Journalist Pablo Hiriart, in his column in the newspaper El Financiero, publishes an interview with the director of the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University (Houston), Tony Payán, where they discuss the antagonism between AMLO and Biden.
MIAMI Florida (Pablo Hiriart/El Financiero) – It is clear that “the government of President López Obrador seeks a confrontation with Washington in the Biden era”, says Tony Payán, director of the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University (Houston), in an interview.
“If López Obrador succeeds in inciting a conflict with the (new) U.S. government, he can appeal to the remnants of Mexican nationalism and then position himself as the great defender of national sovereignty”.
I ask the author of The Three Border Wars between the United States and Mexico: Drugs, Immigration and Homeland Security, as well as Cops, Soldiers and Diplomats and co-editor and co-author of a dozen books on the bilateral relationship.
– Why antagonize Biden and not Trump?
– Lopez Obrador straightforwardly dislikes Biden. Biden represents a United States that is a counterweight to López Obrador’s project. Trump does not. That’s why he liked Trump and bet on Trump. But he lost. And this complicates things for Lopez Obrador. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to stop looking for ways to provoke Washington. Either way, Biden is going to be very busy with the pandemic and economic recovery. Other issues are further down the list. But Mexico is still the nation with the most direct impact on millions of Americans’ lives, and that is why it should not be neglected.
– How will the new government react to this search for confrontation?
– I think that Washington should be much more cautious and not provoke that opportunity for López Obrador to bring water to his “redeeming mill”. On the contrary, every action must be accurate and well placed, well dealt with, where it hurts the most, but where it can do nothing. The Biden administration’s policy has to be with a scalpel, not a machete.
– Are there similarities between characters as different as Trump and AMLO?
-Populism is a reaction, not an action. In this sense, I believe that both Trump and López Obrador in Mexico represent reactionary governments. They are not liberals, nor do they pretend to be so. They are not necessarily right-wing or left-wing. They are simply reactionary movements, whether or not they are justified.
-Make America Great Again, or death to neoliberalism, are not propositional schemes. On the contrary, they define themselves against something, a reality, a class, a group, a way of doing things, a vision, etc., but they can rarely build anything. You cannot build something negative, what is below zero, so to speak, because it is a negative number.
The official from the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University adds, “Unfortunately, no amount of reactionary movement can solve the problems it diagnoses. Populisms have never solved anything, nor have the regimes that have emerged from them. They often end up destroying what has been built, usually on purpose, but without responding effectively and sustainably to the problems they are supposed to have created.
-We are watching it. The thing is that in the United States, the institutions seem to have resisted. In Mexico, in the face of the fragility of the institutions, everything is giving way. Everything is falling apart. There are efforts, reasonable and essential, of course, of resistance, but they are not enough. The correction will have to come from society itself, in the form of mobilizations, coalitions, elections, etc.
-Is there a way to correct, or not?
-Populism, as a method of diagnosis, is relatively right. A fertile ground for populism, of any shade, indicates that something is not right… And corrections do not come if they are not accompanied by a mea culpa from the previous elites. Not even if the past’s significant errors/sins have not been corrected, and if the damage caused by populism has not been severe enough.
-Here they take the Capitol, in Mexico, they attempt against the institutions’ autonomy, there is no way out, then?
-The empirical elements you mention – the assault on the autonomous organs, the political-diplomatic fights, the polarization of society, the assault on Congress in Washington, etc. -are material manifestations of forces that have to be resolved over time… All movements require time to be made and broken. And I’m afraid populism is like that. That’s not to say that oppositional discourse and criticism are not valuable. Of course, it is. It is crucial that society hears alternative voices and sees alternative positions. That works as a kind of brake on the barrage of populism or authoritarianism.
Back to the issue of the immediate future of the relationship between Mexico and the United States, Dr. Payán has a doubt, a concern: “I wonder where Lopez Obrador gets his imaginary of the United States. I don’t think he understands. I don’t think he knows how it works. I don’t think he has any idea of the complexity of American society. I want to assume that what he thinks is informed by people like John Ackerman, that strange figure, who is a gringo but who shows contempt for the United States. I suppose that someone like that puts ideas into López Obrador, although I don’t know. It would be very good to see who advises him in his relationship with the United States.
-In the diplomatic field, what is expected?
-We will see who Biden assigns at the embassy. That’s going to tell us a lot. I think it’s going to be someone with a long career in diplomacy, someone who works much more quietly.
Pablo Hiriart is a journalist graduated from the FCPyS. Founding reporter of La Jornada and founding director of La Crónica de Hoy. Former director of La Razón. Currently a correspondent for El Financiero in the United States.
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