Irony Upon Irony: Mexican Election and Charges of Russian Tampering

As if the 2016 U.S. presidential election wasn’t contentious enough, Mexico stands to be no less divisive and ridden by controversy.  Current front runner for the July 1st presidential contest, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often simply known by the acronym AMLO), is a longtime fixture of the outsider political left, who has incidentally also faced charges of having ties to Russia.  While it’s unclear whether such accusations will stick and have a substantial impact upon the election, they have highlighted Mexican sensititivies regarding outside political interference in the nation’s political affairs.  Predictably, Mexico’s conservative political elites, along with the U.S. national security establishment, have pounced on the Russia story to tarnish AMLO, all of which adds an unlikely and somewhat ironic dimension to the final weeks of the campaign, and that is putting it mildly.

A former mayor of Mexico City and prior candidate for the leftist PRD (or Democratic Revolutionary Party), AMLO later ditched the outfit to create MORENA or National Regeneration Movement.  Voter disaffection with the the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) and its unpopular president Enrique Peña Nieto — who failed to stand up to Donald Trump while  presiding over a series of corruption scandals, a surge in violent crime as well as increasing inequality — gives AMLO an opening and currently the outsider politician leads in the polls against his main PRI, PRD and rightist PAN (National Action Party) adversaries.  With the major political parties in disarray, AMLO’s most significant hurdle may be overcoming possible electoral fraud, a tactic which has been used to block leftist candidates in the past.

National Security Establishment on Mexico

Charges of Russian interference in the Mexican election have been gradually making their way through U.S. establishment circles.  Late last year, a report in Bloomberg declared that “any predictions of such interference remain speculative.  Yet if Russia truly wants to damage the U.S. and weaken the western world order, Mexico’s elections next year offer a more rewarding and more vulnerable target.”  Just a month after the Bloomberg piece appeared, former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster set the alarm bells ringing by explaining rather cryptically that U.S. intelligence had detected “initial signs” of Russia’s “sophisticated campaigns of subversion and disinformation and propaganda” in the Mexican election (in a second, later interview with Voice of America, McMaster echoed such vague claims, declaring that Russia is “active” in Mexico, and in further remarks the National Security Adviser referred to Russia’s “destabilizing behavior” south of the border).

When asked to elaborate on his claims, McMaster failed to respond and the government has similarly failed to release any corroborating information.  In a nutshell, the Center for Strategic and International Studies declared, “hard evidence is difficult to come by.”  Despite such nagging credibility gaps, McMaster’s comments served to feed suspicions both at the domestic level within Mexico and internationally.  The National Security Adviser’s comments were picked up by Mexican newspaper Reforma, and the allegations “quickly spurred furious debate among Mexico’s chattering classes.”  For his part, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the U.S. of encouraging so-called “Russophobia” by circulating rumors about Mexico’s compromised election.  The Russian ambassador in Mexico, meanwhile, has remarked that he doesn’t even know AMLO personally.

Zeroing in on AMLO

McMaster was joined by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who remarked that “We see some of Russia’s fingerprints around elections that have occurred in Europe. … We are seeing similar activity in this hemisphere.”  Speaking at a press conference in Mexico City, Tillerson was asked about allegations of Russian election interference.  “Pay attention.  Pay attention to what’s happening,” he advised his Mexican colleagues.  Pouring gasoline on the fire and exacerbating tensions yet further, the former diplomat remarked that the Monroe Doctrine, which called on European powers to stay clear of the western hemisphere, was “as relevant today as it was the day it was written.”

Though U.S. officials neglected to mention which side, exactly, might benefit from Russian tampering in the Mexican election, McMaster’s comments went viral in Mexico, with social media erupting with memes linked to AMLO.  Chiming in for good measure, the Washington Post claimed the Kremlin was interested in boosting AMLO through propagandistic media network Russia Today (or RT).  The Post notes that RT has been giving “vast amounts of time” to AMLO supporter John Ackerman, a Mexico City-based American law professor who hosts a video blog entitled “The Battle for Mexico.”  Ackerman’s wife has been tapped to join AMLO’s cabinet in the event the outsider politician wins out at the polls.

The Atlantic notes that “there are early indications that a significant percentage of pro-AMLO social media activity surrounding the campaign may be emanating from Russia.”  The publication believes that Russia might conduct a cyber-attack in tandem with its propaganda efforts so as to sway the election or cast doubt on the process.  Mexico’s new electronic voting system, which allows citizens to cast their ballots from overseas, is thought to be vulnerable to outside interference.  Lastly, “Russia may also seek to spread real or fake corruption allegations to damage specific candidates or political players. Corruption is a key issue for Mexican voters, making the exposure of high-level corruption a potential game changer.  This is an area where Russia excels—collecting and leveraging kompromat.”

Healthy Dose of Skepticism

Though certainly sobering, all Russia claims offered thus far seem pretty thin.  Lack of concrete evidence, however, hasn’t prevented veteran observer Andrés Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald from remarking, “I am often skeptical of reports about foreign interference in elections, but this one looks credible.  To be clear, I don’t think that Mexico’s leftist candidate López Obrador has anything to do with this — it would be stupid on his part to be even remotely linked to Russia’s fake-news machine.”

