AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Sizing Up the Start of AMLO's Presidency

Andrés Manuel López Obrador came into office on December 1 with pledges to transform Mexico. Now, as he wraps up his first 100 days in office on March 10—and despite some controversial moves to make good on his promises for change—he continues to have high levels of popularity. One reason is that the across-the-board landslide victory by López Obrador and his party MORENA left the opposition decimated. “Even if you become skeptical or disenchanted with López Obrador, you have nowhere else to go, so that keeps his approval ratings very high,” says Carlos Bravo Regidor, an associate professor and director of the journalism program at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, or CIDE, in Mexico City.

In this episode of Latin America in Focus, Bravo Regidor talks with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about why violence and security will be the area where voters will want to see results first, how López Obrador—known as AMLO—handles checks and balances, and the role of history and nostalgia in AMLO’s presidency. “When he tries to position himself historically, his enemy is what he calls the neoliberal period, so what happened in Mexico between the 1980s and 2018,” says Bravo Regidor. “That period was also the period when Mexico became a democracy. And AMLO doesn’t make that distinction. For AMLO, democracy started with him.”

But that also means AMLO’s nostalgia looks back to a less globalized world, says Bravo Regidor, who writes for Reforma and and is a frequent radio and TV commentator. “The idea that López Obrador has of Mexico is from a previous era,” he says. “At the moment of the 2018 election, that complex society that Mexico is today ended up voting for a guy that doesn’t really reflect that complexity in his vision of the country, his vision of the world, or his policies.”

The conclusion of AMLO’s first 100 days in power also happens to coincide with the ninetieth anniversary of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the hegemonic political force in Mexico through most of the twentieth century. MORENA’s rise has drawn comparisons to the PRI, but Bravo Regidor notes that there’s a crucial difference. “MORENA has something that the PRI never had, which is democratic legitimacy. One of the weak spots of the PRI was that its democratic legitimacy was in question, and that made the PRI a lot more susceptible to opening spaces for the opposition,” explains Bravo Regidor. “The PRI knew deep down inside that that was their original sin, so to speak. MORENA doesn’t have that original sin, so that renders MORENA a lot stronger because MORENA doesn’t have to give anything away to the opposition. ‘We won, and we won by a landslide.’”

Listen to the podcast to hear more about AMLO’s position on U.S. ties and approach to Venezuela, how the president’s daily press conferences give him an “omnipresence,” and what—for Bravo Regidor—has been the biggest surprise of the new government.

This episode was produced by Luisa Leme.

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: What to Expect from an AMLO Presidency

Mexico has one of the longest presidential transitions in the world. All told, it will be five months since the time that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, better known as AMLO, won the election by a landslide in July until his December 1 inauguration. Over the course of that time, observers have been trying to figure out whether he’ll end up leaning more toward being a leftist populist or a moderate pragmatist. Whichever it turns out to be, he takes office with strong approval, a majority in Congress, and little in the way of opposition. 

It’s that position of strength that has helped him, thus far, keep up warm ties with U.S. President Donald Trump, says former Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan. “Trump is someone who sniffs out weakness,” says Sarukhan, who notes that Trump has avoided including López Obrador in his Mexico bashing. AMLO has been doing his best to avoid a conflict with the U.S. president. “That explains why, during these very long months of a transition, he has said zilch on issues like the separation of minors from their parents, the DREAMers, DACA, and what has been going on at the border.” But a brewing crisis over how to handle a Central American migrant caravan in Tijuana will likely serve as an early test for both the López Obrador government and what Sarukhan calls an AMLO-Trump “bromance.”

“I would hope that the incoming Mexican government does not seek to appease Donald Trump on this front in exchange for nothing,” says the Americas Society board member, who adds that the new government should negotiate for development aid to handle the economic and security issues that drive Central Americans to leave their countries. “What can’t stand is a deterrence-driven only immigration policy between Mexico and the United States.”

But another reason López Obrador will seek to quell U.S.-Mexico tensions is because he plans to focus on domestic politics over international affairs. One sign of that is the transition team’s controversial decision to invite increasingly isolated Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to the inauguration. “I believe that López Obrador, much like his political and ideological DNA, has a vision of Mexico’s foreign policy anchored in the sixties and seventies,” says Sarukhan. “He has clearly said that he thinks Mexico should not be intervening in the domestic affairs of Venezuela or Cuba, for example, going back to this sacrosanct doctrine of non-intervention.”

