Andres Oppenheimer

If López Obrador wins Mexico’s presidential election, it will be a setback for democracy in Venezuela

Andrés Manuel López Obrador says that, if elected president of Mexico, he will not intervene in other countries’ affairs.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador says that, if elected president of Mexico, he will not intervene in other countries’ affairs. AP

There’s bad news for supporters of democracy in Latin America: Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the front-runner in Mexico’s July 1 presidential election, plans to appoint foreign-policy dinosaurs to his cabinet. And his would-be appointees say they will not criticize Venezuela’s dictatorship.

López Obrador is a leftist populist politician, but he is not a Hugo Chávez or a Fidel Castro. In fact, when I interviewed him when he was mayor of Mexico City, I got the impression that he has little knowledge of — and no interest in — foreign policy.

But he has recently said that, if elected, he will return to Mexico’s old-guard foreign policy of “nonintervention” in other countries’ affairs.

“Nonintervention” is the excuse used by totalitarian states such as Cuba and Venezuela — as well as by Mexico’s authoritarian governments in the 20th century — to justify their support for other dictatorships and to defend themselves against outside criticism of their human-rights abuses.

López Obrador announced recently that, if elected, he would appoint as his foreign minister Hector Vasconcelos, who has served as ambassador to Denmark, Norway and Iceland.

Vasconcelos subsequently said that he would put an end to Mexico’s current activism in diplomatic efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela. What’s more, Vasconcelos said he wouldn’t even criticize Venezuela’s regime.

Asked at a May 17 roundtable on Mexico’s “Es Hora de Opinar” television show if he would have signed a recent statement by 14 Latin American countries demanding the restoration of the rule of law in Venezuela — as did Mexico’s current government — Vasconcelos responded, “I don’t think so.”

He added, “This is a strictly internal matter of Venezuela. We believe we shouldn’t even express opinions about strictly internal matters.”

To be fair, López Obrador and Vasconcelos are not the only foreign-policy dinosaurs who are being resurrected on the world stage.

President Donald Trump and his top foreign-policy advisers are much in the same league, reviving pro-authoritarian, protectionist and thinly veiled racist policies that most of us believed were a thing of the past.

Trump’s praise for the authoritarian rulers of Russia, Egypt, Turkey and even — depending on the day — North Korea, without bringing up their human-rights violations, marks a return to when the United States turned a blind eye to countries’ rights abuses.

At the same time, Trump’s 80-year-old commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, is asking for a 25 percent tax on auto imports in the name of “national security,” using a language like the one that led to the trade wars that accelerated the Great Depression of 1930.

Mexico’s return to the “noninterventionist” foreign policy that it discarded at least two decades ago would be a major setback for Latin America’s diplomatic efforts in Venezuela. Without Mexico, the Group of Lima — 14 major countries that seek democracy in Venezuela — would lose one of its biggest and most active members.

Last week, I asked Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, about López Obrador’s campaign vows to abstain from criticizing Venezuela. Videgaray said that while Mexico should oppose any violent outside intervention in Venezuela, it should not remain indifferent to the Venezuelan regime’s abuse of basic rights.

The principle of “nonintervention” was understandable during the Cold War, and at a time when Mexico was a “pre-democratic country,” but it’s no longer justified today, he told me. At that time, Mexico took refuge behind the “nonintervention” concept to stop other countries from criticizing its own political system’s shortcomings, he said.

“But today, Mexico has to assume a global responsibility, and that includes not to look the other way when we see violations of the rule of law like the ones we’re seeing in Venezuela,” Videgaray added.

I agree. Since the horrors of Nazism and Communism in World War II, the world has evolved to accept the idea that countries cannot remain indifferent to the violation of basic rights in other nations. Unfortunately, the foreign-policy dinosaurs seem to be coming back, everywhere.

Watch the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 8 p.m. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera