Mexican minister: AMLO’s absence at summit proves that ‘things cannot continue like this’

Foreign affairs chief Marcelo Ebrard has replaced the president at a gathering whose mission to reinforce regional ties has been tarnished by diplomatic bickering

Marcelo Ebrard, Joe Biden
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard greets US President Joe Biden upon arrival at the Summit of the Americas.FREDERIC J. BROWN (AFP)
Luis Pablo Beauregard

The Summit of the Americas is drawing to an end but the absence of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often referred to by the acronym AMLO) continues to weigh heavily on a regional gathering that the US is hosting for the first time in 28 years. Despite the snub to their main trading partner over the exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, all the Mexican officials present in Los Angeles continued to underscore the excellent relationship between both nations. President Joe Biden and López Obrador will see each other in July at a bilateral meeting. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard is in charge of promoting the idea of refounding regional institutions and criticizing Washington’s hegemony. Ebrard talked to EL PAÍS a day before the migration agreement announced on Friday, which the US is holding up as “ground-breaking” progress on a global problem.

Question. Why do you consider this a good moment to refound the inter-American institutions?

Answer. Several things have come together. You have a new global geopolitical reality. You have significant uncertainty regarding global supply chains. If you need to reorganize regionally to reduce your vulnerability, but the current model is designed for a stage that has already ended due to these new realities, why would we have to wait? We run the risk that the possibilities will be further reduced with any political change in the United States or in Latin American countries. All the speeches at the summit showed an important disagreement about the vision of the Organization of American States (OAS), its role and its representation. Everyone seems to want a better deal with the United States. Unlike other historical moments, it is no longer about the nationalism of Latin America against the United States, but rather about getting closer to each other with other rules.

Q. The US media has portrayed President López Obrador’s decision not to come to the summit as a boycott. Was it?

R. The non-presence of the president is one way of doing it. Another way would have been to come and give a very tough speech. The president preferred not to attend because he feels that this is the best way to make that change noticeable. Otherwise, you become part of the landscape or else you have to give a tough speech here, and then you would be asking me instead why the president’s speech was so hard. You have to show that things cannot continue like this. I believe that each country is expressing it according to its own strategic line.

Q. Is a window opening with a view to the November midterm elections in the United States?

A. A window is opening. There is a consensus of important countries in Latin America. And I think that the government of President Biden is also interested because if not, why did it organize a Summit of the Americas?

Q. At the same time, there is a clash with the Democratic Party, which is supposed to be an ally in the construction of this agreement.

A. The greatest tension is with the political representation of the Cuban-American community, not with the entire Democratic Party. We have a very good relationship with the rest of the party and perhaps even with a part of the Republican Party, which is also linked to that group that wants to maintain the Cuban embargo at all costs. They’ve been at it for 62 years. Cubans cannot buy medicines because companies cannot sell them medicines. Where is the justification in that? We could say nothing, or vote at the UN once a year, but this is part of the reorganization between Latin America and the United States. Who said that? Obama did, in a very good speech in Panama. The basis for building a different relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean implies changing the model of legitimate intervention.

Q. Do you think Mexico and the United States have a good relationship?

A. We have a very good relationship. I dedicate 60% of my time as foreign minister to issues that have to do with the United States. Next week we have a meeting with [John] Kerry [head of climate change] about a plan to capture methane gas from the oil industry. Then we have the high-level economic dialogue. There is a very complex, very dense agenda and we are the main partner of the United States. I don’t think that will change, nor do we want it to change.

Q. It’s striking that the president did not come yet he has a bilateral meeting in Washington in a month.

A. The bilateral scope of the relationship and their personal relationship is different from what this summit is. Or even from votes at the UN, where we have not always agreed.

Q. You’ve said that documents get signed at this summit yet nothing happens. What can we expect from the declaration on migration on Friday?

A. We think it’s a good idea to put together a regional system. We have to start talking not only about migration, but about labor mobility. The US is a country that is growing demographically [at a rate of] 0.1%. You need 1.2 million people a year coming to work. You can make it circular or not. This is not a matter of political positions. I’m just giving you the data. You have a growing migration in many countries, not only from the countries of Central America. You already have Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Cuba of course. A regional system is going to be put together, and besides investing in the traditional migration source zones, we must work together to start opening up labor mobility. Mexico is going to do it. We have 400,000 people working on circular migration. How much is Mexico growing demographically? At 1%. What do we expect for 2030? 0.8%, 0.7%? We will have to see. But Guatemala is growing at 2.5% For demographic reasons it is going to happen. What you have to do is regulate it in the best way.

Q. What does that mean specifically?

A. A greater number of work visas. In the case of Mexico it is also like that. If you apply for a work visa, sometimes it takes too long. It is a very complex process. We have to review all of that so that people who want to work can have a regular and faster way to do so. The other option is to leave everything the way it is right now, which is a bit of a bipolarity, because on the one hand we don’t want you to come, but on the other hand we need you to come because you don’t have enough people to do different types of work.

Q. Some of your counterparts have been meeting these days with political prisoners from the countries that have been excluded from the summit. What about you?

A. Not with Nicaragua, because the dialogue on that has not been easy for us. But with Venezuela we have promoted dialogue between the opposition and the government. Mexico has hosted two rounds [of talks]. I hope that the third will be carried out soon. It is the best way to contribute. It is what Mexico did in the 1980s and 1990s. In the case of Cuba, we would love to help change the extremist line that we are seeing now, but that does not depend on us. It is mainly a US decision. That is the direction of our policy. That is why we left the Lima Group, because we did not agree with the recognition of [Juan] Guaidó [as the legitimate president of Venezuela], which was a strategic error. We are going to look for a way out on the political side; the other option is to continue on the current path of settling for what we have.

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