Category Archives: Countries / Regions

‘RELAUNCHING’ CHINA-MEXICO RELATIONS: President Xi Jinping visit to Mexico

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Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Mexico, as part of his first trip to the Americas. Earlier this year, during a trip to China to participate in the Boao Forum for Asia, President Peña Nieto extended an invitation to the Chinese President to visit Mexico. China and Mexico established diplomatic relations in 1972, but bilateral contacts are much older than that. In the XVIth Century, during the Spanish colony ships sailed the Pacific loaded with precious metals, cacao grains, avocados, tomatoes and other articles from the Americas that were exchanged for Asian spices, Chinese tea, porcelain and fabrics, especially silk.

For most of the last 40 years, the relations between the countries were quite cordial, during the last ten years. However, diplomatic mishaps and a policy that sought to bring Mexico closer to the US, during the Fox and Calderon administrations, provoked the Mexican neglect of strategic partners in other parts of the world, and in particular in Asia. Despite regular high-level encounters in international fora, such as APEC or G20, and the signing of cooperation agreements in numerous sectors, trade rivalry overshadowed  Sino-Mexican bilateral relations.

Unlike the rest of Latin-America, the economic relationship with Mexico has not been based on Chinese investment to ensure the flow of raw materials to fuel China’s industry. In fact, cheap Chinese labour made Mexico and China direct competitors in the US market;  in some cases, Chinese manufactures displaced national production in the Mexican domestic market. Furthermore, the bilateral trade deficit is heavily favorable to China; in 2012 Chinese exports to Mexico accounted for USD$57 billion, while Mexican exports to China were USD$5.7  billion (according to the Mexican Ministry of Trade, www.economia.gob.mx).

The occasion to relaunch the bilateral relationship could not be better. Each President has recently taken office and both countries seek to reaffirm their positions as global actors. On the domestic side, President Peña Nieto’s administration started a series of structural reforms to increase economic productivity, while China seeks to maintain its economic momentum. The increase of Chinese wages and international oil prices has narrowed down the productivity gap between Chinese and Mexican products. China’s products are not as cheap as they used to, in some cases, it is cheaper and certainly quicker to import from Mexico than from China for US companies. These elements helped Mexico to leave aside fears and realise the economic potential of complementing, rather than competing with, Chinese partners.

With the aims to enhance mutual trust, expand cooperation and deepen friendship, Peña Nieto and Xi Jinping announced the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. This agreement aims to push for comprehensive, in-depth and mutual cooperation between the two countries and to make positive contributions to world peace, stability and prosperity. A permanent bilateral commission and working groups will follow the commitments established in the Partnership by the leaders.

Likewise, the two Presidents agreed to move forward, solving the long standing conflicts on pork, tequila and textiles trade. They committed to increase trade and investment and established a high-level business forum. Mexico and China also signed memoranda of understanding to improve cooperation in energy, biotechnology, mining, financial services and sport.

Additionally, President Peña Nieto and President Xi Jinping will encourage deeper people-to-people links. To start, the Chinese government will increase the number of scholarships offered to Mexican students from 40 to 300 per year. To increase cultural and academic exchanges, a Mexican cultural centre in Beijing and a centre specialising on Chinese studies in the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) will be opened. Finally, as symbol of the two countries’ endeavours to boost tourism flows, during the last day of the visit, President Xi Jinping and his wife visited the archaeological site of Chichen-Itza.

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Some specialists point out that the Chinese visit to Latin America is a sign to the US. China is pointing out that it has interests in other parts of the world, and is not afraid to contest US hegemony, even in the its back yard. Similarly, the US could interpret the visit as a payback for the recent increase in US engagement in Asia, China’s back yard. In any case, this is a perfect environment for Mexico’s diversification, since it could help to break the Mexican trade dependency on the US and to reaffirm itself as a key global player.

As said by President Xi Jiping in his address to the Mexican Senate*, China has a population of 1,300 million, is the second largest importer, expects to invest overseas more than USD$500, and more than 400 million of Chinese tourists will travel around the world in the next few years. This is an incredible opportunity for countries in Latin America, and of course for Mexico. The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership has opened the path for a promising future for Sino-Mexican relations.

 Mexico cannot waste this opportunity…


* I do encourage you to read President Xi Jinping’s speech to the Mexican Senate.

