By Natasha Tinsley-
In February 2021, Argentine President Alberto Fernández took part in a three-day official visit to Mexico. Throughout the summit, it became clear that he and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), two leaders who have a lot in common, are united in bringing change to Latin America. The recent strengthening of ties between the countries, dubbed the Buenos Aires - Mexico D.F. axis, could fill the current power vacuum in Latin America and have important implications for the region.
Despite this, English-language media has barely batted an eyelid in response to the formation of this Buenos Aires - Mexico D.F. axis. However, the importance of Argentina-Mexico relations should not be underestimated. In fact, studying them may help us to understand the region. So, who drives this axis and what are some likely implications of the ties between Mexico and Argentina for the two countries and the region in general?
Who drives the axis?
Despite apparently different approaches on some issues, the alliance between the two governments seems to be very solid and shows high levels of mutual understanding, from which both nations will benefit. Nevertheless, we can suspect Fernández – as opposed to AMLO – to be the driving force behind the axis.
In general, there’s no denying AMLO has mainly focused on national issues and has no qualms about foreign policy taking a backseat – “the best foreign policy is domestic policy” being one of his trademark statements. For Fernández, on the other hand, the priority has been Argentina’s economy, in which foreign relations play a huge part. Throughout Fernández’s presidency, he has shown great interest in the progress of MERCOSUR (the Southern Common Market), developed bloc negotiations with the European Union, and endeavoured to create broader economic relations with China.
But despite AMLO’s silence and somewhat avoidance of addressing Latin America’s primary issues since he came to power, perhaps the dialogue proves a change in the Mexican government’s strategy. In fact, for the first time, Mexico is looking away from the United States and prioritising its southerly neighbours. As Fernández explicitly draws on a plan that “unites the entire continent”, an agreement that Mexico wholeheartedly supports, the axis opens the door to a fresh start for AMLO’s leadership within the region.
Implications: A turn to the left?
As the principal advocates of the Latin American left, the meeting between Mexico and Argentina promoted a shared vision for issues in the world’s most unequal, divided region. One thing we can count on is that the agenda of the axis will be “progressive” and anti-neoliberal. Fernández and AMLO aim to break with the legacy of the past and the lingering influence of previous governments.
Nine Latin American countries are due to hold elections this year, including midterms in Argentina and Mexico. Five of these nations will select presidents - perhaps Argentina and Mexico’s axis is the push needed to counteract the recent conservative turn of the region. Two years ago, as part of his presidential campaign, Fernández visited former Brazilian President Lula in prison. An hour after his electoral win, Fernández called for “left-wing legend” Lula to be released, showing that early on he was already vying for the left’s political comeback in the region.
With the recent annulment of Lula’s criminal convictions and his subsequent eligibility to run for a third term next year, this becomes a viable possibility – a veer to the left for all three Latin American giants. On top of this, the past year has seen the comeback of Bolivia’s beloved socialism, as well as protests against right-wing governments in Chile, Ecuador and, most recently, Paraguay. We may wonder, will the axis pave the way for a resurgence of the pink tide?
Regarding the political dialogue, we can hope the axis will allow for less political meddling between Latin American nations. Fernández and AMLO bolster the Organisation of American States (OAS) and its role in ensuring free and fair elections in the region. This will prove a refreshing change for countries like Bolivia, for example, which has experienced political turbulence and allegations of electoral fraud since the fall of the Morales government last year. Agreeing that the OAS must “strictly adhere to objective technical criteria” in future electoral processes, emphasis will be given to non-intervention, swapping elitist domination for dialogue and the search for consensus.
When it comes to constitutional controversies, we should hopefully see increasingly peaceful negotiation processes, as opposed to the more turbulent confrontations seen in the past. This should tackle long-standing political interference in the justice system of many countries in the region and put a stop to legally questionable processes in the selection of leaders.
A key date to check whether the promise of democracy has been upheld is April 11: Peru’s first round of general elections and Ecuador’s presidential runoff will be taking place on the same day.
