Mexico’s populist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is setting a new record for double standards: He is relentlessly questioning the president of Peru’s democratic credentials — after giving a red-carpet welcome and awarding Mexico’s highest medal to the dictator of Cuba.
It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. Lopez Obrador has repeatedly — and falsely — called Peruvian President Dina Boluarte a “usurper” of power. He has also cited her alleged lack of democratic legitimacy to justify Mexico’s refusal to hand over the rotating presidency of the Pacific Alliance trade bloc to Peru.
Reacting to this, the Peruvian Congress on May 24 declared Lopez Obrador “persona non grata” in Peru. While Peru’s Congress may be one of the most unpopular parliaments in the world — it has a 90% disapproval rate, according to a recent IEP poll — it had good reasons to pass its largely symbolic declaration against Lopez Obrador.
While Boluarte can be criticized for many things, constitutional experts agree that — contrary to Lopez Obrador’s claim’s — her appointment as Peru’s president was legal.
Boluarte was constitutionally proclaimed president in December after former leftist President Pedro Castillo was voted out of office by the Peruvian Congress for trying to stage a coup. Castillo was arrested after he announced on national television that he was dissolving Congress and would rule by decree.
When I read Lopez Obrador’s latest statements questioning the Peruvian government’s democratic credentials, I shook my head in disbelief.
Lopez Obrador is trying to come across as an unbending defender of democracy in Peru only three months after he gave a royal welcome in Mexico to Cuban dictator Miguel Diaz-Canel, whose country has not allowed a free election, or independent media, in more six decades.
What’s more, Lopez Obrador awarded Diaz-Canel the Order of the Aztec Eagle medal, Mexico’s highest distinction for foreigners.
More recently, on April 5, Lopez Obrador said in a virtual presidential summit that Cuba “is a place to go live in” — a surprising statement considering the high number of Cubans who risk their lives fleeing the island to escape their misery.
South American diplomats tell me that Mexico’s failure to turn over the rotating presidency of the Pacific Alliance trade group to Peru is hurting the economies of Peru, Chile and Colombia, which, alongside Mexico, make up the group.
“By doing this, Lopez Obrador is torpedoing the Pacific Alliance, which is Latin America’s most efficient integration mechanism,” former Chilean foreign minister Roberto Ampuero told me.
“The group had been successful precisely because it was focused on concrete economic results, rather than ideological discussions,” Ampuero added. “Now, it’s paralyzed, because of Lopez Obrador’s political considerations.”
Among the several theories as to why Lopez Obrador is refusing to hand over the trade bloc’s presidency to Peru, in addition to his sympathy for Peru’s former president Castillo, is that the Mexican president never liked the Pacific Alliance. The group was launched in 2011 by mostly right-of-center presidents, who wanted to increase free trade in the region.
In addition, Lopez Obrador may be trying to create a regional spat to divert Mexicans’ attention from his country’s record rates of violence. New government figures show that Mexico had a record 156,066 homicides last year, which brings the total of violent deaths during Lopez Obrador’s term to an all-time high.
Lopez Obrador may also be targeting Peru’s president because he wants to be a political player in South America. His term ends next year, and he doesn’t want to be overshadowed by the recently elected presidents of Brazil and Colombia as a leader of Latin America’s democratically elected left.
“There has been a traditional tension between Mexico and Brazil for regional leadership,” Ampuero told me. “That may also be playing a role in Lopez Obrador’s dispute with Peru.”
Whatever the reason, Lopez Obrador does not only lack legal grounds to attack Boluarte’s legitimacy, but also the moral authority. How can he lash out against Peru’s democracy, while lauding Cuba’s dictatorship? It doesn’t make any sense, and he should be reminded of it.
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