Beyond foreign policy, the private sector got a hint of and the jitters over how the new administration will govern when the transition team held an October referendum that resulted in ending a $14 billion airport project in Mexico City. “In some ways the honeymoon is over before the wedding because a lot of things have been happening even before he takes office and the airport is a perfect example,” says Amy Glover, CEO of emerging markets corporate relations firm Speyside Mexico.

But Glover, who has 20 years of experience in public affairs and business experience with a focus on Mexico, cautions that it’s still too early to forecast how foreign investors will approach an AMLO presidency. “Mexico is just too big of an economy to really ignore,” she says.

“Let’s face it: Mexico is a country with too high of a percentage of people living in poverty,” adds Glover. “I think It’s important to remain engaged as civil society and not discount the possibility for positive change before we even get started.”

She also notes that Mexico’s Congress coming close to having gender parity in the latest election is a positive sign of strides made by Mexican women in recent years. Says Glover: “Mexico should be proud of the fact that it has so many amazing women participating in politics.”

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Amid Caravan Crisis, a Look at Mexico's Migration Policy

Thousands of people—many of them women and children—are making their way in migrant caravans on foot, through tear gas, and over rivers to get from Central America to the United States. "They know what they're facing when they hit Mexico, they know what they're facing with the Trump administration. And yet they keep marching and they keep moving forward," says Stephanie Leutert, director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law and a lecturer on Mexican migratory policy at the University of Texas at Austin.

Some 300,000 migrants try to make it through Mexico each year, explains Leutert, who met with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis in Mexico City before heading to the Mexican border with Guatemala for research. Migrants who go it alone face steep smuggling fees, extortion, and kidnapping, leading some to sacrifice migrating under the radar in exchange for the safety of caravans. Says Leutert: “There is something political about what they’re doing and standing up and saying, ‘Look at our country: We don’t have a future there, we have the right to seek asylum in Mexico or the United States.’”

Mexico’s policy centers on apprehension and deportation, but it’s becoming more than just a transit point: from 2014 to 2017, the number of migrants seeking asylum there grew sevenfold, with the total expected to hit 23,000 this year. The country finds its refugee system short-staffed and overburdened while confronting a crisis that shows no signs of ebbing. On top of that, as discussed in this episode, factors like climate change only threaten to dial up the pressure.

All of this happens as Mexico prepares to inaugurate a new leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The future president has suggested offering work visas to Central Americans and calling all countries involved to increase development aid to the Northern Triangle—even as U.S. President Donald Trump threatens to cut it. But, when it comes to the complexity of handling migration, Leutert cautions: “Just like the Peña Nieto administration and the Calderón administration and the Vicente Fox administration, you’re going to see the López Obrador team hit the same challenges.”

Despite how formidable it may seem to solve the problems that spark migration, Leutert, who covers the issue for Lawfare, offers recommendations. For example, the United States could offer temporary work visas, Mexico could take a risk-management approach, and there should be a more dignified treatment of asylum-seekers overall. Because, ultimately, migrants leave Central America out of need rather than desire. “People don’t want to march in caravans,” says Leutert. “There are a lot of things that every involved country could do if they were really serious about stopping this.”

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Millennials' Big Role in the Mexican Elections

At 64, Mexican presidential frontrunner Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the oldest candidate on the ballot, but that’s not stopping 51 percent of millennials from backing him. And their support matters, because that age group has the potential to account for nearly half of the electorate on Mexico’s July 1 election day, says Pancho Parra, editor of polls for millennial-focused news site Nación321.

The fact that younger voters back López Obrador, or AMLO, to a greater degree than do other age groups may seem contradictory. Besides the age factor, millennials consider solving crime and violence to be a top issue but disagree with his proposal to give amnesty to criminals.

So why does the largest portion go for AMLO? One reason is rejection of the sitting government. In Nación321’s millennial poll, respondents were asked to qualify current President Enrique Peña Nieto with a happy or angry emoji, and 89 percent went with latter. But Parra tells AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis that AMLO’s “direct and easy” manner of speaking that compares to ex-President of Uruguay José “Pepe” Mujica—famous for his austere way of living—or former U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

On the other hand, Mexican millennials don’t wear their politics on their sleeve. They say they wouldn’t want to post a selfie with a candidate or chat with one of them on WhatsApp. And they don’t see themselves allied with parties: 59 percent don’t identify as belonging to any party.

Parra says that 2018 marks Mexico’s first social media race, and that’s resulted in a race defined by memes and viral humor. But, in covering and polling millennials, he found they are looking toward the future rather than for quick fixes to problems like the economy and better public safety.

