The Limits of Mexico and Argentina’s Regional Leadership

The Limits of Mexico and Argentina’s Regional Leadership
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, center left, with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez in Iguala, Mexico, Feb. 24, 2021 (AP photo by Eduardo Verdugo).

Last month, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called for the Organization of American States to be replaced “by a body that is truly autonomous, not anybody’s lackey.” AMLO, as Lopez Obrador is popularly known, delivered the remarks during a meeting in Mexico of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, a regional grouping that excludes the United States and Canada. His comments underscored the long-standing perception among many Latin American leaders that the OAS is too closely aligned with Washington, spurring many leaders to try to find alternatives over the years. Persistent mistrust of the OAS has also rendered the consensus-driven body ineffective at solving many thorny regional issues. 

When Mexico assumed CELAC’s rotating two-year presidency in January 2020, AMLO’s administration emphasized the objective of making CELAC the main forum for regional issues. Mexico’s efforts to strengthen CELAC have also been backed by Argentine President Alberto Fernandez, who has developed a kind of bromance with AMLO. The two leftist leaders have deepened their countries’ historically close ties and coordinated on regional initiatives such as COVID-19 vaccine distribution. In a briefing for WPR earlier this year, Antonio Huizar wrote that the Mexico-Argentina partnership had potential to become “an alternative pole of power” in a region “currently characterized by a leadership vacuum, and where internal fractures and crises have caused many countries to become increasingly inward-looking.”

Mexico and Argentina’s efforts to find an alternative to the OAS have merit, considering that the world’s oldest regional body has rarely been effective. Most recently, the OAS was forced to postpone a meeting on Cuba following the historic protests that rocked the communist country last month, due to divisions among member states about the purpose of the meeting. Caribbean nations and leftists from Latin American voiced concerns that any discussion of Cuba at the OAS “could only satisfy political hawks with an eye on US mid-term elections where winning South Florida with the backing of Cuban exiles would be a prize,” Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the OAS, wrote for the online outlet Caribbean News Global. The organization also faced questions about its impartiality in the aftermath of Bolivia’s contested presidential election of 2019. While the OAS released a statement at the time deeming the polls fraudulent, independent researchers later discovered serious flaws with the methodology the OAS used in its statistical analysis. 

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