America / Foreign Policy

How much will the US-Mexico Relationship Change After July 1?

The Washington Post ran an article on May 14 by Nick Miroff and William Booth about Enrique Peña Nieto, the front-runner in Mexico’s upcoming presidential election. The article centers on the fact that few Mexican voters and political analysts on both sides of the US-Mexico border have much of a sense about the man known as “EPN.” There will be a new president of Mexico after July 1 because the Mexican Constitution limits all presidents to one six-year term. So, who is EPN and what impact will his probable election have on the always-complicated US-Mexico relationship?

According to Miroff and Booth, EPN “has made himself the new face of the Institution Revolutionary Party” known as the PRI. The PRI dominated Mexican politics and the presidential office for 71 years until 2000. In their article, Miroff and Booth, highlight the PRI’s reputation for consolidating power through “corruption and coercion.” The question for many voters and analysts is whether EPN is like his PRI predecessors, or bringing a new identity, along with his youthful good looks, to the PRI and the Mexican people. At the moment, I am still unsure.

EPN is running on a platform that claims the Mexican people desire change, and he is the man for the job. Indeed, many Mexican people do want change; on that point EPN is correct. Mexicans are fed up with current President Felipe Calderon’s war against the drug cartels, the daily violence, and the lack of citizen security. There are other issues in play, such as the economy, job creation, education, and healthcare, but the main topic that generates rally cries for change is Calderon’s anti-drug war. In fact, EPN’s campaign in the July election is using similar messages centered on change. So what would change under EPN look like? Again, I am unsure. However, I am not the only one without a definitive idea of EPN’s agenda. Miroff and Booth astutely point out that “[EPN’s] politics are hard to pin down, because his presidential proposals—most of them vague—are samplings from the left, right, and center. EPN has provided few details throughout the campaign season and will probably continue to do so until he moves into the presidential residence at Los Pinos.

Many analysts in the United States are unsure about the impact that EPN’s election might have on US-Mexico relations. Under Felipe Calderon, the US-Mexico relationship has evolved and security cooperation is at an all-time high. There have been a large number of high-level talks between US government officials and their counterparts in Mexico. Trade between the United States and Mexico also has continued to increase since the passage of NAFTA. Calderon, however, has also been vocal in his disapproval of the disastrous Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ “Fast and Furious” guntrafficking operation. He has also been an outspoken advocate of “shared responsibility” in the War on Drugs, arguing that consumer countries like the United States should increase their efforts on decreasing the demand for drugs. Overall, I believe that during Calderon’s six year term, the US-Mexico relationship has evolved in a positive fashion, even though there have been a few bumps along the road. It remains to be seen if these positive trends will continue if Enrique Peña Nieto becomes the next Mexican president.

According to Miroff and Booth, the largest indication EPN has given as to his views on US-Mexico relations is that he “has signaled he is more interested in fighting the crimes that hurt ordinary Mexicans—kidnapping, extortion, robbery, murder—than in stemming drug trafficking.” While this is bound to get a lot of support from Mexican voters, it could prove worrisome to political leaders in the United States in that it could have a large impact on security cooperation along the US-Mexico border and overall collaboration in the War on Drugs. Less cooperation from Mexico in the War on Drugs could hurt regional counternarcotics efforts and affect their Central American neighbors whom the United States and others are attempting to support because of the current Central American security crisis. EPN has not done much more than pay lip service to US-Mexico economic and trade relations. Furthermore, he has failed to offer any concrete solutions to the issue of migration. An interesting fact that Miroff and Booth touch on in their article is that “Unlike previous [Mexican] presidents who had spent time in the United States and often had attended universities there, Peña Nieto does not speak much English.” I do not believe this would have a substantial impact on US-Mexico relations, but it warrants mentioning because of the complex nature of the US-Mexico relationship. If anything, it only adds to the uncertainty surrounding EPN and his impending election, given that most Mexican polls show that he has maintained a double-digit lead throughout the campaign season.

So, how much will the US-Mexico relationship change after the results are tabulated on July 1? I do not believe anyone knows for sure. Chances are that all of us are in for a few surprises, just like the Mexican people. If they do not yet know EPN, it will be a while until US leadership will. The sooner US leadership gets to know him and his cabinet, the sooner the US-Mexico relationship can continue evolving. However, if EPN continues to take vague policy positions the relationship could be damaged, which is something neither of these two neighbors nor their citizens, can afford. One thing we can all be sure of is that EPN will bring change, but how much and what kind is yet to be seen.

– Max Rava

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