple of years an attempt to create independent labor unions in the maquiladora sector, but there are still extreme tensions. And there have not been a real advance in this—in this sense.
But at the same time, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, with his theme of primero los pobres, the poor first, and a support of Mexican labor, an increase—a very important increase since the beginning of his administration of wages, he is supposedly committed to help Mexican workers and to—and he has been focused as well on supporting not only the labor unions or the labor sector, but with his social programs that have been, I mean, advertised a great extent. Such as Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro, the Youth Constructing Future, which is a very important, for him, but also very criticized program. And the support of mothers without—I mean, single mothers. And, I mean Youth Constructing Future for those who don’t have jobs.
So on the one hand Andrés Manuel López Obrador, also in order to continue building his base of support or maintaining his base of support, focused—has focused on these programs, these social programs, that are not necessarily just focused on labor, as the way that the United States wants this to be seen in order to also rebuild the economy by changing the focus to internal development. I don’t see in that regard if what—if your interest comes from the United States, what has happened with the union is—with the labor unions and their capacity to really, I mean, grow in the Mexican manufacturing sector—I don’t see—I don’t see a lot of advancement in that area.
And definitely in this regard, there are very different priorities in Mexico versus the United States. But Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been able to convince a number of his supporters, a number of Mexican workers, because he has increased in a very important way Mexican wages. And he is probably going to be able to achieve more increases when the elections—the presidential elections approach. But definitely we don’t see very definite changes with regards to this area as the USMCA has been posed.
CASA: Next we have a raised hand from Sherice Nelson, assistant professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge. Sherice.
Q: Good afternoon. Thank you so much for your talk. And I appreciate you leaving time for us to ask questions.
As a professor, how do—the biggest challenge often is to get students to back away from some of the stereotypical information they get about U.S.-Mexico and the relationship, and the centering of that—of that relationship on immigration, when there’s far—as you mentioned—there are far other issues that define our relationship. Where are places that we can lead students to, to get better information that is not as stereotypical about the relationship, that will pique their interest? Thanks so much.
CORREA-CABRERA: That’s a very important question. Thank you for asking. And absolutely, there is a way to present the issue on immigration, to place it in a political perspective—either from the right side or the left. The problem with immigration and the quality development and the access for jobs—I mean, it has been studied in depth by Mexican academics, United States academics. Issues have more to do with development and with the jobs that are offered in the United States, the pull and push factors of undocumented immigration, for example. And we have very different areas to be thinking about migration or immigration. And the focus recently has been at the border, has been with regards to asylum seekers, has been politicized in the United States, while many other areas have been, to some extent, ignored.
There are—for educators, there are a number of analyses. One particular area that’s important to know, it’s United States—I mean, immigrants—how immigrants in the United States, coming from different countries, have been able to develop, have been able to make this country great. That’s one area that we have to focus on. And there is a lot of information in that regard. Another, I mean, issue that it’s important to know are the pull and push factors of undocumented immigration. And one important factor that usually we’re not focused on are the jobs that exist in the United States, and the perspective from—I mean, the undocumented immigration from the perspective of employers.
And that is connected to this analysis of the role of immigrants in the United States. Where are they coming from? What are they doing? How they came here, and not just of those who want to come. Another issue that has been widely covered is the one that has to do with migration. Migration flows that start in countries such as Chile, that dangerous journey where that media has been focused on, without analyzing this as a whole, without analyzing this understand that there are jobs in the United States, there is a comprehensive immigration reform that’s on the table, and that that comprehensive immigration reform will definitely help to solve the problems of a system that needs the, I mean, immigrants to continue working, but it’s creating all sorts of problem.
The disfunctions of U.S. immigration system have been identified. There is a proposal that’s bipartisan to solve these issues with temporary visas, pathway towards citizenship for those that are already here, that already have jobs, that already contribute to this economy. But unfortunately, immigration is definitely, as you correctly mention, a subject that has been utilized, that has been polarized, because it touches very important sentiments of the electorate. And we don’t understand it. Definitely the immigration system in the United States needs to change.
