Though largely overlooked amid the coverage of Mexico’s deteriorating security situation over the past six years, outgoing President Felipe Calderón made noteworthy gains in Mexican foreign policy during his tenure. With the victory in Sunday’s presidential election of Enrique Peña Nieto marking the return to power of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) after 12 years, some might expect a shift in the country’s foreign policy agenda. In considering what Mexico and the world might expect from the incoming Peña Nieto administration, however, it helps to look first at the important developments under Calderón.
Calderón’s first foreign policy challenge was repairing the damage done by his predecessor, Vicente Fox, who undervalued and underfunded Mexico’s diplomacy. Calderón re-empowered the foreign service and mended relations with Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Argentina through dialogue and official visits. He also re-engaged Europe, with the establishment in 2008 of a “strategic partnership,” a designation that the European Union had previously only granted to the United States, China and Brazil. The goal of the new partnership was to increase cooperation on security, trade, human rights and environmental issues.
In reinvigorating dialogue with the U.S., Calderón advanced a select number of priority issues. Among these was allowing Mexican commercial trucks to cross the border, a stipulation of the North American Free Trade Agreement that had been delayed since 1994. After years of vacillation and yielding to the Teamsters Union, the U.S. finally opened the border to Mexican trucking companies in 2011. Another priority issue for Calderón was the idea of shared responsibility in the drug war. Mexico deepened cooperation with the U.S. through programs such as the Mérida Initiative in an effort to decrease trafficking across the border and restore order, but Calderón insisted the U.S. admit partial responsibility and attempt to reduce its massive, consumer demand for drugs. While demand has not varied significantly, the U.S. is increasingly willing to admit that its actions have ramifications on the security situation south of its border.