- Fernández and AMLO are getting close as they pledge vaccine production and distribution in Latin America
- Fernadez wants to bring homegrown leadership to the region and AMLO wants to promote independence from the USA
- Latin America is emerging as a strategic player in international relations
Why is Fernandez in camaraderie with AMLO?
The two are warming Mexico-Argentina relations and undertaking vaccine production and distribution in tandem.
Earlier this year, Argentine president Alberto Fernandez was invited to Mexico City by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to ‘exchange points of view’ and discuss strengthening the economic and diplomatic ties between the second and third biggest economies in the region. They are getting together to form what has been dubbed the ‘Axis of Good’, an emerging Latin American leadership spearheaded by the newest left-leaning governments. AMLO and Fernandez want to lead the region separately from its right wing rulers, led by Guillermo Lasso, Ivan Duque and Jair Bolsonaro. Mexico and Argentina’s budding friendship comes at an unprecedented time of crisis, something neither country is stranger to, but during which neither had previously sought the other. Their past relationship had been amicable at best, with diverting ideological and political objectives, in addition to Mexico’s closeness to the United States which naturally kept it from seeking alliances with South American neighbors.
Fernandez and AMLO nevertheless came together in a bromance worthy of inheriting Latin America’s progressive wing. Besides forming a coalition away from right-wing governments, Fernandez sees Mexico and Argentina as separate from the Bolivarian Axis. As a result of the lost momentum of the abomination Axis, right wing governments reemerged in Ecuador with Lasso, Colombia with Duque, Chile, Paraguay and Brazil with Bolsonaro. Fernandez and AMLO see themselves as heirs to a progressive, left-leaning project that can counteract the growing conservative movements in Latin America (LATAM). Together, from the head to the heel of the region, they seek to bring a new wave of progressive coalitions.
The visit culminated in the two announcing a partnership to produce and distribute the Swedish-English AstraZeneca vaccine across Latin America. In partnership with Sweden and Oxford, Mexico and Argentina will provide up to 150 million doses to Latin American and Caribbean countries in desperate need of relief, excluding Brazil. The undertaking consists of Argentina’s production of the contents of the vaccine, which will then be sent to Mexico where they will be packaged in locally manufactured vials and distributed across Central and South America.
What does Fernandez want?
To form a coalition of left-wing governments in Latin America, bringing homegrown leadership to the region.
Fernandez wants to create a regional left-wing coalition between this new ‘generation’ of leaders who are giving a fresh face to left-wing governments. In particular, growing local leadership is an important step in the shifting power dynamics of Latin America. Both leaders have denounced the World Health Organization and the United Nations for not pushing Western nations strongly enough to lift patent protections on the vaccines. Furthermore, they criticized pharmaceutical companies for favoring the business of the global north, leaving less developed nations in an indefinite precarious position. So far, the EU, the COVAX program, and especially China and Russia have supplied the bulk of the jabs in LATAM.
For the lack of permissions to develop new vaccines with mRNA technologies or other methods, Fernandez and AMLO secured a partnership with Oxford-AstraZeneca to produce and distribute their own share of the vaccines. Mexico and Argentina’s camaraderie showcases an initiative for homegrown leadership that is not often seen in the region. The ‘Axis of Good’ is meant to represent a new era of progressive policies and cooperation from the north to the south of LATAM. Fernandez wants to show that left-wing governments can be counted on not only to lead domestically, but also to bring their countries to influential positions abroad.
What does AMLO want?
AMLO wants Mexico to be independent from the United States and take on ‘Mexican’ projects that strengthen the nation.
AMLO wants Mexico to be independent from Biden. His bromance with Fernandez breaks from his customary foreign policy. Under AMLO’s six-year term, he maintained a traditional Mexican approach to foreign policy, which derives from the popular slogan, ‘a good domestic policy makes for a good foreign policy.’ In general, Mexico remains neutral and does not make many efforts to reach out to other countries for collaboration or confrontation. Even in a press conference with Fernandez, he refused to comment on Fernandez’s recent VIP vaccine scandal.
This passivity is enabled by the fact that the United States has regularly played a leadership role in LATAM, but especially in North America, not leaving much room for Mexico to pursue leadership in the region. AMLO has repeatedly expressed that Mexico should emerge from his presidency as an independent sovereign nation who does not operate under the thumb of the United States, and instead enjoys an egalitarian bilateral relationship with them.
This camaraderie with Fernandez is a step toward the progressive, anti-neoliberal direction AMLO wants to take the country. It breeds regional independence not only from the United States, but from institutions like the European Union and the United Nations.
What is AMLO doing?
AMLO is putting his (Carlos Slim’s) money where his mouth is.
AMLO has newly committed efforts towards getting Mexico, the country with the fourth worst Covid-19 death toll in the world, out of the pandemic and into a state of growth and renewed nationalist pride. He partnered with the Carlos Slim Foundation, an organization led by Mexican telecommunications tycoon Carlos Slim, to broker and in large part finance the deal with AstraZeneca. This process took his organization about 10 weeks, but Slim’s philanthropy will now put approximately 150 million doses in the arms of people across Central and South America and the Caribbean.
The use of private enterprise for this undertaking is significant because AMLO typically criticizes large corporations (which Slim owns) and corruption within the government (which Slim has contributed to). While this may be seen as a set-back in AMLO’s anti-corporation ideologies, it instead showcases his aspirations to appear as a strong, decisive leader for the country. Despite the involvement of Slim in these negotiations, the partnership is a win for AMLO’s government.
Who is winning and what about you?
LATAM is quickly emerging as a strategic player in international relations.
In a phrase that sounds like it came out of the Twilight Zone, Latin America is winning. The tacit retreat in American leadership in LATAM left a gap in leadership in the region. Large international players have been scrambling during the pandemic to fill these vacuums and vie for an influential position in LATAM. Xi Jinping, particularly, has used the pandemic to exercise soft power over LATAM and the Caribbean, pursuing his political and economic goals. The Chinese vaccines are amongst the most used across South America; China has given over 123 million doses to Latin countries. Through health diplomacy, Xi is gaining access to leverage that aids their diplomatic relations. Some examples include pressuring some countries to cut ties with Taiwan in exchange for vaccines or expanding their access to the hotly demanded LATAM commodities market.
Xi is not the only interested player here. Pedro Sanchez, has been pushing the European Union to finalize a deal with Mercosur as well as Chile and Mexico to give the EU an economic foothold in a region that is quickly turning from the USA to China for investment and trade. Biden, however, appears nonchalant about the security of the USA’s leadership, and has only recently pledged 80 million doses, with no information as to their destination. They have additionally aided Mexico with several surplus Pfizer and Moderna doses.
There is no question that LATAM’s status as a coveted investment opportunity has only grown during the pandemic, as well as the new access to commodities in countries like Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru. Covid-19 and the implicit withdrawal of Biden’s leadership in the region during the pandemic has left a stark gap in the power dynamics of LATAM. Amidst an international scramble for Latin American resources, AMLO and Fernandez have managed to step into the gap themselves. This camaraderie shows promise in the future of Latin American and Caribbean cooperation and integration. With the possibility of Lula in Brazil and Castillo in Peru soon joining the ‘Axis of Good,’ this partnership is important to watch out for as it will prove key for the future of Latin American relations with China, the EU, and the US.