Mexico changes gear
There has been relatively little comment in our regional press about the change of government which took place after the general elections last week in Mexico. This is a country with one of the largest economies and populations in the hemisphere, and one with which Caricom countries have had increasingly close relations, culminating recently in our membership of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
Of first significance in the presidential elections has been the return of the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) which was put out of power in the elections of 2000, after dominating the presidency for seventy years. Countervail-ing this victory however, has been the fact that the candidate of the PRI, Enrique Peña Nieto, did not get a dominating number of votes, his count being 38% to 32% and 25% for the other two candidates. In addition, his party did not obtain absolute majorities in either the country’s Chamber of Deputies or the Senate, this leading to a conclusion in the London Economist that “Mexico has voted the PRI back to office, but not necessarily to power.”
The PRI, the party, as its name implies, that led the Mexican Revolution, and which basically ran a one-party state and managed a highly state-run economy, along with a certain diplomatic distancing from the United States, for most of its continuous period in office, surprisingly led a dramatic policy turn-around in the 1990s. Then, as is now well recorded by economists, it decided to seek membership of the North American Free Trade Area agreement which the United States and Canada were negotiating. Part of the reason for this shift was the challenging recession that the country experienced in the 1980s, along with other Latin American countries, for example Brazil and Argentina.
Adherence to NAFTA in 1994, following the country’s accession to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1986, meant acceptance of the liberalization of the economy along lines which came to be referred to as the Washington Consensus, in effect the structural adjustment and free trade policies advocated by the IMF and the World Bank. That opening of the economy led in tandem to an extensive degree of political pluralism, based on the fact that private enterprise now progressively replaced the state in management and dominance of the economy, and took the opportunity to support political groupings and parties more inclined to seek a new regime of competitive politics in the country.
There can be little doubt that Mexico has substantially benefited from the economic liberalization (though unemployment and poverty remain extensive), but that process also led to a weakening of the PRI and its replacement over the last decade by alternatives. First came the National Action Party (PAN), and then the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). But over the decade, all parties, including the PRI, began to come to terms with the changed realities of the post-Cold War era, as the economy visibly benefited from openness to the United States and Canada, Mexico running a minimal 5% economic growth, and the country’s export trade patterns being firmly positively logged into the United States economy in particular.
The opening of the economy reflects a political liberalization that has meant, as well, a realignment of the country’s external policies, previously substantially associated with the name of President Echevarria in the 1970s, with his PRI’s close allegiance to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of that era. And it can fairly be said that that period marked the last relatively close relationship between some Caricom states, Guyana and Jamaica in particular, and Mexico, an association that also linked the three states in close support of the revolutionary Cuban government.
Following the advent of the PAN to the presidency, and a fixed relationship with NAFTA, a certain kind of distancing came to characterize the country’s association with domestic and external radicalism in the hemisphere. Jamaica then certainly felt this distancing in two directions. The first was that the incipient process of liberalization and export-led growth in manufactures attempted by Prime Minister Edward Seaga in the context of the Caribbean Basin Initiatve (CBI), was thrown off course by Mexico’s competitive advantage in access to the US market, leading to a virtual diversion of investment that might have come Jamaica and Caricom’s way.
In the external relations arena, a somewhat similar tendency towards distancing by Mexico from non-aligned radicalism in Latin American and the Caribbean also occurred. This culminated most visibly in April 2002, in a furious spat between Fidel Castro and then Mexican President Vicente Fox over allegations by the former that Fox did not wish both Castro and President Bush to, as it were, collide at a UN meeting being held in Mexico.
In recent years, particularly as the climate in the hemisphere had changed in countries like Brazil and Argentina, Mexican leaderships found it necessary to modernize their country’s diplomacy out of a Cold War freeze, and to establish a credible presence in the reorganization of relations that has been going on in the area. Brazil’s movement towards a more active diplomacy, leading to the establishment of regional organizations designed to further practical economic integration among them, particularly in the context of the demise of the Latin America Free Trade Area initiative by Presidents Clinton and Bush, has led Mexico to a stance of not wanting to be left out. Thus the CELAC initiative by current President Felipe Calderón.
This Mexican change of stance, and a concerting of the Latin American economic and political giants in a single organization that excludes the other giants of North America, allows the country to exhibit a certain independence in the present of flux in international relations. It permits, in turn, some openings for Caricom to the extent that our governments now seem to want to expand their relationships in a variety of regional spheres, not only in pursuit of economic assistance, but in terms of creating new channels that can transmit their messages of the need for support in the higher spheres of international diplomacy for more attention to be paid to small states like our own with their multi-sided vulnerability.
Our expectation can be that new President Peña Nieto will continue this diplomacy. Whether we in Caricom can translate this political climate of inclusion by the larger Latin American states like Mexico, presently characterized, more than normal, by perhaps more open-mindedness to small countries like our own, is left to be seen.