Unlike other Latin American leftists who have become globetrotting stars, Mexico’s presidential front-runner has little interest in foreign affairs, preferring the intricacies of creating local jobs to international treaties.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says if he wins the election in July he will put dealings with the rest of the world on the backburner while he gets on with his life-long ambition of tackling Mexico’s endemic poverty.
“Lopez Obrador is not a politician who wants to have a continental movement or who aspires to having a foreign policy with a lot of international initiatives,” the candidate’s chief political aide, Manuel Camacho Solis, told Reuters.
Mexico’s status in the world will rise if it can first get its own house in order by cutting the income gap and fighting corruption, Lopez Obrador says.
“I am convinced that if things are working in my country and there is development, political stability with justice and democracy then we will be respected in the world,” he told a rally in the border city of Ciudad Juarez this week.
“Foreign policy will be an extension of domestic policy,” said the leftist, who has headed opinion polls for the last three years and has a lead of around 8 points over his main rivals.
He did not mention any other countries except the United States in what he had billed as a major foreign policy speech.
His lack of concern for diplomatic affairs has sparked the untrue rumor among opponents in Mexico City’s posh suburbs that he does not even hold a passport.
Lopez Obrador’s stay-at-home style contrasts with that of Bolivian President Evo Morales, who launched a tour of Europe and China straight after winning elections last year and caught the world media’s eye by wearing the same homely sweater on every stop.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has made the leap from former metalworker to global politics player with relative ease, but Lopez Obrador often looks uncomfortable discussing the world beyond Mexico.
One relationship he cannot afford to neglect is with main trading partner the United States, Camacho Solis said.
Lopez Obrador has deliberately avoided the type of anti-U.S. rhetoric increasingly heard in Latin America, so as to keep his mind on winning the election and trying to drag millions of Mexicans out of poverty, the aide said.
Hope for good relations with U.S.
The candidate said in Ciudad Juarez he wanted to get on well with Washington. The tens of millions of Mexicans living in the United States send home around $20 billion a year to friends and family. The immigrants’ welfare is a key issue in Mexican politics.
“We need to have good relations with the United States. We live on the money our families send from there,” said retired construction worker Juan Ramirez, 67, whose seven children live in five U.S. states
President Vicente Fox is a frequent traveler to regional and world summits and critics complain he has produced little from his globe-trotting.
A Fox plan for an immigration accord with the United States to legalize millions of Mexican undocumented workers has not materialized after five years of trying.
But a U.S. Senate panel last week neared agreement on a proposal that would give some of the 12 million illegal aliens living in the country, most of them Mexicans, an opportunity to earn citizenship.
Fox has allowed Mexico’s relations with the rest of Latin America to chill and Lopez Obrador would eventually mend that, Camacho Solis said.