So what comes after the July vote? “Everything’s been promised to the young people: That they’re going to have jobs, that they’re going to be better paid,” says Parra. “But if [the next government] doesn’t accomplish those kinds of things, I think there will be a big democracy fail.”

This episode was produced by Luisa Leme.

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Why Mexico's Election Will Redraw the Country's Political Map

The closer we get to Mexico’s election, the more Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s poll lead grows. The three-time presidential candidate better known as AMLO gets called everything from a nationalist to a firebrand to a populist. Still, he’s ahead of Ricardo Anaya, his closest challenger, by more than 20 points, per Oraculus’ poll aggregator. Many question the numbers or posit that undecided voters could make the difference on Election Day.

Do they have a point? We’ll have to see on July 1, but Jorge Buendía, director of polling firm Buendía & Laredo and founding partner of Oraculus, thinks not. “The people that are saying ‘Don’t trust the polls’ are the ones who are supporting candidates who are in second or third place,” he told AS/COA Online Editor-in-Chief Carin Zissis in Mexico City.

On top of that, Buendía explains that these elections could well redefine Mexico’s political scenario, upending past alliances and traditional political rivalries in both Mexico’s North and South. Why? Across the country, more than 3,400 seats are up for grabs—about 60 percent more than in the last general elections. And that helps MORENA, the political party that AMLO started since he lost the 2012 election, and which the frontrunner is encouraging voters to select all down their ballots. “MORENA will have a lot of jobs to offer,” says Buendía. “And the question here is, then what are going to be the checks and balances on López Obrador?”

This episode was produced by Luisa Leme. 

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Put a Little Trust in Mexico

It’s an election year in Mexico, and that means mudslinging and memes. It also means an unhappy electorate. In fact, Mexicans are more distrustful of government institutions than people in any of the other 27 countries surveyed in Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer.

“Sadly, it’s not new,” says Edelman México’s General Manager Mariana Sanz. She told AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis that the annual study, first released in 2001, has been uncovering Mexicans’ lack-of-confidence issue for years—and for all levels of government. But it’s not just politics facing this lack of faith: Mexicans are particularly worried about fake news, and Sanz says the media isn’t “playing the role that we as citizens need.”

Despite these low points, there are sources of trust in Mexico, and one is the private sector. “It’s very good news for companies if they own this responsibility…if they understand that people are waiting for them to take positions, to be more active, to speak up,” says Sanz.

Mexicans also have confidence in civil society. The outpouring of citizen support in the wake of last year’s devastating earthquakes showed why, and the latest survey was conducted a few weeks after the one that struck the capital. “Civil society was at its peak in terms of what we’re doing for each other,” says Sanz. In a world facing what she calls “an implosion of trust,” the bright spots in results for Mexico mean the country doesn’t fall as low as others in the overall study.

Another example of citizens taking up leadership is Méxicos Posibles, an initiative that started in 2015 and brought together 180 leaders across the country and sectors to envision potential futures for the country by 2030. The group held its launch in the capital’s historic center on March 21 to share its findings and goal of tackling the three biggest risks facing Mexico: inequality, insecurity, and illegality. “What really is very clear for all of us is we want the best for our country,” explains Gabriela Hernández Cardoso, an independent board member whose career spans the public and private sector, on the sidelines of the launch. 

Elizabeth Gonzalez produced this podcast episode.

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Back to the Future in Chile and El Salvador?

In Chile, center-right Sebastián Piñera retakes the helm to replace center-left Michelle Bachelet as president on March 11. Meanwhile, El Salvador’s March 4 legislative and municipal elections saw conservatives picking up seats at the governing party’s expense. But, in both cases, to what degree did voters turn right and to what degree did they turn against the party in control?

In this episode of Latin America in Focus, AS/COA Online's Carin Zissis speaks to Héctor Silva Ávalos, founder of Revista Factum, about why El Salvador’s governing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front—the one-time guerilla group best known as the FMLN—lost a key number of legislative seats.

He says voters were disappointed with the FMLN’s handling of everything from violence to corruption to Washington’s cancellation of Temporary Protective Status for Salvadoran migrants. “What happened in general is that the FMLN hardcore voter didn’t go to vote,” says Silva Ávalos, who is also a researcher for American University and InSight Crime. He and Zissis discuss how the election made President Salvador Sánchez Cerén a lame duck and what the FMLN loss of the mayoralty of San Salvador indicates for next year’s presidential race.