Autonomy from the US
In 2019, when AMLO last received Fernández at the National Palace, the Mexican President stated they would never “turn their backs” on Central America, the Caribbean, or South America – “our America”, he added, quoting the title of José Martí’s essay. With this last reference, AMLO instils self-pride in his people, encouraging them to know their history and culture in order to reclaim their own narrative, without needing to imitate other countries. Here, AMLO was already sowing the seeds of a key feature of the new axis: more autonomy from the US. He did mention, however, they would maintain “cooperation, mutual respect, and good neighbourliness” with the US and Canada.
This time around, AMLO reaffirmed the need for international cooperation. Nevertheless, the specific stances of Fernández and AMLO towards countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela – all suffering from blockades and economic and political sanctions – means we will likely see a rejection of US interference. This specifically hits home in Mexico as the Aztec country has undoubtedly been a victim of US aggression. In the context of the health crisis, US sanctions restrict access to medicines and other supplies needed to combat the pandemic. No longer just a threat to integration or conflict resolution, the sanctions become a vicious attack on the most vulnerable sectors of society.
Now more than ever, we are likely to see Mexico rising up in a peaceful, but self-assured, bid for negotiation with the US. For Argentina, this may be more difficult given the US is seen as essential for addressing the country’s debt.
During his visit to Mexico, Fernández remarked that Latin America will take a stand and “give the world the green-light to change [their situation] and make it more equal and just.” He further stated that he regrets that because many Latin Americans live in middle-income countries, on the international stage we forget the region is “very far from being part of the First World” and, in reality, is “very close to resembling poor countries.” Fernández affirmed their challenge as a continent was to turn this situation on its head, highlighting this as the “duty” of every Latin American citizen.
Perhaps referring to the scant attention received in global media, he lamented that Latin Americans are “locked up” in debates others are interested in and that these matters fail to represent them. Ultimately, Fernández declared it impossible for the continent to progress while divided, calling for “unity” and “equality” in the “most unequal continent the world has."
As the axis will likely make Argentina’s position within the region stronger, we can hope that these desires to combat poverty will be, at least partially, realised. Indeed, by highlighting the importance of the Group of Twenty (G20) and the Inter-American Development Bank, Latin America could see an economic approach based on solidarity, social inclusion, and sustainable development.
Gender equality and human rights
Gender equality and human rights were other key topics for Fernández and AMLO, who have ostensibly sought to consolidate the rights of girls and women and appreciate their diversity. They discussed the objectives of the Fourth World Conference on Women, aiming to uphold these and develop their agenda for women’s empowerment. They appealed to women to participate in the Generation Equality Forum, urging them to further advance their rights.
Having said this, the issue of gender equality became increasingly relevant after the celebrations of International Women’s Day on the March 8th (just two weeks after their summit in February), where the presidents’ attitudes on women’s rights were shown to be less closely aligned than they first seemed. Admitting the State’s reaction had been “either slow or non-existent”, Fernández assured a quicker response to gender violence cases and signed a new federal agreement to put a stop to femicides. His Mexican counterpart, however, undermined his supposed support for the feminist cause by ordering the erection of a 10-foot-high metal wall to shield the National Palace from protestors.
These two contrasting reactions are telling – an immense test of how much the two presidents are willing to work together. The question remains whether they will truly bring change for Latin American women, or if their views are too far at odds with each other.
What can we expect going forward?
AMLO declared 2021 as the ‘Year of Independence and Greatness’ for Mexico. As well as the bicentennial independence anniversary, the country awaits historical celebrations to mark 700 years of the founding of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City’s historic centre, as well as 500 years since the fall of Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire, and the city’s founding by the Spanish. So far, the President has announced 12 key dates for official commemorations.
We can expect to see Fernández participating in these festivities to share their most representative cultural and artistic expressions. This means greater visibility will be given to the extraordinary relationship between the people and governments of the two countries and ties in with the axis’ general aim to promote greater visibility of Latin American identity, enhancing “multiculturality” as a way for regional coexistence.
With the US no longer Mexico’s sole reference point, the two presidents are constructing moral leadership in the region. We are witnessing a rearrangement of proximity among leaders of the region’s largest economies and, most importantly, the recovery of democracy in Latin America is very much in sight.