WASHINGTON—The United States could see a slowdown in cooperation with Mexico on stemming Central American migration if leading candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador wins July’s election, analysts said at a panel discussion at the Inter-American Dialogue on Friday. “I could see a different platform, frankly, from a López Obrador government” on the issue, said Shannon O’Neil, a vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations.
O’Neil went on to say that putting resources into curbing immigration from south of Mexico’s border would likely be “less of a priority” for López Obrador, also known as AMLO, who has promised to spend more on internal social programs like pensions and scholarships.
The panel agreed that a López Obrador victory on July 1 is far and away the most likely outcome of the race. “Depending on whose numbers you look at, they will give you an expectation of victory for [AMLO] anywhere between 85 and 99 percent,” Enrique Bravo-Escobar, a program officer for the National Endowment for Democracy, said at the event. Bravo-Escobar noted that most significant shifts in public polling for Mexican elections tend to occur in April and early May, though he cautioned that the election is “not over.”
Polls released May 10 showed that Ricardo Anaya, candidate for the left-right “For Mexico in Front” alliance, had narrowed the gap to 4 and 6 percent following the first of three debates, though Bloomberg’s poll tracker still has AMLO 14 points ahead of Anaya.
The United States has seen a precipitous drop in border apprehensions to their lowest level in 46 years despite recently heightened enforcement measures. Some observers attribute the decline to Mexico’s efforts to turn many away and absorb thousands more.
However, López Obrador has signaled far less willingness to work with the United States, demanding that U.S. President Donald Trump treat Mexico with respect. “We will not accept the use of force, the militarization of the border,” AMLO said in a speech in April. On Friday, O’Neil added that she expects a “slowdown” in cooperation on border issues for several months if AMLO assumes the presidency, as his government re-evaluates the country’s stance towards the United States.
The panelists also discussed relations with the business community and Venezuela as potential areas of significant change during an AMLO presidency. “As a businessperson … I’m much more concerned, of course, about López Obrador,” said Juan Pablo del Valle, chairman of Mexichem’s board of directors. AMLO has promised to review contracts granted in Mexico’s oil sector since the 2015 energy reform, as well as a $13 billion project for a new airport in Mexico City. [Editor’s note: See related Q&A in the May 4 edition of Advisor.]