As for Chile, Sebastián Piñera’s first 100 days in office will focus on pension, tax, and education reforms, political scientist Patricio Navia tells Elizabeth Gonzalez. But while the center-right leader’s coalition, Let’s Go Chile, gained the most seats in the congress, it fell short of a majority and will have to contend with an emerging leftist Broad Front. As such, Piñera is unlikely to backtrack on some of outgoing President Michelle Bachelet’s social reforms, including abortion and gender identity legislation. Navia, a professor at New York University also commented on Chileans’ consensus on reforming immigration law to better regulate an influx of Haitian migrants, as well as the chances of expanding regional trade ties depending on upcoming elections in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.

Co-hosted with Elizabeth Gonzalez.

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Giving Women the "Right Space to Thrive"

In Mexico, men have an average of 10 or more hours of time for sleep and leisure per day. For women, it’s six hours or less.

“So, a working woman who also has unpaid duties and caregiving in the home doesn’t even have enough time to make it to six hours of sleep every night,” explains Dr. Felicia Knaul, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Americas and a professor of public health at the University of Miami. She talked with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about a report she co-authored for The Lancet about women’s outsized role in healthcare and the fact that, despite the scope of service they provide, they face obstacles to making it into leadership positions in the global health sector.

The international health expert also spoke about her experience getting breast cancer treatment in Mexico and why she founded breast cancer awareness organization Tómatelo a Pecho. Giving a human face to the disease, she charts a before and after in how Mexico’s public health insurance program Seguro Popular makes a difference in the lives of women. As a woman from Jalisco state named Guillermina, who experienced a recurrence of breast cancer, told her, “Round one: my kids went bankrupt and they had to sell their business. Round two: I have health insurance and I can take care of myself.”

But first, AS/COA President and CEO Susan Segal talks with Luisa Leme about why 2018 is the year of the woman, what inspired her to start our Women’s Hemispheric Network (WHN) six years ago, and why we need to bring men into the conversation on building women’s leadership. “If we limit women’s mentors and networks to only women, we’re not going very far,” says Segal, who talks about mentors and obstacles during her finance career, during which she was actively involved in restructuring of the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Chile’s Michelle Bachelet helped launch WHN. Next month she steps down from office, leaving Latin America without a sitting woman president. But Segal explains that women’s empowerment is about more than having a female head of state. “When you can fill in the ranks so you have a lot of women engaged and participating—that’s when you’ve really created change,” she says.

Both interviewees talk about the #MeToo movement and how it’s created a space for dialogue about women in the workforce, from being what Knaul calls “passionate professionals” to giving women, particularly in Latin America, “the right space to thrive,” says Segal.

Luisa Leme produced this podcast episode.

Latin America Advisor | Can Meade Keep Mexico's Presidency in the PRI's Hands?

Q: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Nov. 27 backed his finance secretary, José Antonio Meade, to be the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s candidate in the presidential election to be held next July. Why did Peña Nieto choose Meade, and will Meade’s close affiliation with the relatively unpopular lame-duck president hinder his candidacy? Does Meade have the support of the PRI at large? What will it take for Meade, often described as a U.S.-educated technocrat, to garner enough popular support to become Mexico’s next president?

A: Carin Zissis, editor-in-chief of AS/COA Online at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas:

“José Antonio Meade, a lesser-known candidate who’s never run for office, is up against leftist former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a familiar face making his third go at the presidency and who leads polls in part thanks to voter dissatisfaction with the political status quo. So it seems like Meade, who has PhD from Yale and polls well with elites, could struggle to win popular support in time for election day. But it would be a big mistake to count him out. For starters, Meade’s ‘unknown’ status can be overcome, particularly given that political advertising is crucial to media outlets’ bottom lines in Mexico. Since Meade revealed plans to run, he has gotten nonstop coverage, proving the PRI machinery is gearing up for battle. Second, President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration hopes that what makes Meade different will also make him the victor. The PRI is tainted by corruption, but Meade remains untarnished. He’s held top cabinet posts, ranging from foreign relations to finance, under Peña Nieto, but also during the presidency of Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party, meaning he can siphon votes from the conservative PAN. In fact, Meade isn’t a PRI member; the party opened the door to his candidacy in August by changing its rules to allow non-priistas to run. Finally, Mexico has no runoff vote, and there could be more candidates this time around, given the possibility of some high-profile independents. Meade, or whoever wins, might do so with a third of the votes—or less. And the PRI is, at least publicly, projecting unity while other parties fall victim to infighting. There’s a long way to go between now and July 1, and the PRI is a formidable political force in Mexican politics, regardless of Peña Nieto’s approval rating.”