And there are—there is a very important amount of articles, of studies that analyze not just those who want to come or the so-called migrant crisis at the border, but how the market in the United States works, the labor markets, what undocumented migrants do in the United States, how to solve these issues with these bipartisan efforts that have been put together in documents, such as the Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and also those that want to work. And many of these problems would probably be solved through the mechanisms that think tanks, and analysts, and academics have done. Important work by think tanks like the Migration—MPI, the Migration Policy Institute, or the—I mean, other initiatives in Mexico. There have been a lot of—there’s a lot of information about the possible policies to solve these issues.
It’s important to consider that information is there, that the work is done, but the problem is the coverage. And definitely our students need to go to understand the suggested—the suggested solutions, creating legal pathways to migration, to temporary work in the United States, is probably the way to go. But unfortunately, we got into these politicized moments, and these electoral moments, and the discourse gets politicized. But there is a lot there, a lot of analysis, a lot of proposals that you can find. Amazing work, both in the United States, in Mexico, and in many other countries of the Americas, because right now the issue of undocumented immigration, irregular immigration does not only have to do with Mexico and the United States. Immigrants have to pass through Mexico in order to get to where they want to go in order to go where the works are located. But we know and we have seen that a number of people, for example, that what was called the Haitian crisis at the border, like, the journey was done from countries as far as Chile, and so many countries have to deal with that. For example, the situation in Venezuela—many migrants that have been—I mean, finding jobs and a home in Colombia temporarily are also going—also moving up and are going to the border. So there’s a lot there, and our students, you know, can find a lot of information. It’s just to get out of the media discourses that are presented and that do not allow us to see the reality. But there is a lot out there that we can access, particularly for our students.
CASA: Our next question is a written question and comes from Pedro Izquierdo, a graduate student at George Mason University. He asks, what improvements and flaws do you see in the bicentennial framework regarding arms trafficking, unlike the Mérida Initiative?
CORREA-CABRERA: Well, it’s—the Bicentennial Understanding is not—at this point it’s just a number of good wishes and the recognition of certain problems. Arms trafficking has been recognized in this Bicentennial Understanding. As of today, we don’t really know what the United States is going to be able to do with regards to arms trafficking, and there is a very important and complicated situation here because in the United States it’s not by decree, it’s not by—I mean, the arms possession and the way that United States citizens understand their rights with regards to bearing arms. It’s a constitutional right; therefore—and there’s a lot of—you know, there’s a very, very big business that will not end so easily. Therefore, the two countries might, you know, might agree on—I mean verifying or collaborating to end or to lessen the issue of arms smuggling. However, this is going to be very difficult unless something important happens in the United States with regards to the legislation to place some limits on the bearing of arms. This is very important. As of today, Pedro, there is not a concrete plan of how the two countries are going to collaborate in this regard.
As we know, the minister of foreign affairs—I mean the Mexican government through the minister of foreign affairs, I mean, has a lawsuit against United States arms manufacturers with regards to the arms that come to Mexico and end up in the hands of drug traffickers. There is nothing else that it’s current today where we will know what the two countries are going to be doing. And this is the same with many of the good wishes, many of the areas of the collaboration, the end of the Mérida Initiative and the beginning of this understanding. We really don’t know what specific programs are going to be implemented and how these programs are going to be implemented, how much money is going to be directed to these programs at this time. We just have an understanding of how the priorities can get together to improve and to reframe, to some extent, the collaboration in terms of security and development.
CASA: Next we are going to a raised hand; we have Terron Adlam, an undergraduate student at Delaware State University.
Please go ahead, Terron.
Q: Can you hear me now?
Q: Hi. Yes.
So I’m thinking about more the energy sector of this talk. So in Mexico I know there’s a lot of geothermal activity, so isn’t there a more effective way of, like—because global warming is increasing more and more as time goes on, like, the flooding, the overheating of the ozone, stuff like—couldn’t geothermal usage be more effective in Mexico and solar too, versus the oil refineries?
CORREA-CABRERA: This is a very important question. The understanding of climate change in the United States is very different from Mexico. In the developed world, the concern about the environment has been focused—I mean, this has now been the center of the discussion and the center of the development programs and projects. In the developing nations, there are more immediate needs to be covered.
