Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Trumpism and Latin America

The first few weeks of the Trump Family Business Administration are having a notable on international relationships within Latin America.

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru have all publicly expressed diplomatic support for Mexico in its disagreements with the US over the Trump Wall. (México agradece a Argentina su “solidaridad” y prioriza la relación bilateral El País 07.02.2017)

The Trump Wall seems to have already come to symbolize the internal anti-immigrant measures against Latinos in the US, Trumpist white nationalism/racism against Latinos, and the often obnoxious way the US behaves in Latin America generally.

It's not surprising that Latin American nations would look to make more common cause with each other with Trump as US President and taking such an openly hostile position towards Mexico, to the point of threatening to send in troops! Making common cause makes plain good "realist" sense.

What is surprising to me to see that Argentine President Mauricio Macri's government is taking a particularly visible role in this effort. Peña Nieto publicly thanked Macri for his country's "solidaridad frente a la nueva posición adoptada por el Gobierno de Estados Unidos" ("solidarity in facing the new position adopted by the government of the United States"). Macri's Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra said that Argentina was ready to make a statement of support a week earlier, but postponed it at Peña Nieto's request. (Malcorra: “Latinoamérica no es más dura con Trump porque México no lo pide, busca un acercamiento” El País 07.02.2017)

Argentina and Mexico were already making bilateral agreements last year, Macri's first full year in office. (Daniel Venegas, Peña Nieto firmará acuerdos de cooperación con Argentina Melenio 28.07.2016) In his public expression of gratitude to Macri this week, the Mexican President also stated that Mexico would be giving a higher priority to bilateral commercial agreements with Argentina.

But the context for such cooperation is rapidly shifting with the new administration in Washington. Despite the pragmatic adjustment of relations with Cuba under Obama, he and his Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry adopted a basically conservative policy toward Latin America. And I mean conservative in the ideological sense, not in the sense of caution. At the end of his term, Latin American politics had shifted in a way that was amenable to that approach. The left-leaning governments of Argentina and Brazil had been displaced by conservative ones dedicated to neoliberal "Washington Consensus" and to close cooperation with the Obama and the once-presumed Hillary Clinton Administrations. In Argentina, the change took place by legitimate elections in 2015, in Brazil in 2016 by a "soft coup" that the Obama Administration clearly found to be not unwelcome.

With Mexico in the conservative hands of Peña Nieto's government, Washington had friendly conservative governments committed to neoliberal economic policies in the north in Mexico and Argentina and Brazil in the south, able to press for conservative regime change in Venezuela, neoliberal economics and the weakening of regional organizations like UNASUR that the Obama Administration saw as challenging US hegemony in Latina America.

Macri now is at least giving public signals that he wants to position Argentina with other countries in both Latin America and Europe that are alarmed by Trump's generally reckless and hostile approach to foreign policy. Macri plans to visit Spain later this month. said that Argentina was ready to make a statement of support a week earlier, but postponed it at Peña Nieto's request. Malcorro also commented, "Trump ha descolocado al mundo, no solo a la Argentina" ("Trump has disturbed the world, not just Argentina").

And Mexico now has new incentives to make regional alliances to provide diplomatic and business options to the changed situation with the United States. Peña Nieto also has the incentive that he's been an unpopular President, which is not unusual for governments following a dogmatic austerity program. "Donald Trump’s obsession with constructing a wall on the frontier with Mexico has achieved something inconceivable — the start of a campaign to unite the country which could favour President Enrique Peña Nieto," writes Cecilia González (The Mexican side of the wall Buenos Aires Herald 02/03/2017) She explains the Mexican President's problems this way:

The mirage constructed by Peña Nieto started to collapse as from September 26, 2014, when 43 students from the Escuela Normal Rural Isidro Burgos in Ayotzinapa went missing after a hail of gunfire in Iguala, Guerrero, one of the poorest and most violent states in the country. The fatigue with the long silenced violence, the profile of the missing (poor youths studying to be primary school teachers in impoverished areas) and the presence of journalists during the gunfight triggered massive protests in Mexico and other countries. The world learned of disappearances and murders in Mexico under a supposedly democratic government. Peña Nieto’s international image never recovered, above all because the government wanted to manipulate the evidence and close down the case, which was prevented by the families of the victims supported by human rights organisations.

In late 2014, when the government was still facing the impact of the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students, a team of investigative journalists headed by Carmen Aristegui revealed that first lady Angélica Rivera had purchased a US$ 7 million mansion from Grupo Higa, a company which Peña Nieto had favoured with multi-million public works contracts when he was governor of the state of México. In mid-2015, his friend Virgilio Andrade, the official heading the civil service, concluded (to nobody’s surprise) that there was no conflict of interest but the stain of corruption left by the “white house” proved indelible for the government.

As if Peña Nieto was short of problems, on July 12, 2015, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, fled from a maximum-security prison via a tunnel a kilometre and a half long which his accomplices had patiently built in more than a year. The Mexican government became a laughing-stock and never recovered, not even when the drug czar was recaptured six months later.

And then there is the issue of the structural poverty which Mexico suffers and which no government has reduced, for which all ex-presidents are responsible and which is the main cause of Mexican emigration to the US. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), during the first two years of Peña Nieto’s government poverty in Mexico rose from 51.6 to 53.2 percent. Over 60 million Mexicans are poor and do not expect to improve their lives in their own country. How are they not going to try their luck on “the other side”? [my emphasis]
John Ackerman summarizes Peña Nieto's situation this way (Mexico: Ending the Neoliberal Nightmare NACLA 48:4 2016):

After the election of Peña Nieto in 2012, the international press explicitly hailed him as the man who would be able to stop the advance of South American “populism” and bring back the “Washington Consensus” as the dominant ideology in Latin America. Indeed, Peña Nieto’s central, though unstated, objective since taking power on December 1, 2012, has been to dismantle the progressive legacy of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. He has drastically rolled back protections for labor, imposed neoliberal education reforms, and moved to hand over the enormous oil and gas industry to transnational petroleum companies. He has also turned Mexico into a servile client of U.S. foreign policy and its northern neighbor’s “national security” concerns.
Macri's solidarity with Mexico against Trump doesn't mean that the previous goals of the Mexico-Brazil-Argentina conservatism has completely changed. But the foreign policy context has shifted dramatically.

And in Macri's domestic policy, he's applying a bit of Trumpism in restricting immigration himself from some other South American countries: Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru. (Bolivia envía una delegación por el decreto migratorio de Macri Página/12 05.02.2017.

Macrismo is, of course, generated protest and resistance, not least because of the grim results of over a year of neoliberal, Herbert Hoover/Angela Merkel austerity economics, El pueblo argentino marcha contra políticas del gobierno macrista teleSUR 02/05/2017:

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