Will Biden bring meaningful change to US policy on Latin America?

President-elect Joe Biden has inherited a United States image tarnished by four years of racist rhetoric and hurtful policies towards Latin America’s most vulnerable citizens, and repairing that image will be one of his first challenges [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

For many Latin American leaders, US President-elect Joe Biden’s victory represents a return to a more civilised age, and relief seems to be the sentiment most widely shared.

Mexico City, Mexico – As many voters across major United States cities poured into the streets on Saturday to celebrate a win for President-elect Joe Biden, the streets of the Mexican capital retained their usual hum of city noise.

But rest assured, experts say, while the people here may not be actively celebrating, the news represents a welcome change of rhetoric regarding the country and a White House that sees Mexicans not as “rapists and criminals,” but as “friends and neighbors.”

For many Latin American leaders, Biden’s electoral victory represents a return to a more civilised age, and relief seems to be the sentiment most widely shared.

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez was among the first to offer congratulations to Biden, going one step further and tweeting his praise for the American people in exercising their right to vote in record numbers.

In Central America, as Hurricane Eta dumped heavy rains and sparked deadly flooding and mudslides, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez took the time to offer his well wishes, calling Biden’s victory a “triumph that strengthens American democracy”.

Even Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro offered a renewed willingness to dialogue with the incoming administration.

Yet while several leaders applauded former Vice President Biden’s victory, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador remained suspiciously silent.

Mexico holds back

Sources close to Lopez Obrador have said the Mexican president’s silence is an attempt to avoid provoking US President Donald Trump before his tenure in the White House is over.

“With regard to the US election, we are going to wait until all the legal matters have been resolved,” Lopez Obrador said at a news conference. “I can’t congratulate one candidate or the other. I want to wait until the electoral process is over.”

It’s a tactic that’s come to characterise the sort of tight-rope diplomacy political leaders in Mexico have been forced to adopt when dealing with the US, Mexico’s largest and most important trading partner.

It was a lesson that Lopez Obrador learned in 2019 when Trump threatened to slam Mexico with 25 percent export tariffs if Mexico failed to enforce an immigration policy tailored to US interests.