With regards specifically to Mexico, there is not—climate change is not in the center of the discourse and the priorities of the Mexican government. Mexico has oil and gas and the current Mexican president—I mean, notwithstanding the analysis of other actors. What the Mexican government has had as a priority since the beginning of the administration has more to do with the development from the state, more centralization of the state, a greater role of the state in the sector of oil and gas. The climate change priority comes from the United States. Today, you know, the diplomatic efforts are going to be done to make Mexico to turn into the renewable sector, but at this point, it is not the priority of the Mexican government, neither the priority of a majority of the Mexican people, because in the developing world, climate change is important but it’s more important sometimes in certain parts of Mexico, such as Guerrero, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas, and it’s particularly the poorest regions of Mexico—Oaxaca or Chiapas—where there are several problems and, you know, immediate needs of people are not covered. And I’m talking about food. I’m talking about security very particularly. These pictures of children with arms in Guerrero and Michoacán tell us what the emergency situation is for a number of people, and the Mexican president has been able to create a discourse around these needs, around the needs for poor people, around the needs of those who can listen to that better, and he has a priority today—I mean, he sent a proposal to achieve an electric reform; well, the state is going to have more involvement and also a focus on electricity with the technologies that the Mexican state has been managed, which is not connected to solar or wind or the mindset that the United States has had in the past few years. So the priorities are very different and the studies are not directed there.
The Department of Energy of the United States, through one of the laboratories of renewable energies, conducted a—I mean conducted a study and released the results of this report talking about the—according to the report—the negative effects in terms of emissions of carbon by Mexico and the increase in the cost of producing electricity. The Mexican government—the president alleged that that study was not based in reality. And you can see, then, what Mexico wants. And, you know, currently, Mexico has actively participated in the COP26 and it’s been involved in the conversation, but definitely we don’t know how much money or how this—(inaudible)—is going to be made.
This is a very important question because I wasn’t able to go in depth with this. This is probably going to be the main point of tensions between the two countries in the future—definitely for Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Andrés Manuel López Obrador was a very big critic of the recent energy reform of 2013, 2014, the energy reform that allowed private capital to get into the oil sector. He was a pretty big critic. There have been a number of events that link corrupt Mexican governments with the concessions in the oil sector, oil and gas sector, so this is probably going to be—continue to be discussed. And if the president has the capacity of passing the reform—that I see it very difficult because of the numbers that he needs—the situation is going to become more tense, because his vision is nationalistic and it’s not—and nationalism—Mexican nationalism of today is not looking at climate change as its main priority. And you can see the supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador are really not discussing climate change. Mexican elites are discussing climate change and, of course, the opposition against Andrés Manuel López Obrador against the government of the Fourth Transformation, but they have an important majority—they don’t have a majority, sorry, the opposition. The important majority is within the government of the Fourth Transformation, and their support for electric reform is important.
I don’t know how this is going to play out in the end, but in the United States and in Mexico, climate change is perceived in a very different way. That has to be understood very clearly because we don’t see the media, we don’t see how in the schools and how in Mexico overall the issue is well-ingrained into the society, because, of course, the society, the Mexican society, particularly the most vulnerable ones in the country, the very important number of poor people in the country has other priorities that have to do with food insecurity—have to do with food insecurity.
CASA: Thank you. Our next question is a written question; it’s from Yuri Mantilla, professor of law at Liberty University, and he writes, can you please analyze the influence of political ideologies in Mexico and the U.S. that are shaping both international relations between the two countries and perceptions of the Mexican and American people regarding the current political contexts under the Biden administration in the U.S. and the López Obrador leadership in Mexico?
CORREA-CABRERA: That’s an amazing question, but that is a very difficult question to answer very quickly. OK, let me try to do it. It’s a very big challenge. This is a very challenging question.
As I mentioned with regards to climate change, the ideologies in Mexico and the United States, what is right and what is left in the two countries is quite—it’s, to some extent, different in the United States, the left and right. And today, because we have a president that ran on a left-wing platform and he was recognized as a left-wing president and also a very big critic of so-called neoliberal reforms and the neoliberal system that were represented by the previous administrations and that by the administrations that achieved democratization in Mexico. I’m talking about the National Action Party and all the parties that supported those reforms, the democratization in the country. And because of that, today, the ideology has transformed, to some extent; it’s not about—I mean, support for the Washington consensus as it was in the previous decades versus—which was represented in the government—versus another project that direct—the relationship more with the people. Now that mindset, that discourse, sometimes propagandistic in certain ways, is in the government. So the government presents itself as a left-wing government. Nationalism and a conception of first the poor—the poor first, very big criticism, in discourse only, about neoliberalism, without, you know, a real perspective what neoliberalism is because of the support that the current Mexican government has provided to USMCA, which is one of the foundation parts of what is perceived as neoliberalism, which is mainly liberalism in—not in the perspective of the United States overall—free markets, the importance of free markets in the economy.
