UCD Politics and International Relations Society welcomed Mr. Miguel Malfavón, the Mexican Ambassador to Ireland, on Monday evening, to give a talk titled ‘Mexico 2018: A New Political Reality’. The event began with an introduction video that aimed to explain Mexico’s place within a global setting; Mexico is home to ten per cent of the entire world’s wildlife, the country hosts over thirty-five million tourists every year and has a population of a hundred and twenty-five million.
Ambassador Malfavón went on to explain that, politically, Mexico is domestically focussed for the time being. The victory of left-wing politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador over the centrist candidates in the presidential election earlier this year has created an atmosphere of uncertainty in Mexico. Interestingly, this was Mexico’s largest election ever with 89 million eligible to vote, with 53% of them, that is 30 million voters, casting their ballots.
In terms of trade, Mexico is a hugely significant player in the Americas, with the largest GDP within the North American Trade Agreement apart from the United States. Malfavón describes Mexico’s economy as very open these days, but he can still recall the days when Mexicans would not be able to purchase branded trousers or Nike shoes, only off-brand clothing of a much lesser quality.
It was Mexico’s admission into the World Trade Organisation in 1995 that allowed the country to open their economy and begin forming trade agreements. The most important trade relationship for Mexico is with the United States. Trade between these two countries brings in an average of one million dollars a day. American companies will often establish bases in Mexico because Mexico has a large population of labour and relatively easy economic access to other places. The economies of Mexico and the United States are intricately and intensely linked, Malfavón followed this by stating that 30 US states see Mexico as ‘the first port of call for the manufacture or sale of products.’
Relations between Mexico and the United States have been heightened over the last two years at the hands of Trump’s racist rhetoric. Malfavón posets that there is very little anti-American feeling remaining in the Mexican government, and yet anti-Mexican sentiment is always amplified in America during election times because it wins votes. The recent midterms being a very obvious example of this. The Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso visited Washington eighteen times last year, which is incredibly more frequent than any other foreign minister.
The Drug Industry was obviously a topic for discussion with Malfavón. The Ambassador made a point of specifying that the consumption and use of drugs is not just a Mexican issue, but explicitly a cross-border issue; increasing demand from the US market is increasing production in Mexico. Historically, Mexico was a country of transit for countries like Peru, Chile and Colombia to export through, rather than a producer itself. Unfortunately, institutional weakness in Mexico and an obvious gap in the American market led to the initial production of drugs in Mexico. Now cartels across Mexico compete against each other for access to the US. Malfavón also recognises that drug production in Mexico stems from severe poverty, a lack of education and easy financial benefits of the drug trade and the Mexican government is now pivoting their policy on poverty in an attempt to improve the lives of the unemployed and uneducated and deter them from joining the drug trade.
Unfortunately, the US influences the media that we consume in Ireland. Meaning that the most recent time South and Central America was in the news was to do with the migrant Caravan and Trump’s fearmongering to his voters. There is a 4000 person strong caravan moving towards the US border with the aim of applying for asylum in America when they arrive.
Contrary to American perceptions, there are more migrants returning to Mexico than there are migrating to the US. Malfavón shared a personal story about how his family would use unsafe criminal routs to return to Mexico to tend to their farm.
Mexico wants to have complete cooperation with the US in all aspects of migration. With the help of the UN, Mexico aims to grant refugee status for all migrants travelling through Mexico in order to provide them with food, shelter and healthcare.
When asked about the crisis in Venezuela, he accepted that Mexico may not necessarily agree with the conduct of the government in Venezuela, but the only to interact with them is through negotiation and offering aid.
Ambassador Miguel Malfavón was invited to UCD by the North American Latin American team of the UCD Politics and International Relations Society and the talk was moderated by Conor Dunne and Killian O’Donnell. Auditor Conor Capplis expressed that ‘it was both a pleasure and an honour’ to have him visit UCD.
By Muireann O’Shea – CoEditor & Aaron Collier – Politics Writer