Read the full Q&A here.

World Politics Review | Trump's Trade Threats Have Pushed Mexico and China Closer Together

World Politics Review | Trump's Trade Threats Have Pushed Mexico and China Closer Together

With talks to renegotiate NAFTA deadlocked this week over the hard-line positions of the Trump administration, Mexico was again left pondering the fate of its biggest trade relationship. Negotiations over the trade deal will now extend into next year, heightening both the economic uncertainty and Mexico’s desire to branch out, as countries like China look to expand their stake in the Mexican economy. In an email interview, Carin Zissis, editor-in-chief of AS/COA Online, the website of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, discusses the evolving nature of Mexico’s ties with China, how a change in NAFTA could affect them, and why Mexico is looking to wean itself off the U.S. market. 

WPR: What is the nature of Mexico and China’s political and trade relations, and how have they changed in recent years? What impact has the Trump presidency had?

Carin Zissis: Looking back at the recent history of China-Mexico ties, the two countries have been rivals—particularly when it comes to trade. In 2001, when China sought the unanimous vote to gain accession to the World Trade Organization, or WTO, Mexico was Beijing’s last obstacle. In September of that year, China and Mexico worked out a bilateral deal that paved the way for Beijing to win its WTO membership, but also allowed Mexico a six-year grace period, later extended to 2011, to maintain countervailing duties on hundreds of Chinese products. 

A major reason for Mexico’s hesitation about China joining the WTO came down to the fact that the two countries compete as exporters. There is evidence that Mexican concerns were well-founded. In the 16 years since it joined the WTO, China has replaced Mexico as America’s second-largest trading partner. At the same time, Mexico developed a gaping trade deficitwith China to the tune of about $65 billion in 2015, while receiving a fraction of its total foreign direct investment from the Asian powerhouse.

But now they share something in common: Both are being attacked by the Trump administration over trade deficits and as part of Donald Trump’s “America First” policy. Still, well before Trump began repeatedly hurling abuse at the southern neighbor, Mexico was already showing interest in boosting ties with China....

Read the full text of the article at World Politics Review or via AS/COA Online

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AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Getting Ready for the Next Big Earthquake in Mexico City

One month ago, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake shook Mexico City to its core. Hundreds lost their lives, and hundreds more their homes. As time passes and the capital recovers, what are some of the lessons learned? The fact that the disaster took place on the anniversary of the devastating 1985 earthquake—in which approximately 10,000 people died—showed how far Mexico City has come in the past three decades, as well as what needs to happen to prepare for future disasters.

“The 1985 earthquake was a wakeup call,” says Eugene Zapata-Garesché, 100 Resilient Cities’ regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, explaining that that disaster proved there were two choices: either start preparing for future earthquakes or get out. “I don’t think there’s a possibility of moving 20 million people out of this valley,” Zapata-Garesché told AS/COA Online Editor-in-Chief Carin Zissis.

The earthquake that struck on September 19 showed strides made, thanks to changes in policies around water, power, and building codes, coupled with the fact that city’s residents know how to respond. In fact, the earthquake hit just a couple hours after a citywide drill. “Thirty years later, there’s evidence that following these protocols showed that they worked,” says Zapata-Garesché. “There is, of course, always room for improvement.”

You can’t just sit and think that what you did 30 years ago is enough.

Even with progress, many Mexicans have expressed frustration with the government, particularly when it comes to corruption related to the skirting of building codes that resulted in collapses and deaths. “The population cannot wait for the government to do it, but the government cannot also expect the population to do it alone,” says Zapata-Garesché, noting that a policy of resilience is now enshrined in Mexico City’s new Constitution. “This is an opportunity also for the city to rethink all its protocols, rethink all its building codes, its civil protection emergency response codes, and dialogue with the public.”

He also explains that earthquakes are a region-wide phenomenon, affecting everywhere from Baja California to Patagonia, but Latin America also has what he describes as a “love and hate relationship” with water, thanks to hurricanes, floods, and disasters. “We’re seeing how San Juan today is going to have to start from zero,” says Zapata-Garesché. “They have already understood that this is an opportunity to rethink completely how the city is structured.”

This podcast was produced by Luisa Leme.