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Filed under BRICS, Development, Foreign investment, Mexico, News brief, Trade, Uncategorized

5 DE MAYO, MONROE DOCTRINE AND US-MEX RELATIONS

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In 1861, a large contingent of French, British and Spanish troops arrived on Mexican shores to support the imposition of Maximilian of Habsbourg as emperor of Mexico. The French contingent advanced to Mexico City and encountered resistance in the city of Puebla where, on the 5th of May of 1862, they were defeated by a small Mexican battalion  and eventually fled the country.

Every year on the 5th of May large festivities take place to celebrate the Mexican victory  in the Batalla de Puebla against the French Army. To the surprise of many, 5 de mayo is not Mexico’s national day (Mexico commemorates its national day on the anniversary of its independence, 16th of September). In reality,  5th of May is only one of many other celebrations in the Mexican historical calendar. It actually has become famous around the world thanks to huge range of festivities organised by Mexican-American communities in the US.

The battle of Puebla is significant not only because a small unprepared Mexican army defeated and expelled the French from Mexican territory, but because it represents the last attempt of European powers to invade American territory. To the satisfaction of President James Monroe, his famous doctrine “America for the Americans” had finally become a reality (I would like to stress that we refer to America as the continent, and Americans as the population of this continent and not to the narrow and commonly used reference of America as the United States and Americans as its citizens).

Throughout the history of relations between the US and Latin America, the Monroe Doctrine has had many and, in some cases, quite broad interpretations. Although military interventions have become rather rare, cover operations and other forms of interference have been widely used in the continent. The end of the Cold War shifted the attention of the US to other regions of the world. However, despite fervorous calls for national sovereignty, there were still claims of substantial US engagement in Latin America’s domestic affairs.

Unsurprisingly, Mexico has not been spared and in reality perhaps has suffered more than any other nation in the region. Geographical proximity, economic interdependence, social interconnection and common challenges have resulted in a very  complex relationship between the US and Mexico; but at the same time, this complexity has allowed the multiplication of numerous avenues for mutual collaboration.

During his recent visit to Mexico, President Obama highlighted the importance for the two countries to strengthen the bilateral relationship. Both Presidents focused their discussions on increasing efforts for further collaboration on trade and investment, energy security, education, innovation and competitiveness.

Nevertheless, it did not take long for criticisms on both sides of the border. Security and immigration, crucial issues for the bilateral agenda, had not been sufficiently discussed and were barely mentioned in official communiques. On the Mexican side, despite general agreement that these two topics should not overrun the bilateral relation, Mexico would like to see further US engagement in this regard (for instance, the immigration reform and larger arms control). While on the American side, criticism has focused on the importance of deepening cooperation to fight organised crime and see Peña Nieto’s measures to scale down US intelligence and security agents involvement in Mexico, as a sign of mistrust.

Critique became particularly sharp when Mexico’s new administration policies were compared to the wider cooperation and greater access that existed with the previous PAN government. Regular surveyance flights over Mexican territory, the establishment of ‘coordinating’ offices in Mexico City and Nuevo León and the free circulation of armed agents of FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), ICS (Immigration and Citizenship Services), ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and NSA (National Security Agency) does not appear to be the kind of close bilateral cooperation that PRI would prefer.

Despite restrictions on US involvement in the fight against organised crime and other domestic issues, it appears that we are far away from a definite adiós to the Monroe Doctrine in the hemisphere. Certainly, old style military interventions seem unlikely, but new IT resources, the interdependence of global markets and transnational societies have provided a new arsenal of interference tools that perhaps can prove to be ever more effective than traditional ones.….

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Filed under Mexico, Security, Uncategorized

ANCLAS’s Tom Chodor on Post-Chavez Venezuela

The Future of Chavismo Will be Decided in the Barrios as Much as in Miraflores

With the passing of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, debate has erupted on the future of ‘Chavismo’ – the political project that Chávez himself referred to as the ‘Bolivarian Revolution.’ Much of this debate has focused, understandably, on the successor to Chávez, the Vice-President Nicolás Maduro, and his ability to hold together the ruling coalition without the charisma and considerable political skill that Chávez possessed. Maduro, of course, still needs to win the upcoming election, but for many that seems a foregone conclusion, given the recent triumph of Chávez and the ruling party, PSUV in national and regional elections, and the goodwill that Maduro is likely to garner as the ‘Chávez candidate.’ This analysis is probably a fair scenario, though, of course, one can never have complete certainty in democratic elections.

