June 3, 2024 | Washington Examiner

Mexico’s Election Results Do Not Bode Well for the US

June 3, 2024 | Washington Examiner

Mexico’s Election Results Do Not Bode Well for the US

Nearly 60 million Mexicans on Sunday voted to elect their next president for a nonrenewable, six-year term. Former Mexico City head of government Claudia Sheinbaum won in a landslide, giving the ruling Morena party a continued hold on executive power.

But missing from the U.S. headlines is that Morena and its coalition partners could receive a qualified majority in both chambers of Mexico’s Congress once all the votes are counted. If this majority imposes unilateral changes to Mexico’s Constitution that undermine the country’s democratic institutions, the growing economic, political, and security crisis between the United States and Mexico would only deepen.

The last six years of Morena rule have pushed the U.S.-Mexico relationship in a negative direction. Under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who tacitly picked Sheinbaum as Morena’s candidate, the security situation has worsened, more than 200,000 Americans have died from fentanyl synthesized by cartels in Mexico while millions of migrants illegally cross the U.S. border each year, and the Mexican government has undermined years of progress to open up its economy to more investment and targeted U.S. firms.

Whether it’s President Joe Biden or President Donald Trump who begins a second term in the White House next year, making concrete progress on these challenges with Sheinbaum’s new government must be a top U.S. national security policy. The current Lopez Obrador-Biden approach has left the relationship worse off.

While China is the foreign policy watchword in Washington, Mexico is one of America’s most important (and complex) bilateral relationships. From nearshoring of supply chains from China to cartel violence, what happens in Mexico can affect U.S. economic and homeland security significantly.

The same nearly 2,000-mile border that now sees nearly 2 million illegal crossings each year is also a massive economic engine, with $2 billion of goods crossing back and forth each day. Last year, Mexico was our largest trading partner, exceeding total U.S. goods trade with China and Japan combined. And the people-to-people ties across that border are unparalleled — 11% of Americans are of Mexican descent, and an estimated 33 million Americans travel to Mexico annually.

That’s why the Biden administration’s deeply broken approach to Mexico is a significant failure. Despite flashy joint statements and shuttle diplomacy with Lopez Obrador, there has been little progress in key areas of the bilateral relationship.

Tens of thousands of pounds of fentanyl synthesized in Mexico continue to cross the border each year. While Mexico has recently stepped up its immigration enforcement to reduce pressure on the U.S. border, those steps cannot make up for the Biden administration’s failure to secure the border and disincentivize illegal immigration. The result: Nearly 10 million illegal border crossings since Biden took office and more than 3 million migrants released into the U.S. with court notices years in the future.

On trade, the Biden administration has repeatedly failed to enforce the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement in the face of unilateral Mexican violations that hurt American workers and make Mexico less attractive for foreign investment. And bilateral security cooperation is at a standstill. High-profile extraditions aside, Mexico’s major drug cartels and criminal organizations exercise control of a growing amount of territory and have developed capabilities usually reserved for militaries with illegal weapons smuggled from the U.S.

In her victory speech, Sheinbaum said, “With the United States, we will have a relationship of friendship, mutual respect, and equality, as it has been until now.” Given the breadth of challenges in the relationship, following through on this rhetoric will be difficult.

The central premise of Sheinbaum’s campaign was continuing Lopez Obrador’s political project, yet in key areas, the extent to which she will emulate Lopez Obrador’s approach or go her own way is unknown. For example, Sheinbaum has promised to adopt the policing approach she implemented in Mexico City across the country, yet militarized cartels in places such as Jalisco, Michoacan, and Sinaloa present a different challenge than what she confronted in the capital.

Left unsaid is whether she will accept greater security assistance from the U.S. to confront the cartels and pervasive impunity in Mexico’s justice system after Lopez Obrador’s persistent criticism of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Additionally, Sheinbaum will have to address trade disputes with the U.S. ahead of the 2026 joint review of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, where one major issue will be American concerns about China’s growing activity and influence in Mexico.

With the American election next on the calendar, the relationship with Mexico will likely feature prominently. According to several major national polls, the border is one of the top issues of concern for U.S. voters after the economy and inflation. The next administration will need cooperation from Sheinbaum and her government as part of any plan to address the border crisis and fentanyl epidemic or to make nearshoring to Mexico a successful component of U.S. economic strategy in the competition with China. Obtaining this cooperation and seeing real results, however, will require a tougher U.S. approach.

A secure and prosperous Mexico is in the interest of both countries and could make Mexico a critical strategic partner for the United States in the competition with China. But if a new, unconstrained Morena government in Mexico City insists on continuing on the current path,  things will get worse before they get better — to the detriment of millions on both sides of the border.

Connor Pfeiffer is the director of congressional relations at FDD Action and a former national security adviser to a member of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. His X handle is @ConnorPfeiffer.

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