By Frank Jack Daniel
MEXICOCITY (Reuters) – The prospect of a more united Latin American left grew on Monday after the incoming president of Argentina and his Mexican counterpart discussed reviving a regional diplomatic alternative to the Washington-backed Organization of American States.
Latin American countries have oscillated between left-wing and conservative governments, often with radically different economic and social policies, over the past few decades.
Since last year, anger at corruption, inequality and poverty have pushed conservatives out in Mexico and Argentina, while fuelling protests in recent weeks that forced Ecuador and Chile to water down liberal economic policies.
Argentina’s president-elect Alberto Fernandez used his first foreign trip since winning office last month to proclaim a new era of leftist cooperation, in an apparent bid to demonstrate he will not be isolated despite South American neighbour Brazil’s right-wing government.
“I am determined to make Latin America united again, to again join forces to face the challenge of globalisation in another way,” Fernandez told reporters in Mexico’s presidential palace after meeting with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Next year, Mexico will assume the presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a regional body established in Venezuela during late President Hugo Chavez’s government that has lost influence in recent years.
“That is a chance to boost one of the organisms, one of the spaces for integration that have been forgotten recently,” Fernandez said of the organization, seen by some on the left as a future counterweight to the OAS, which they argue is a vehicle for U.S. influence in Latin America.
Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for Latin America lent credence to the idea of the region’s second and third largest economies working together from opposite ends of the continent to revive the grouping known as CELAC.
“Mexico and Argentina have in front of them the opportunity to promote the repositioning of Latin America in the world,” Maximiliano Reyes wrote in the La Jornada daily.
Apart from managing Mexico’s relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, Lopez Obrador has not taken a prominent global role so far, skipping events like the Group of 20 Summit and the U.N. General Assembly.
However, he has stepped back from his predecessor’s robust criticism of Venezuela’s current socialist leader President Nicolas Maduro – instead pursuing Mexico’s traditional policy of non-intervention in other countries’ affairs.
Under U.S. sanctions and declared an illegitimate president by right-leaning governments in the region, Maduro praised Lopez Obrador and Fernandez in a speech in Cuba on Sunday, calling them leaders of a new progressive front in Latin America.
“New winds are blowing,” said Maduro, who has presided over an economic meltdown and who is accused of abuses by rights groups.
Mexico and Argentina’s new foreign policy, combined with the protests and allegations of rights violations by Chilean security forces was “very good news for Maduro,” said David Smilde, a Latin America expert at Tulane University and senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.
Still, when asked if he would pursue a stronger alliance with like-minded governments in the region, Lopez Obrador demurred on Monday, stressing he had a “very good” relationship with Trump.
When asked to comment on Maduro’s praise for him, Lopez Obrador again sought to occupy the middle ground.
“Not to show off, but the same thing president Maduro is saying, president Trump is saying.”
Different in style to Chavez, who revelled in verbal clashes with the U.S. “empire,” or jailed former Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who felt at home on the global stage, Lopez Obrador was unlikely to announce himself leader of any bloc, said Mexican academic John Ackerman.
But the Mexican president’s return to Mexico’s non-interventionist stance was equally important and was acting as a “wall of contention” against those interested in meddling in other countries, said Ackerman, a constitutional law expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who is close to Lopez Obrador’s administration.
“People said Mexico arrived late to the pink tide, and now it’s arriving early to the second pink tide,” said Ackerman, using a term that described the election of socialist governments in Latin America in the early 2000s.
“It’s not a straggler, it’s a leader of this new wave.”
(Additional reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez, Daina Beth Solomon and Dave Graham in Mexico City, Anthony Boadle in Brasilia and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)