If Mexico’s President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto’s first tour abroad is any indication of his foreign policy once he takes office, U.S. officials won’t have to lose much sleep: it’s going to look pretty much like Mexico’s current foreign policy.
Peña Nieto’s first foreign tour as president-elect started earlier this week in Guatemala, and was scheduled to include Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Peru before his return to Mexico on Wednesday.
That’s almost the same itinerary as that of outgoing President Felipe Calderón’s first foreign tour as president-elect in October 2006, when he visited Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.
While Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) developed close ties with Cuba and other radical leftist governments around the world in the 1970’s and 1980’s, neither Cuba nor any member of the Venezuelan-led radical leftist ALBA bloc of Latin American countries was included in the president-elect’s tour.
During his visit to Colombia on Tuesday, Peña Nieto stressed his support for free trade. He said that one of his top foreign policy priorities will be to strengthen the Alliance of the Pacific, a free trade bloc created last year between Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico aimed at stepping up Latin America’s Pacific rim countries’ trade with Asia.
The new bloc also hopes to join President Barack Obama’s proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, which could include Japan and several South East Asian nations, and would create the world’s largest single economic bloc.
“As a country, we have to take on a role of greater responsibility in various regional and multilateral institutions, in particular, the Alliance of the Pacific,” Peña Nieto said in an editorial he wrote for Colombia’s daily El Tiempo. “It’s time for us to intensify alongside these sister countries a process of trade and economic integration that allows us to have greater commercial ties with Asia-Pacific.”
In his visit to Sao Paulo, Brazil on Wednesday, Peña Nieto also focused on strengthening business ties. His first stop was a visit to the Federation of Industries of Sao Paulo (FIESP), the country’s most powerful business owners’ group.
Judging from interviews with Peña Nieto’s foreign policy aides, the Mexican president-elect is likely to pick a pragmatist with strong business connections, rather than an ideologue, as his foreign minister.
Among Peña Nieto’s most likely picks for foreign minister are Jose Angel Gurria, the current head of the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the club of the world’s richest countries; former Finance Minister Pedro Aspe; the president-elect’s transition team foreign affairs coordinator Emilio Lozoya, and former Mexican ambassador to Washington Jorge Montano, well-placed Peña Nieto aides tell me.
A senior Peña Nieto foreign policy adviser told me that Lozoya has the best chance, for the simple reason that Peña Nieto has shown a propensity to surround himself with his long-time trusted aides.
Gurria, Aspe and Lozoya have strong connections in the business world, while Montano is closer to Mexico’s diplomatic service. Notably absent from the list is Beatriz Paredes, the former PRI president and former ambassador to Cuba who was reported to be a candidate for the job, and would have been more likely to have steered foreign policy on a more leftward course.
My opinion: Peña Nieto’s post-election words and actions, as shown in his first foreign tour, are sticking to his campaign promise to lead a pragmatic foreign policy, with an emphasis on free trade and investments. My main concern is that it is likely to downgrade Mexico’s growing commitment in recent years to human rights and the collective defense of democracy.
As I wrote in a recent column after interviewing Peña Nieto in Mexico City, when I asked him about his foreign policy positions, he recited Mexico’s old doctrine of “non-interference” in other countries’ affairs — a term that was often used by PRI governments in the 20th century to justify close ties with some of the world’s worst dictatorships — and didn’t mention human rights until I reminded him about them.
Peña Nieto is likely to be less ideological and more business-oriented than other Mexican presidents from his PRI party, but he is also likely to show less concern about democracy and human rights in his United Nations votes than Calderón or his most immediate predecessor, Vicente Fox. Other than that, and perhaps having a more visible foreign minister, he’s not likely to make big changes in Mexico’s foreign policy.