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: What to Watch in NAFTA Negotiations

Within days of the first round of North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations in August, President Donald Trump was once again threatening to withdraw the United States from the 23-year-old pact. But, aside from comments at a rally or some Sunday-morning tweets, can the president actually do that?

Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, argues that, yes, he can—and that’s what he might do if his administration can’t secure the kinds of concessions he needs from Mexico and Canada to claim a political win. Leaving the deal, a move only 6 percent of Americans support, would come at a cost, though. “There will be a huge backlash if he terminates, both by the business community, which is benefiting, and workers who will discover that they were benefiting from NAFTA,” Hufbauer told AS/COA Online Editor-in-Chief Carin Zissis.

Still, Hufbauer suggests there is a good likelihood that the three countries will “muddle through” the talks, making minor concessions that might not leave any of the three parties satisfied but giving the appearance of a political win for all. One reason it will be hard to do much more is that both Mexico and the United States hold elections next year, meaning the talks can’t go much past January. “This notion of this five-month quickie is pretty optimistic,” said Hufbauer, who adds there’s a chance that provisional agreements will be made this year and then new rounds will commence in 2019, after elections conclude.

There will be a huge backlash if [Trump] terminates.

Setting aside political wrangling, negotiators will have to sit down and work out the technical details. Given that the United States will likely be looking for changes reflecting a “Buy American” protectionist streak, Mexico could find itself facing tough decisions over how to handle U.S. demands to trim a $64 billion trade deficit.

Hufbauer outlines what Mexico’s steps might be as the country prepares to host the second round of talks from September 1 to 5.

This podcast was produced by Luisa Leme.

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Jorge Castañeda Portends Changing Times for Mexico

What's the next step for Mexico in its 10-year-old drug war? What would it take to end the country’s corruption epidemic? And who will be the winner of the much-anticipated 2018 presidential election? Jorge Castañeda, a Mexican academic and former foreign secretary, spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis in Mexico City, sharing his answers to these questions and how they relate to a turbulent turn in U.S.-Mexican ties under the Trump administration.

For one thing, he says that Mexico does not have to help Washington carry out deportations and can block such moves by requiring the United States to prove deportees’ Mexican citizenship before repatriation. “Why should we let in people who they say are Mexicans, but who they cannot prove are Mexicans?” asks Castañeda, who served as a negotiator on U.S.-Mexico immigration reform during the government of Mexican President Vicente Fox. “This is an unfriendly American government. It makes no sense for Mexico to cooperate with them.”

Castañeda also says that Mexico’s next president would ideally be familiar with the United States and international issues, and who isn’t bogged down “by complicity with corruption of the past.” But, forecasting the winner, he says the 2018 election won’t deliver that result. “I think it will largely be a disaster,” he says. “But it’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Read a transcript of this interview.

AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Alejandro Hope on Drug Policy and Mexico's Marijuana Laws

“This region has been at the forefront of the reform process.” That’s what Alejandro Hope had to say about shifts toward more progressive drug policies in the Americas in recent years. Hope, a drug policy analyst and security editor at the Mexico City-based news site El Daily Post, spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about what the region’s policy changes mean on a global scale as the UN prepares to host a special summit, known as UNGASS 2016, on the worldwide drug problem from April 19 to 21.

The General Assembly last held a special session in 2009 and another one wasn’t slated until 2019. But, in 2012, the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico, tired of drug war violence, called to hold the summit sooner. But just because some countries are looking for a new path doesn’t mean UNGASS 2016 will produce major results: even if Latin American countries want more open policies, other parts of the world—such as Asia and Russia—take a more conservative stance.

Still, changes taking place on a national level have an impact on global policy. Hope notes that marijuana legalization by particular U.S. states weakens the ability to enforce drug control treaties, leaving “a gaping hole in the system.”

Shifting U.S. marijuana policy also has a direct effect on Mexico, where the illicit marijuana export market is showing signs it’s contracting as eradication and seizures decline. There’s a political effect as well: it’s harder for Mexico to maintain marijuana prohibition when the United States doesn’t, explains Hope. A Mexican Supreme Court decision in November, while limited in scope, opened the door to more progressive policies. “Marijuana legalization used to be a fringe concern,” he says. “It’s now part of the mainstream conversation.”

And Hope predicts court decisions will keep chipping away at prohibition as cases arise, saying: “I would argue that a large portion of the legislation that underpins marijuana prohibition in Mexico will be declared unconstitutional.”