It’s a very challenging question because in the United States and Mexico there are important concepts that mean different things for people. Liberalism or neoliberalism for Mexicans mean support of markets and a support of the right, while in the United States, when we talk about liberalism, we think about progressive thinking; we think about equality but in a different way. In Mexico the center is equality in the economic regard, and the president today, the government, you know, is governing with the flag of equality, is governing with the flag of the left. And the so-called left is with the Mexican—or allegedly voted for the current Mexican president, but now some of them are debating themselves in different areas. So it’s not as easy to place the right and the left as it is more in the United States; even in the United States there are many issues with regards to position yourself in right and left. We have the progressive part of the electorate in the United States versus a more moderate left, and, as you all know, the Republican Party or the conservative segment of the U.S. population that’s more connected with Republican candidates, it’s kind of like a very different conception in Mexico. The right wing in Mexico in many ways support, for example, the Democratic Party in the United States. What is conceived as the opposition to Andrés Manuel López Obrador even are very critical of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s relationship with feminism or the feminist movement. Andrés Manuel López Obrador is not supporting the feminist movement because Andrés Manuel López Obrador alleges the feminist movement has been supported by other countries and the opposition.
So for the alleged left that is represented by the government, feminism is not a part of their agenda, while in the United States the LGBTQIA movement, the feminist movement, support for climate change, those important values are part of the progressive movement of the left. I mean, in Mexico, and I explain this is why this is very, very important and a very challenging question to answer—I mean, just very quickly—is that, for example, climate change is not in the agenda and climate change is in the—it has been taken by the opposition to the Mexican government. Many representatives of the opposition are criticizing the current Mexican government but not focusing on not going and continuing with the desire of constructing the Dos Bocas refinery and going with oil and gas and focusing on electricity as in the previous times of the PRI. So a number of the Mexican elite that is in opposition—I mean that’s considered the opposition are supporting climate change. Why—not supporting climate change but are supporting, like, you know, the development of renewable energies and have as an objective climate change but mainly to criticize what the Mexican government is doing. So in that regard, we see a very big polarization between the ones that supported previous administrations versus this current government that connects with the left, while in the United States we see what is the ideological spectrum.
A number of those who represent, as I said, the opposition are connected with the current administration objectives. For example, President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa presents very frequently his photographs with members of the Democratic Party, the current president, Joe Biden, and he’s very critical of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, so there’s a confusion that we can have based on our own ideologies that’s not very easy to understand in very quick explanation. But I hope that I was, to some extent, clear in this regard.
CASA: Next we’re going to a raised hand. Ellen Chesler, who’s senior fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. Ellen?
Q: I actually had put my question in the chat, I thought, but I’ll ask it. Thank you so much for this interesting overview.
I wanted to—I’m a historian by training and was going to ask you to historically frame some of your introductory remarks in a little bit more depth. First, of great interest to me, your comments about the importance of public health, specifically reproductive health policy. Have United States policies and support of Mexico in the last, you know, twenty-five years or so, in your view, been positive for the country, and what are the challenges that remain? And in a way linked to that, from your introductory comments, a question about labor: You mentioned, of course, that NAFTA, in your view, was successful, certainly from Mexico’s standpoint, but has remaining challenges, largely relating to labor organization and the raising of wages in Mexico to equalize the situation between the two countries. Can you comment on what prospects there are for that happening today in Mexico?
CORREA-CABRERA: Very interesting questions.
