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On the Horizon 2021 | Mexico

Here are three things to watch in Mexico in 2021.

AMLO and Migration

President Trump failed to deliver on his promise to make Mexico pay for the border wall. But he nonetheless succeeded in collaborating with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) to reduce migratory flows. Indeed, a hallmark of their relationship was AMLO’s willingness to commit precious resources to stem the flow of Central American transmigration through Mexican territory. Through the Migration Protection Protocols (aka “Remain in Mexico”), and a powerful deployment of Mexico’s newly-created Guardia Nacional (National Guard), Central American migrants were deterred from attempting the journey northwards. This development relieved much of the pressure once created on the Southwest border of the United States. The Biden administration fears a renewed surge in migration if AMLO decides that the cost of continuing such efforts is too great—and Mexico’s President surely will attempt to use this decision as a bargaining chip in the bilateral relationship.

Security Cooperation and the Merida Initiative

In 2007, Mexico and the U.S. signed the Merida Initiative—a framework agreement to govern cooperation on security and fight organized crime and narcotrafficking. The deal brought closer institutional ties and strengthened mutual trust and understanding between security and intelligence communities in both countries. Yet AMLO has long been a critic of the agreement. In recent months, he and his government have issued statements about ending Merida and basing future relations on the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention. The recent debacle over the arrest and return of General Salvador Cienfuegos (a former Mexican defense secretary) and legislation to restrict the activities (and immunity) of DEA agents in Mexico threaten to undermine trust and derail institutional cooperation. Washington has already expressed deep concerns over both moves. The Biden administration will send a clear message that it will not tolerate any weakening of the struggle against organized crime.

Pressure On The Economy And Energy

The close of the Trump administration saw a large number of complaints to the Commerce Department and the White House over Mexican treatment of U.S. companies in many areas, including the pharmaceutical and energy sectors. The deterioration of the investment climate under AMLO was largely ignored by the Trump administration, but Biden likely will take a keener interest in defending U.S. interests south of the border. This approach would generate bipartisan Congressional support, and would signal that AMLO must respect commitments made under the USMCA trade deal. It also is likely that the Biden administration will use the office of USTR and regular diplomatic channels to pressure AMLO to change course on economic management. Expected pushback from AMLO may lead to a risky showdown.

Related Program

Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more