Nevertheless, with Maduro assumed be the next resident in the presidential palace at Miraflores, questions are being posed about his ability to preserve Chavismo, given the cleavages in his own party, economic issues like inflation and dwindling private sector investment and the continuing polarisation of the country. Undoubtedly these are important issues that will play a large role in determining the future of Chavismo. However, one important aspect missing from the analysis, is the role of ordinary Venezuelans themselves – the people in the shanty towns (barrios) who constantly voted Chávez into power, and whose loyalty he repaid not only through the delivery of social services like health, education, housing and subsidised food, but also by facilitating and supporting a number of grassroots institutions through which their self-government could be fostered. These institutions – the communal councils, cooperatives or local communes – mushroomed in Venezuela under Chávez, and form part of the ‘participatory democracy’ model at the core of Chavismo.

Not much attention is usually paid to these institutions, primarily because they fall outside of the traditional institutional framework of representative democracy, leading many critics to decry them as clientelist mechanisms of distributing patronage. While there are undoubtedly problems with some of them – including corruption, waste and political subservience – (problems, incidentally, which the government did acknowledge and try to alleviate), it is also true that a lot of them have worked very well and have led to a flourishing of self-government and democracy at the grassroots level. Contrary to conventional analyses, the citizens organised through these institutions, were not always subservient to Chávez, as evidenced by the failure of the 2007 referendum on constitutional change. If anything, Chávez was reliant on this diverse and amorphous base, as it served as the force that pushed his government further towards reform and experimentation. The political awakening of this previously excluded section of the population could yet be the most significant legacy of Chávez’s time in power.

Now, however, with Chávez gone, the question is whether this experience has left a lasting impression, or whether the critics were right, and that these institutions were no more than structures of patronage. Thus, what happens in the barrios – within the communal councils, cooperatives and communes – is as vital to the future of Chavismo as what happens in Miraflores under Maduro. Will the social movements located there continue to be engaged in the political process? Will they continue to put effective pressure on the government to continue experimenting with social, political and economic structures? Will they continue to demand the further democratisation of the state bureaucracy and party structures in PSUV? Will they be listened to if they do?

These are all important questions to which we may get some partial answers in the coming months and years. There’s no doubt that there are countless obstacles in the way. But for years, Chávez’s supporters and detractors have argued over whether Chavismo is too reliant on one man, or whether it has unleashed something bigger than just the President. The latter view was expressed eloquently by one Chávez’s supporters during his funeral procession on Wednesday, when he declared to The Guardian that ‘the comandante is not dead, no, not dead. He has sowed something in us, the people, and that way he will live.’ In the near future we may get an indication just to what extent these words hold true.

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Lula speaking on Chavez

While it is in Portuguese, Lula’s words on Chávez are quite significant and revealing, particularly with respect to how the two of them managed bilateral relations and sought to address regional poverty concerns.

 

You can find a shorter English-language print version in the New York Times.

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Post-Chavez elections in Venezuela — OpEd in The Australian by ANCLAS Senior Associate Sean Burges

ANCLAS senior associate Sean Burges has an OpEd in today’s The Australian discussing the role Brazil might play in ensuring that the presidential elections required in Venezuela after Hugo Chávez’s death satisfy democratic requisites. The full pre-publication text is below and the published version of the text is linked here.

Pre-publication text:

Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez has just died after a prolonged battle with cancer. While his death certainly raises questions about the longevity and sustainability of his Bolivarian revolution, it also stands as a significant test of the democracy promoting credentials of Brazil and the two important regional clubs it runs: the South American political grouping UNASUR and the trade bloc Mercosur.

Venezuela’s presidential succession procedures are clear. Article 232 of the constitution mandates a new election within thirty days if the president dies during the first four years of their term. The question many are now asking now is if this vote will happen – vice president Nicolas Maduro says ‘yes’ – and how democratic it will be, which is open to debate based on past precedent.

Historically, a free vote on schedule would satisfy Brazil’s pro-democracy requisites. But, events in 2012 suggest Brazil may now be valuing the spirit as much as the process of democracy. Venezuela’s upcoming vote stands as a test of this new pro-democracy policy in Brasília.

