- Gerardo Lissardy
- BBC World News
In addition to the rigorous notes on their labels, the 2.5 million doses of anticovid-19 vaccines that the United States plans to send to Mexico will carry an implicit political message: Washington is cooperating again in the south of the continent.
The White House announcement that it plans to share those AstraZeneca vaccines with Mexico and another 1.5 million doses with Canada is one of President Joe Biden’s first steps in the “vaccine diplomacy”.
Biden had already indicated his intention to distribute in “the rest of the world” the surplus dose that his country has and now he begins with the two neighbors with whom he shares a border.
This occurs at a time when the US seeks Mexico’s help to control the flow of migrants north.
In this context, the shipment of US vaccines south of the border is viewed by experts as a wink in particular to Mexico and in general to Latin America, where the coronavirus rages and doses are lacking to contain it.
“This is something that reflects the desire to strengthen alliances that have weakened in recent years and show that the US is willing to cooperate on an issue where there is greater need in Latin America,” says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a regional analysis center in Washington.
“In that regard, it is the most significant gesture and decision so far (of the Biden government) regarding Latin America. But it is a step that should become a more serious policy, extending it to the rest of the continent,” Shifter tells BBC World.
Both the US and Mexico avoided this Thursday to present the agreement for vaccines as a transaction.
This in itself is a difference with respect to former US President Donald Trump, who publicly demanded migration pacts from Mexico and Central American countries in exchange for trade or economic aid.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter that the agreement with the US “would be the beginning of a broad cooperation in vaccines.”
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, denied for her part that the shipment of vaccines is related to the immigration situation, but admitted that both issues are on the bilateral table simultaneously.
“There is rarely a single issue that is being discussed with any country at the same time.”said Psaki at a press conference. “Certainly, that is not the case in Mexico.”
Biden has also sought to bury Trump’s immigration policy, by suspending cooperation agreements with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, beginning to process the asylum applications in the US of thousands waiting in Mexico, and stopping the construction of a border wall. .
But at the same time, Washington has requested Mexico’s help in trying to cut off a growing flow of migrants north, which threatens to unleash a border crisis.
This matter was present in a videoconference that Biden held this month with his Mexican counterpart Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who in turn raised the need to obtain anticovid vaccines in his country.
Specialists believe that the shipment of the 2.5 million doses of AstraZeneca it may lead Mexico to cooperate more with the US on migration.
“We are not demanding that Mexico give us something in return. But I think it is implicit,” says Alan McPherson, an expert on US relations with Latin America who directs the Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy in the Temple University.
“It would be perfectly understandable if Mexico saw this as a favor from the US wanting something in return. For example, an action to reduce the number of migrants arriving at the border,” McPherson tells BBC Mundo.
This same Thursday, citing the need to “prevent the spread of covid-19,” Mexico announced restrictions on land traffic for non-essential activities on its northern and southern borders.
The measure, which in principle will last from this Friday until April 19 and will include a border “health control”, may in fact contribute to cutting off migratory transit.
And the rest of the region?
For now, it is unknown if the Biden government plans to send vaccines to other Latin American countries.
With more than a quarter of the deaths from covid-19 worldwide, despite having only 8% of the global population, the region has been especially hit by the pandemic.
In recent months, China and Russia have taken a considerable advantage over the US in Latin America in using their vaccines for diplomatic purposes.
But doses are still in short supply in the region, vaccination campaigns are progressing slowly and claims for vaccines are increasing.
Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva suggested to Biden on Wednesday that he send doses to his country, the second in the world with the most deaths from coronavirus and where a historical collapse of health services occurs.
“We know that the US has vaccines that it is not using,” Lula said in an interview with CNN. “Those vaccines could be, who knows, donated to Brazil or other poorer countries that they cannot buy.”
In some South American countries, questions have even begun to be heard about the attention that Washington pays to the region.
“When we ask ourselves what the US can do for Mercosur, well, first of all listen to us, because until today it seems that the only one who listens to us is China,” said Uruguayan Foreign Minister Francisco Bustillo, during a virtual conference organized by the Atlantic Council Analysis Center in Washington.
Uruguay is one of the Latin American countries that has China as the main supplier of vaccines.
However, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, assured in a recent interview with the BBC that his country is determined to be “an international leader in vaccination.”
In this sense, Biden faces the challenge of meeting the international demand for doses and at the same time continuing to accelerate the vaccination of Americans, which according to the White House is its highest priority.
Unlike the US, Canada and Mexico have already licensed the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has made shipping easier.
But some see this as the possible first chapter of a Washington regional strategy.
“We could predict that the US will try to do this with other Latin American countries,” says McPherson.
“Would smart diplomacy in a way, because on the one hand, you could receive something in return and, on the other, it is good for the international system that there are more people in the hemisphere and the world vaccinated. ”
Shifter warns that The US must avoid “applying political criteria” for the distribution of vaccines in Latin America, where in his opinion China is “winning” the race to Washington in the fight against the pandemic.
“The US has to show that when it talks about cooperation it is not pure rhetoric, that there are actions behind it,” he says.
“This (the shipment of vaccines to Mexico and Canada) is important, but beyond that there has to be a plan at the hemispheric level.”
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.