Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s international agenda in the month of September has been emblematic of his foreign policy across his entire five years in office. The leader of the world’s 14th-largest economy—who has rarely left the country during his term in office—skipped the G-20 Summit in New Delhi as well as the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He also announced he would boycott the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco in November due to a dispute over Peru’s participation.
Instead of those high-profile gatherings, Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, traveled to Colombia to participate in a conference with Colombian President Gustavo Petro about reforming counternarcotics policy, and to Chile to attend ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of that country’s 1973 coup. Neither trip led to any significant agreements or commitments, and it’s not even clear why AMLO made them. He returned to Mexico in time for the country’s Independence Day celebrations, in which Russian troops participated in the parade, and then spent several days defending their presence.
AMLO’s approach to foreign policy stands in stark contrast to that of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Across several columns in recent months, I’ve given mixed reviews to Lula’s foreign policy agenda, criticizing his focus on the war in Ukraine and de-dollarization as well as his coziness with dictatorships but praising some of his regional efforts, including initiatives aimed at protecting the Amazon. But above all, and independent of outcomes, Lula consistently shows up and makes an effort to find common ground among the various sides. His activities on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last week included launching a global labor-rights initiative with U.S. President Joe Biden; joining the new Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation, a group of 32 coastal Atlantic countries promoting economic development and environmental protection; and finally sitting down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after months of controversial and tone-deaf statements about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.