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Amlo visits Central America and Cuba

DAVID RABY reports on the Mexican president’s whistle-stop five-country tour

FROM May 5-8 Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador visited Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Cuba. 

It was a lightning tour, but it was no mere formality: in each country significant announcements were made and agreements signed. 

In Central America the key themes were migration and regional development, and in Cuba, solidarity against the blockade; and Amlo’s statements and actions sent direct and explicit messages to Washington. 

With Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, Amlo emphasised “joint actions to reduce the structural causes of irregular migration.” 

As he has repeatedly said to President Joe Biden and other US officials, illegal migration and people-trafficking cannot be halted by repressive actions alone, but only by improving conditions in the communities of origin. 

This is why Mexico has, at its own expense and with remarkable generosity, begun applying two of Amlo’s key social programmes in neighbouring countries: Sembrando Vida, “Sowing Life” — an agroforestry scheme providing direct support for peasant farmers and the environment — and “Young People Building the Future” which provides paid apprenticeships to those aged 18 to 29 in neither education nor employment. 

In addition Mexico has agreed to simplify procedures so that 30,000 Guatemalan migrants working in plantations in Chiapas can register for Mexican social security benefits. 

Moving on to El Salvador, Amlo studiously avoided ideological differences with right-wing President Nayib Bukele and exalted — as he had done in Guatemala — the countries’ common history and culture, going back millennia. 

The Mexican president pointed out that El Salvador is the Central America country which has advanced furthest in applying Mexico’s programmes in the past two years, with 10,000 Salvadoreans already participating in Sowing Life. 

Another 10,000 Salvadoreans are enrolled in the apprenticeship scheme, and many of them said that before enrolment they were considering emigration, but not any more.

In Honduras the same Mexican programmes are now being introduced, but have only just begun because it is only in the last few months that the country’s right-wing dictatorship has fallen and progressive President Xiomara Castro has come to power. 

The sympathy, indeed close bonding between Amlo and Xiomara was immediately apparent. After discussing their common history, Amlo pointed out that both countries had now left behind “the long night of neoliberalism.” 

Xiomara declared that she is introducing an alternative economic model and celebrated Mexico’s “object lesson of solidarity.”

The Honduran president is introducing an electricity reform to bring this crucial resource into the public sector, just as Amlo is doing, and the Mexican president did break diplomatic protocol to declare that he fully supports her initiative.  

From Honduras, on to Belize, the small former British colony which has had a rather distant relationship with neighbours Mexico and Guatemala. 

Belizean PM John Briceno gave a warm greeting in fluent Spanish, and Amlo announced the removal of all Mexican tariffs, giving free access to Belizean agricultural produce. 

There was agreement for Sowing Life to be introduced to Belize, initially for 2,000 beneficiaries, a “game-changer” in Briceno’s words. 

In each country Amlo pointed out that Biden had promised to join in this effort to promote Central American development by contributing $4 billion (US) to greatly expand application of the Mexican programmes, but as yet, not a single dollar has arrived.

In Amlo’s words, the delay in approving the $4bn for Central America is “inexplicable” when Washington already approved $30bn for the war in Ukraine. 

The messages to Washington became stronger and bolder with the final leg of Amlo’s tour, in Cuba on May 8. 

In a joint press conference with President Diaz-Canel Amlo repeated Mexico’s firm opposition to the US blockade. 

“The model [of US domination and intervention] imposed on all of America two centuries ago is exhausted. It is time to explore another option, of dialogue with the United States to persuade them to open up to another type of relationship.” 

In this respect also Mexico would insist with President Biden not to exclude any country from the Americas Summit in Los Angeles in June.

Amlo proclaimed his identification with the Cuban Revolution’s ideals of fraternity and equality and his belief that the revolution was engaged in a process of renewal which would be an example for the world.

Cuba and Mexico also signed a new agreement on healthcare, providing for Mexican doctors to undertake specialist training in Cuba and for several hundred Cuban doctors to work in remote areas of Mexico where healthcare is inadequate. Mexico will also acquire Cuban Covid vaccines for children. 

Finally, Amlo repeated forcefully his belief in hemispheric integration, calling for all countries of the region to collaborate on an equal basis. 

In appealing for the US to accept the sovereignty and equality of Latin America and the Caribbean, he refers to Washington’s self-interest with “the unstoppable rise of China” and the need to avoid confrontation and war.

This scenario implies for Amlo integration not only of Latin America and the Caribbean but the US and Canada too, “something like a European Union for America” but with respect for the sovereignty of all. 

He must surely realise that the US is most unlikely to accept such a radical change, abandoning completely its hegemonic pretensions: but given the global crisis of climate emergency and East-West confrontation, his ambitious statesmanship must surely be welcomed. 

David Raby is a retired academic and independent researcher on Latin America. He can be contacted at [email protected] and on Twitter @DLRaby.

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