What does this mean for Mexico’s next presidential election and security policy overall? Listen to find out.

AS/COA Online | Interview: El Salvador's Ambassador to the U.S. Rubén Zamora

“[W]e have started what we call the two-track policy—continuing with the fight against crime in the country by stage agencies, but at the same time, town by town, trying to develop conditions for preventing violence and reintegrating those people into society in a productive way.”

Appointed last month as the new Salvadoran ambassador in Washington, Rubén Zamora spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about the evolution of U.S.-Central American security policy in light of President Barack Obama’s recent trip to the region, saying: “Now the Obama administration is moving towards a more comprehensive approach, using the mantra, I would say, of partnership.” The ambassador also gave an overview of the Salvadoran government’s local strategies to drive down crime, as well as how to leverage initiatives such as the Partnership for Growth and CAFTA-DR. With a political career dating back to 1970, Zamora served twice as a legislative deputy in El Salvador’s National Assembly, was a member of the country’s Peace Commission, and ran, in 1994, as the first presidential candidate of the left’s coalition after the 1992 Peace Accords. More recently, he held the post of ambassador to India.

AS/COA Online: In light of U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent meeting with leaders in Costa Rica, including with President of El Salvador Mauricio Funes, what were some of the accomplishments? And what more do you think should have been done?

Ambassador Zamora: For us, the meeting between President Obama and the seven Central American and Caribbean head of states was important because we learned about U.S. foreign policy on Central America. The discussion was very frank among the presidents and it was clear for us—and this seems to me an important achievement—that President Obama clearly was for a more integrated approach to the question of security. That was one of the main issues in the talks among the heads of states. We had mostly been used to the United States insisting more and more on the question of controlling crime; that is necessary, but is very insufficient to achieve results. Now, it seems to me, Washington is having a more comprehensive, holistic approach to the problem that we are facing in Central America, both in terms of the crime and in terms of Central America being a region through which South American drugs travel to the United States.

AS/COA Online: In connection with that, I wanted to ask about CARSI [Central America Regional Security Initiative]. In March, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield gave remarks at our organization, and he said: “What we are doing today is actually very different from what we thought we were going to be doing four years ago.” What do you think needs to happen to improve security cooperation on a regional level? And how would you suggest that CARSI could evolve further?

Zamora: The starting point now is that the best strategic view when it comes to security in Central America, especially in the northern part—that means Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—is that you have to attack the problem with a two or three-track policy. You cannot do it just with a single line of policy, or the tactic of controlling crime without addressing the question of the rehabilitation of gang members into mainstream society...

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AS/COA Online | Exclusive Interview: Juan Carlos Rulfo and Daniela Alatorre on the Making of ¡De Panzazo!

As the documentary ¡De Panzazo! explains, Mexico is the OECD member that spends the most on education in terms of public spending, yet its education system ranks last in terms of quality. ¡De Panzazo! (Barely Passing) director Juan Carlos Rulfo and producer Daniela Alatorre spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis after the film’s New York premiere on June 4 at Americas Society. With the support of civil society group Mexicanos Primero, the documentary calls for quality education and teacher evaluations in Mexico. Rulfo and Alatorre explain how they became involved in the project, involving Mexican students in the film’s production, the need to share best educational practices on an international level, and the impact of the film during a Mexican election year.

AS/COA Online: As the film implies, Mexico’s educational challenges have a long history. What sparked the making of the film now?
Alatorre: So this was a process of three years. Mexicanos Primero had been working at least for three years, so that makes it six now. And they thought they needed to do something big that could talk to a broader audience. And so they talked to [Mexican news anchor] Carlos Loret. Then they said: “Why don’t we do a series of TV shows?”
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AS/COA Online | Interview: Mexican Undersecretary for Foreign Relations Lourdes Aranda

Mexican Undersecretary for Foreign Relations Lourdes Aranda discusses her country’s role as this year’s G20 host. Aranda, who serves as a G20 representative, explained why Mexico's role in guiding the G20 agenda toward achieving goals in the areas of green growth, food security, and economic stability.

Video edited by David Gacs.

AS/COA Online Exclusive Interview: Costa Rica’s Education Minister Leonardo Garnier on Innovations in Teaching

“[T]he central strategy we have followed is not just to have more students, but to offer a more relevant, significant education.”