With regards to reproductive health, this also has to do with the ideology. The left in Mexico, which is now represented, in a way, by the current Mexican government, the current Mexican government has adamantly—since Andrés Manuel López Obrador was head of the government of Mexico City there have been, you know, an advancement with regards to reproductive rights, reproductive health, and that is not under question of the current administration, which is very interesting because in the United States the—I mean, there’s a different type of tension. And in other countries of the hemisphere too, we can see—you know, because we’re Catholic countries we can see that area as very complex and a lot of opposition with regards to that. In Mexico, there needs to be an opposition because of the mentality, because of the culture, but there has been an advancement in the courts, and recently there was a decision in one state of Mexico that decriminalized—and it’s very interesting how the Mexican government has been able to build a different discourse that has allowed the current government to advance in that direction. Decriminalization of abortion is a way that this has advanced. So I believe that possibly—I dare to say that possibly in the Americas, Mexico is one of the most progressive governments with regards to this subject, reproductive health and reproductive rights. It is very interesting—there must be a number of studies coming from this decision of the courts of one state of Mexico that’s going to be defining the future of reproductive rights in the country.
With regards to the second question about NAFTA, labor rights, there is an understanding in the United States that NAFTA has been good, particularly for Mexico. In the technocracy sector, particularly those that, you know, contributed to renegotiate NAFTA—I mean, the Mexican elites recognize the gains of Mexico in the framework of NAFTA, particularly if we focus on the manufacturing sector. The jobs that we’re creating in maquiladoras, the jobs that were created due to NAFTA, were not enough to achieve or to allow Mexico to grow at rates that were acceptable. During the time of NAFTA, Mexico has grown at the same—almost at the same level of demographic rates of population rates. So overall, a number of jobs were lost in the beginning, the first years of NAFTA. Many of these people needed to move to the United States. So the effects of NAFTA in Mexico have been very extremely, extremely unequal. But what you will read probably in the reports that have been produced by Mexican academics, Mexican analysts and think tanks and in the think tanks of the United States is that NAFTA has been overall very good for Mexico. It has not been bad for Mexico. It has allowed the country to have access to a number of products but, at the same time, has affected some other sectors that could be considered of national security. And I’m thinking about the production of grain in the agricultural sector in particular.
But with regards to labor rights—and this is why the question is very important, and I’m not sure that I answered it correctly. The United States has different priorities and has had different priorities that were manifested in the growth of dissatisfaction among an important segment of the U.S. population that has not been able to—I mean, become part of the development in the United States. That gave place to the Make America Great Again movement where the intention or the importance that a number of people in the United States, both in the left or in the right—the idea of a Green New Deal that it’s right now in the form of the Build Back Better framework has this idea in mind, to generate jobs inside the United States, because globalization or very aggressive globalization after the end of the Cold War really put a number of people in the United States in a complicated situation because the jobs were performed outside the borders of the United States. So today, this is why it is important to understand what USMCA is about with regards to labor. There is an important pressure from the United States, in particular, to Mexico to increase or—the conditions of the workers in the manufacturing sector overall because there is an important focus on wages. But if wages are—increase more than what the president already increased, you know, into this framework and labor unions make more complicated the entrance of foreign capital and the foreign capital goes back to the United States, will Mexico lose its competitiveness? And the losses will be for Mexico. So there is a tension there and definitely this tension has not been solved.
The wages in Mexico have been low but that has to do with the labor supply and with the conditions of labor markets overall. And if there is a force to create the labor unions, this is probably not going to be in the—I mean it’s not going to benefit Mexican workers because the businesses are probably not going to generate those jobs and will probably relocate. That’s a conversation that has been going on and we have not solved. And we have not seen an improvement overall in the conditions or the wages of workers, more than the one that Andrés Manuel López Obrador by decree—has been given to the workers by increasing in double, particularly at the border wages in the manufacturing sector. But in the framework of USMCA, we haven’t yet seen the results and we have not yet seen also the pressure if Mexico has not because the unions have not been created and there are many tensions in that sector. There was an attempt to start with the first labor union in the maquiladora sector by—I mean today a person who is right now in Congress, Susana Prieto Terrazas—she ended up in jail in the state of Tamaulipas, so this is a very complicated subject that we haven’t been able to solve.
CASA: I’m afraid we have to close now. We’re not able to get to all the questions, but we will give you the contacts for the professor and you can reach out to her directly, if you would like to continue the conversation.
Guadalupe, thank you very much for being with us today, and to all of you for your great questions and comments. You can follow Guadalupe on Twitter @GCorreaCabrera.
Our next Academic Webinar will take place on Wednesday, November 17, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center of Global Energy Policy and professor of professional practice in international and public affairs at Columbia University, will lead a conversation on energy policy and efforts to combat climate change.
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with Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera
November 3, 2021
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