Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has always argued that the best foreign policy is domestic policy. This Wednesday his Government has taken a step aimed at gaining international prominence by denouncing to the United Nations Security Council the unequal distribution of vaccines against covid-19. The foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, placed the country in a position of regional leadership by speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). But at the same time he spoke to Mexicans, who suffer one of the highest mortality rates in the world and delays in the vaccination campaign.
“We urge countries to avoid hoarding vaccines,” claimed Ebrard in the Security Council, of which Mexico is a non-permanent member until next year. The Minister of Foreign Affairs also requested to accelerate the delivery of the doses committed by the Covax multilateral mechanism and “to privilege distribution to countries with fewer resources.” The fact that the immunization schedule in Latin America, with some exceptions such as Chile’s, is far behind the rates of the more developed countries is not the subject of debate. Nor is it that shipments have been slow to arrive. Colombia, for example, whose government has repeatedly exhibited its management of the health emergency, applied the first vaccine on Wednesday.
The foreign minister also presented Mexico as a privileged country, at least within the region. “We have managed to be among the few who have access to vaccines with the support of the European Union, India, China. Thank you all very much, but we have to look out for everyone else and those of us who have possibilities have to be in solidarity with those who do not have them, ”he said. These elements, together with the substance of the complaint, apparently modify the diplomatic strategy adopted so far by López Obrador, who has avoided taking the lead in the great geopolitical debates in Latin America.
However, what at first glance may seem like a change in position occurs in a precise context. Mexicans have been assisting in a fight against the coronavirus pandemic for a year with erratic results. The country is the fifth in the world, after Peru, Ecuador, Kazakhstan and Bolivia, with the highest excess of deaths: more than 300,000, that is, 234 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a calculation by EL PAÍS. The saturation of hospitals has been a constant for months. The economy slumped 8.5% last year, despite a rebound in the last quarter of 2020. To this are added some statements by the president, especially controversial, such as that the mask “is not essential.” He even refused to recommend it, last week, just in one of his first appearances after overcoming the covid.
The Government has stipulated the purchase of some 234 million vaccines with AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sputnik V, Sinovac and CanSino. Even so, after administering the first dose last Christmas Eve, the country went weeks without receiving new shipments and has just started the mass immunization campaign for those over 60 years of age. The challenge is enormous and consists of vaccinating almost 120 million people for free. But so far, only 750,000 have received at least one dose.
“There are a couple of issues to consider. The first is a reality and it is this hoarding of vaccines, if the covid has done something is to show the existing inequalities both within our societies and in different countries, ”says Mauricio Meschoulam, professor at the Ibero-American University and expert in international relations . “The data is manifesting. Yes you have to make a complaint. Now, Mexico is effectively trying to be a leading voice in this world, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, trying to gather the support of various countries and present leadership ”, he continues. In his opinion, “it is a role that was seen years ago and a foreign policy line that contrasts a bit with the vision of López Obrador.” “This Government is always speaking to an internal audience, when Ebrard speaks it is true that he denounces a reality, but, looking at it a little more as a whole, there is also that question that it is being spoken to an internal audience,” he considers .
Mexico also holds midterm elections in June that will renew the Chamber of Deputies and the governors of 15 of the 32 states. The electoral campaign will take place even in the middle of the health crisis and the Government wants to play both within the country and abroad. The new flag against a distribution of vaccines is framed in a context of diplomatic clashes, especially with Washington. The exoneration of former Secretary of Defense Salvador Cienfuegos, arrested in California and extradited last November, despite drug trafficking charges, strained relations with the United States. Added to that were some statements by López Obrador who ignored the investigations of that country’s anti-drug agency, the DEA; the delay in the recognition of Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump; and, on the economic front, the president’s energy plan, which laminations foreign investment in the electricity sector and has been harshly criticized by the United States.
Ebrard tried to recover the initiative this Wednesday before the world and before the Mexicans. “I reiterate,” emphasized the Foreign Minister, “on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States this call to accelerate access to vaccines to Covax and reduce the evident hoarding that we are facing the entire international community.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.