Costa Rica’s high literacy rate has long made its educational system the envy of the Americas. Still, high school enrollment and access to higher education remain tough challenges in the Central American country. Costa Rican Education Minister Leonardo Garnier spoke with AS/COA Online’s Editor-in-Chief Carin Zissis, not only about how his country is fighting dropout rates, but also how new teaching approaches and technology can play a role in boosting education. Garnier says that changes underway offer “more relevant, more significant, and more entertaining education so that kids will stay in high school—but they will stay for a good reason, not just for staying there.”

AS/COA Online: With a 96 percent literacy rate, one of Latin America’s highest, many see Costa Rica’s education system as a model for other countries in the region. What models in other parts of the world do you look to for inspiration and ideas?

Garnier: Well, I don’t see Costa Rica as a model. I think we have done some things that have been useful for us, but still, we have a lot of problems. When we look at other countries, for example, the things that small countries like Finland have done with education, certainly there is big room for improvement in our system.

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AS/COA Online - Entrevista con Gabino Cué, el nuevo gobernador del estado de Oaxaca, Mexico

Gabino Cué, el nuevo gobernador del estado de Oaxaca en Mexico, conversó con la editora de AS/COA Online Carin Zissis pocos días antes de su toma de posesión en el primer día de diciembre. Por una alianza politíca inesperada del conservador Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN) y el izquierdista Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), Cué ganó una elección histórica en julio de 2010 y será el primer gobernador de oposición en el estado en mas de ocho décadas. Reemplazará Ulises Ruiz del Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), quien podría ser investigado por corrupción y violaciones de derechos humanos después de entregar el poder.

Cué, quien perdió frente a Ruiz en 2004 en una elección marcada por alegaciones de fraude, habla sobre como planea el avance de su estado—rico en recursos pero con mucha pobreza—dejando atrás los protestas de 2006 que atrajeron atención internacional. También cuenta como es que su gobierno va a unificar detrás de ideologías diferentes de la alianza que lo aportó durante la elección. “Nosotros conformamos una alianza opositora, en base a una agenda por la transición democrática, para tratar temas de interés de todos los partidos,” dice Cué. “De la misma manera lo vamos a hacer en el gobierno.”

  • Read the English translation of the interview here.

AS/COA Online: Usted está reemplazando al Gobernador Ulises Ruiz, quien cuenta con el nivel de popularidad más bajo de todos los gobernadores en México. Como el primer gobernador de oposición de Oaxaca en más de 80 años, ¿cuál será la primera acción de su gobierno para llevar al estado de Oaxaca por un nuevo rumbo?

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AS/COA Online - Exclusive Interview: Gabino Cue, New Governor of Oaxaca, Mexico, on His State’s Power Shift

Gabino Cué, the new governor of Oaxaca state in Mexico, spoke with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis on location in his transitional offices in the days leading up to his December 1 inauguration. Through an unlikely political alliance that included the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Cué won a historic July 2010 election to become the state’s first opposition governor in more than eight decades. He takes over from Ulises Ruiz of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who may be investigated on corruption and human rights abuse charges after stepping down.

Cué, who lost to Ruiz in a 2004 election marred by fraud allegations, talks about how he plans to move his resource-rich but poverty-plagued state beyond 2006 protests that drew international attention as well as how his government plans to unify disparate ideologies of the alliance that backed him during the election. “We built an opposition alliance that had at its core an agenda for a democratic transition that would tackle issues important to all parties,” says Cué. “We’re going to build our government in the same way.” The new governor also touches on topics ranging from national security to investment prospects to the 2012 presidential vote.

  • Usted puede leer la entrevista en español aquí.

AS/COA Online: You are replacing Governor Ulises Ruiz, who has the lowest approval rating of all the governors in Mexico. As the first opposition governor of Oaxaca in more than 80 years, what will be the first action your government takes to set Oaxaca on a new path?

Cué: First of all, we are experiencing a historic moment in Oaxaca where, after more than 80 years, the opposition won. There are great expectations when power shifts take place. And what we’ve said is that, at first, we want to do all we can to transition power from an authoritarian regime to a democratic regime. This means we have to dismantle the form in which practices have been carried out, which did little to support democracy. So, an important change will be the ways and style of relating to the electorate, the people, and those we govern.

The next change will be a package of institutional reforms that will allow us to move forward on practical themes: transparency, auditing, strengthening of autonomous agencies, the handling of human rights—all of which are, without a doubt, crucial in a state that has experienced so many violations of individuals’ rights. We have to do this through institutional changes that allow for better collaboration and equilibrium between powers—such as legislative power and judicial power—that permits greater independence and collaboration.

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