On 22 June 2012 Paraguay’s Liberal and Colorado parties joined forces to impeach leftist president Fernando Lugo in a process that many in the region now call a ‘coup-peachment.’ Strictly speaking, the process was legal, but politicized to the point of farce. Charges were laid, a congressional trial held, and a conviction delivered in less than a day.

What astonished many was the degree of political pressure Dilma exerted in Mercosur and Unasur to punish the political factions that had deposed her leftist ally, suspending Paraguay from both groupings. Suggestions that she was simply playing ideological favourites were strengthened when Brazil refused to take a similarly strong stance against Venezuela when Chávez failed to take his oath of office in January.

Such criticism may have been a bit unfair and missed the nuance in Brazil’s approach. Brazilian presidential foreign policy advisor Marco Aurelio Garcia offered the opinion, which became his country’s policy, that he agreed with the Venezuela Supreme Court judgment that as a re-elected president Article 234 of the constitution allowed Chávez up to six months leave of absence before a new election would be necessary. In an act of quiet bureaucratic resistance Brazilian diplomats pointedly noted that Article 232 still applied and that prompt elections would be required if Chávez died within the next four years.

With new elections now required in Venezuela we have an opportunity to see if there has been a real change in Brazil’s regional foreign policy to advancing substantive democracy or if the Lula-era tradition of selectively advocating a brand of pro-leftist democracy remains in place.

Make no mistake, the upcoming election in Venezuela is going to be difficult and divisive. The obvious strategy for Maduro will be to wrap himself in the mantle of Chávez’s memory while Capriles will likely resume his message of bringing Chávez’s social welfare policies to a sustainable path. All of this is an expected part of electoral politics. Where matters get tricky is the extent to which Maduro deploys executive presidential powers to artificially boost his campaign. One standout tactic from the October 2012 election was Chávez’s proclivity for mandating lengthy broadcasts of ‘government service’ programming to preempt television coverage of Capriles campaign events.

Another question is whether or not the military and security forces will take on the role of passive spectator expected in a consolidated democracy or if they will directly or covertly interfere with the campaign. Indeed, the temptation for political intervention by some sectors in the military will be immense if reports about their links to narcotrafficking and organized crime are correct.

Brazil has the back-room influence to prevent these sorts of violations of the democratic spirit of an election. Dilma as well as key advisors such as Garcia have enormous influence with the Chávez faithful. Moreover, Dilma’s 2010 presidential campaign advisors are likely to again play an important role in the pro-Chávez electoral push, fulfilling much the same role as Clinton campaign hothouse Carville and Associates did around the world in the 2000s. A behind the scenes steadying hand on Maduro-camp temptations to unduly exploit their position of power will be essential to the country’s future political stability. Venezuelans will know if the election is gamed, which would erode the credibility of a possible Maduro victory and further polarize the country. But if he were to win in a truly clean race it could create the conditions needed for a national political reconciliation. The same holds true for a possible opposition win. Even if uncomfortable for diplomats, helping to make this happen is exactly the sort of responsibility that goes with the regional leadership role Brazil has been claiming in South America. Post-Chávez Venezuela may prove to be Brazil’s first real test.

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Filed under Brazil, Democracy, Venezuela

ANCLAS Senior Associate Carlos Pio on the situation in Venezuela

ANCLAS Senior Associate Professor Carlos Pio had a piece on the situation in Venezuela published over the weekend in the main Brasília newspaper Correio Braziliense. The article is in Portuguese, but Pio’s main point is that Chávez is to blame for the uncertainties Venezuela faces today. Chávez has never tried to create a fully democratic regime, one structured upon solid institutions that can engage both the majority of his supporters and the vocal minority that rejects him in games of electoral competition and policy compromise. Instead, he chose to change the country’s name–to resemble that of his political movement’s; to persecute journalists, trade unionists and NGOs; to curb rights to private property and free information; as well as to arm groups of supporters. As a result, inflation reached 30 percent a year, investment, productivity and access to hard currency fell sharply, crime soared and the economy became even more dependent on oil exports.

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ANCLAS Senior Associate in the Australian on Chavez succession

ANCLAS Senior Associate Dr Sean Burges has an Op-Ed in today’s The Australian newspaper discussing the delay of Hugo Chávez’s inauguration for another term as president and what it might mean for future elections in the country. The website realclearworld.com has re-published the full text of the OpEd if you are unable to access  The Australian’s paywall.

 

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Filed under Democracy, Venezuela