In the context of an economic crisis and a major war with the drug cartels, why should Mexico be bothering with Guyana at all? The answer, one assumes, must lie in how it reads the geopolitical situation in the hemisphere, and in a possible attempt to increase its regional influence. Former President Vicente Fox, President Calderón’s predecessor, was widely accused of not having a foreign policy at all, and it was on his watch that Mexico came to be marginalized in Latin America. Even before he was elected into office, Mr Calderón had let it be known that he considered Mexico needed “to regain its ability to engage constructively and actively with the rest of Latin America,” and that it must look for more, not less involvement with the outside world.
Re-engaging with Latin America may not be as easy as it sounds. Mexico labours under two disadvantages: one of geography and one of economic linkages. First, the country is situated largely in North America sharing a border with the US, with all the complexities that has brought with it, and second, it has hitched its trade cart to the northern horse in the shape of NAFTA. Add to that Brazil’s manoeuverings to exclude Mexico from the South American club, which to all intents and purposes is a fait accompli, and the Mexican government is not faced with an easy task.
There was a time when Brazil and Mexico were the dual heavyweights in the Latin universe, although the former’s foreign policy ambitions always had, and still have, far more of a global character than those of the latter. However, since former President Cardoso’s day, Brazil has been moving to take a leadership role on the continent, the counterweight, perhaps, to the United States in the north. It began with a simple reconfiguration of the regional map, with Brasilia rejecting the linguistic concept of ‘Latin America,’ and substituting instead the geographical categories of South America, North America, and Central America and the Caribbean. In an editorial some years ago we had quoted Brasilia’s ambassador to Washington, Mr Rubens Barbosa, as saying rather bluntly, “Latin America is a concept that has been superseded.”
First under President Cardoso, and then under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the new construct of the hemisphere has been translated into reality with the inauguration of the South American summits, the formation of the Union of South American Nations, and now the establishment of the South American Defence Council. The Rio Group, which was formed in 1986 and which, with the exception of Belize and Guyana, consists entirely of Latin nations, has now been overtaken. In fact, its annual discussions at the level of heads of government to co-ordinate foreign policy may be teetering on the edge of redundancy. And in the process, Mexico has been left out in the cold.
Mexico’s natural penumbra in geographic terms and the obvious base from which she would seek to enhance her reach is Central America and the Caribbean, but she is not without her competitors in that zone. President Chávez of Venezuela has moved aggressively to exert his influence there and bring those nations inside his own backyard. He has been assisted first and most importantly, by the windfall oil revenues of recent times which he has used unashamedly for political ends; and secondly, by the fact that in concert with Cuba he has been able to promote an alternative ‘ideology’ to that of the United States, and has created structures like ALBA to try and give it substance.
Where oil largesse is concerned, Mexico has an entirely different approach to the current government in Caracas. Beginning in 1980 together with Venezuela, Mexico gave assistance to a number of Central American and Caribbean countries (including Barbados, Belize and Jamaica) through the San José Accords, an arrangement which was seen as entirely apolitical. Mr Chávez has now overtaken this with his eminently political PetroCaribe agreements; he has not, for example, been reticent about telling his citizens that oil is to be used as a weapon against American “imperialism,” and to finance socialism. It might be noted that all but two Caricom nations are members of PetroCaribe, while one is also a member of ALBA.
It should be said that after a rocky start, when Mr Chávez poured contumely on the right-wing President Calderón, the latter has repaired relations with both Venezuela and Cuba. Nevertheless, he has not been reluctant to give voice to his views about their governments. At a lunch with editors of the New York Times last September, he was reported as saying that the US had left a foreign policy vacuum in the region, and this was why “the voices of Chávez and Evo [Morales of Bolivia] have resonance. They are using the empty spaces of ideas.” He went on to observe that “Latin America needs democracy underpinned by strong institutions. It does not need more strongmen…”
However, until the pressure on the Venezuelan economy reaches a level where Mr Chávez is unable to deliver on his extravagant promises to the countries of the Caribbean basin, Mexico’s voice, one presumes, will remain drowned out. However, diplomacy is a long-term exercise, and if a country can position itself with the future in mind, it will in time be able to take advantage of opportunities which present themselves.
There is one other nation, of course, which may have Caribbean ambitions in the long term, and that is Brazil. If it does, those ambitions will be fulfilled through Guyana; there is no other route. It would not take much to achieve; a viable road and a deep-water harbour will suffice. It might be mentioned in passing as we have done before, that Brasilia’s “new geography” would split the anglophone Caribbean into two: the eastern Caribbean which is anchored geopolitically speaking to the South American mainland; and Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas, whose geostrategic interests are connected to the arc formed by the US, Mexico, Central America and the Greater Antilles. Exactly how the government in Brasilia in the longer term sees the spheres of influence in the larger Caribbean being worked out − possibly between Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, or maybe even the United States − is unclear.
Apart from having missions in all the Central American nations, as well as the Latin-speaking countries of South America and the Caribbean, Mexico has embassies in the anglophone territories of Belize, St Lucia, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. So now mainland Guyana has been added to the list. It is, of course, strategically sited next door to Brazil, as well as to Venezuela, whose approach to the world clashes with that of the current Mexican administration, and which harbours a spurious territorial claim to this nation’s landspace. In addition, it provides the home for the Caricom Secretariat, theoretically, at least, allowing contact with all fifteen nations of Caricom which by sheer force of numbers could potentially exert some clout in organizations like the OAS.
So is Mexico repositioning herself for a possible future reconfiguration of the regional map? If it is, it might not get much response from Georgetown, which after years still does not have a coherent foreign policy. It is a pity, because there might well be convergences of interest here.