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He was the voice of Mexico abroad. Now he wants the presidency


MEXICO CITY — He has been Mexico’s face on the international stage for nearly five years and often the country’s leading voice in negotiations with key world leaders, including volatile leaders, like former US President Donald Trump.

Now Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard is testing whether his work on the world stage will translate to votes in Mexico as he competes for the ruling left-wing party’s nomination for next year’s presidential elections. .

The 63-year-old is in the middle of a three-way race with other members of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s inner circle, including Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum and Interior Minister Adán Augusto López.

López Obrador’s Morena party, which he created as a vehicle to secure the presidency, remains an extension of the hugely popular leader, so his words, actions and even body language are closely watched for signs of a favorite.

Among the hurdles Ebrard must overcome is a perception that he has no connection to the party base like the popular López Obrador, and criticism that the US government has imposed its immigration policy on the Mexico, making him do his dirty work under Ebrard’s watch.

Ebrard responded with humorous TikTok videos aimed at connecting with voters, including one of himself in a designer suit eating tacos at a street stall with his wife or turning a stumble into a dance move. repeatedly played to a Bad Bunny song. He recently published an autobiography that casts his immigration negotiations with the Trump administration as a diplomatic victory because Mexico avoided threatened tariffs — and it could have been worse.

In an interview with the AP, Ebrard described himself as a nationalist and progressive who vows to maintain López Obrador’s signature social programs “to create a society where inequality decreases.”

In an administration that insists helping the poor is the priority – about 40% of Mexicans live in poverty – Ebrard says his goal as president would be to grow the relatively small middle class, if he wins the inauguration of the ruling party later this year.

He has more middle-class support than the other leading contenders, experts say, but influencing the party’s low-income base — the voters most in love with López Obrador — could be the deciding factor. Ebrard insists he has that backing.

Ebrard narrowly lost his first attempt to be the left-wing presidential candidate to López Obrador in 2012. Prior to that, he held various positions in the administration of López Obrador’s mayor in Mexico City and later became himself mayor in 2006.

While some call Ebrard a centrist, he points to the passage of legalized abortion and same-sex marriage when he was mayor of Mexico City a decade ago as evidence of his support for progressive policies.

Still, there are doubts about the extent to which his achievements as a top diplomat of a president who has prioritized all things domestic will be on the minds of voters.

Ebrard led Mexico’s efforts to obtain COVID-19 vaccines, working with vaccine producers and pushing multilateral initiatives, but Mexican governors and mayors like Sheinbaum were the ones present when the vaccines were distributed.

“Mexicans are only interested in foreign policy when it concerns the United States and it will have an impact on the price of the dollar,” said Ana Vanessa Cárdenas, a Mexican international analyst currently at Finis Terrae University. in Chile.

On the pervasive violence in the country — Mexicans’ top priority according to polls — Ebrard has so far led unsuccessful efforts to sue U.S. arms manufacturers and gun shops for supplying smuggled weapons. smuggled into Mexico. But as president, like López Obrador, Ebrard says he would rely on the military-controlled National Guard to secure communities rather than rebuild civilian police capacity.

During Ebrard’s tenure, Mexico successfully negotiated a new trade framework with the United States and Canada to replace the outdated North American Free Trade Agreement. The new deal is key to his promise to double Mexico’s annual economic growth if he is elected president in June next year.

Mexico’s proximity to the United States is its greatest advantage as the world emerges from supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ebrard told the AP. Factories and assembly plants are already beginning to move from China to Mexico to be closer to the US market, he said.

But this long shared border with the United States has also created some of Ebrard’s greatest challenges.

Shortly after López Obrador took office in December 2018, the Trump administration implemented the so-called “Stay in Mexico” program that required asylum seekers to wait for their U.S. asylum applications in Mexico. Asylum seekers were concentrated in northern border towns largely controlled by organized crime, exposing migrants to endless kidnappings.

In May 2019, Trump threatened to impose crippling tariffs on all Mexican imports if the Mexican government did not slow the flow of migrants to the US border.

Ebrard immediately flew to Washington, avoiding tariffs and what he said was the real goal of the Trump administration: a safe third country agreement. Under such an agreement, any asylum seeker traveling through Mexico would first have to seek asylum there rather than in the United States.

Instead, Mexico has offered to deploy its newly created National Guard as part of a strategy to contain migrants in southern Mexico, away from the US border.

The number of migrants intercepted at the US border plummeted in the short term, but Mexico has been criticized from home and abroad for allowing the US government to export its immigration policy south.

“The United States has won the battle” on immigration policy, said Silvia Núñez García, a researcher specializing in bilateral relations at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The tariff threat “arose when Mexico decided to accept and manage these flows of irregular migrants inside our territory”.

Ebrard said the return of U.S. asylum seekers to Mexico under a COVID-19 health rule known as Title 42, which was set to expire May 11, was a unilateral decision that Mexico did not. never approved.

That leaves Mexico with two options: deport the returnees to their country or let them into Mexico, he told the AP. “We usually do the second and the United States knows it.”

The Biden administration abandoned Stay in Mexico, but in February announced it would generally deny asylum to migrants who show up at the U.S. border without first seeking protection in a country they have passed through — a a policy that critics say differs only in name from the Safe Third Country Agreement.

If Ebrard “hasn’t been able to stand out in foreign policy, which has been his portfolio, then I don’t think his outlook is very good,” Núñez said, noting that López Obrador’s disinterest in the Foreign Affairs limited Ebrard’s room for manoeuvre. .

Martha Bárcena, a career diplomat who served as Mexico’s ambassador to the United States for the first two years of López Obrador’s presidency, straddling Trump, believes Ebrard’s priority was also not foreign policy.

“He’s a politician and the one thing he’s really dreamed of all his life is to be president,” she said. “There were many areas where he could have been a lot more creative and pushed an agenda that was even more connected to the priorities of the Mexican government, which was to fight poverty, to fight inequality.”

Ebrard has accused Bárcena of “obsessive rancor” since leaving the job. He says he will fight poverty and inequality if elected president.

“For any left-wing government, your goal must be for the middle class to be the majority of the population,” Ebrard said. “In 10 years, we need poverty to be much lower than it is today. … Otherwise, what would be the point of everything we do?

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