Whatever the case, a healthy dose of skepticism is in order.  History is replete with examples of U.S. intervention in Mexican internal affairs, ranging from the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, to military incursions during the revolution (first in 1914 and later in 1916-17) to the more recent drug war.  In light of such developments, it is possible that recent accusations made against AMLO are simply the latest salvo in ongoing U.S. efforts to meddle in Mexico.

Though AMLO has moved to the center in the course of the campaign, his MORENA party has a left-wing base which resembles some of the movements which have historically resisted U.S. policies in Latin America.  Like Bernie Sanders, AMLO has pledged to take a stand on economic inequality by reallocating four percent of GDP to infrastructure and social programs, including a universal pension.  Perhaps more controversially, the maverick politician has called for amnesty for drug-cultivating farmers and holding talks with cartel capos.  “While innovative and bold,” the New York Times notes, such measures “might be considered anathema in Washington.”

U.S. Motivations

By helping to spread rumors about Russian support for AMLO, the U.S. might benefit as disaffected voters turn toward more conservative parties more aligned with Washington’s traditional policies.  While it’s unclear what the incoherent Trump might think about AMLO or the left in Mexico, it’s no secret that administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff and former head of U. S. Southern Command John Kelly, are worried about the prospect of an AMLO upset.

Echoing the sentiments of Republican Senator John McCain, who remarked that the Mexican election was likely to hand victory to a “left-wing, anti-American president,” Kelly remarked “it would not be good for America or for Mexico.”  Clearly unamused, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray took the matter up with Kelly personally.  “I told him…that… electoral decisions … correspond to Mexicans alone and that what we expect from the United States is respect toward the Mexican electoral process,” Videgaray declared.

The Atlantic magazine, home to former neo-con George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, is concerned that Mexico may not heed the advice of the United States or its European allies vis-à-vis Russian intereference.  The publication laments Trump’s “relentless vitriol for Mexican immigrants and contempt for NAFTA [or North American Free Trade Agreement], which hasn’t exactly endeared his administration to Mexicans, potentially undermining the credibility of such warnings from Washington.”  Even worse, notes the Atlantic, Mexico may “view U.S. warnings about the Russian threat as a potential smokescreen for Washington’s intention to interfere in its election.”

Establishment Reception on Capitol Hill

Without providing any proof, the U.S. Senate has rushed to embrace McMaster’s claims on Mexico.  Maryland Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, a leading member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, remarked that he had no doubts about Russian intent to meddle in Mexico’s election.  “We are certainly seeing evidence of Mr. Putin’s activities in our hemisphere,” Cardin said, adding that Putin “would like to have a government in Mexico that is not friendly to the United States.”  Suggesting a possible bipartisan consensus in the Senate on Mexico, Cardin was joined by both Democratic New Jersey Senator Bob Menéndez and Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who urged Tillerson to speak out about the need to counteract Russian interference south of the border.

The senators claimed that Russia was using “sophisticated technology” to influence Mexico’s election and urged Tillerson to convince Mexico to adopt help from the U.S. Agency for International Development (or USAID, an independent agency which works closely with the State Department) to protect the upcoming election.  “Weak electoral systems can be easily exploited and manipulated by malicious actors like Russia,” the Senators wrote, adding, “…we believe it is critical that USAID continue to play an active role in providing technical assistance, education and training to support countries’ efforts to strengthen electoral systems.”  Media outlets such as Bloomberg have voiced support for the idea, remarking that “Mexico needs to learn from the U.S. experience, and safeguard its electoral process from outside tampering.”

USAID and Mexico: A No-Win Scenario

In light of the U.S. 2016 presidential election, it’s understandable that Washington would seek to assit other countries interested in avoiding or deterring Russian interference in their own elections.  On the other hand, USAID is hardly what one would call an impartial actor.  Though the agency aims to boost economies, healthcare and education in impoverished nations, USAID has also spent billions teaching campaign skills to political groups and funding grassroots actitivites under the guise of “democracy promotion.”  Even the normally establishment Washington Post admits that USAID practices amount to “little more than outright interference in other countries’ elections, aimed not at ensuring functional democracies, but rather at installing governments friendly to U.S. interests.”

In Venezuela, USAID backed the political opposition to former president Hugo Chávez.  Indeed, USAID reportedly held a whopping 3,000 opposition events aimed at “delivering alternative values” which might gain the support of “hardcore Chavistas.”  In Bolivia meanwhile, USAID went into overdrive in an effort to weaken leftist president Evo Morales by supporting opposition strongholds.  In response to meddling, Morales booted USAID out of Bolivia while complaining of Washington’s “mentality of domination and submission” (incidentally, USAID initiatives in Russia, which included the funding of an election-monitoring group, led the Kremlin to expel the agency).

Fate of Anti-Russia Hawks

While it’s unclear what the Oval Office may have thought about McMaster’s specific remarks on Russian interference in Mexico, it’s no secret that the President has been at odds with anti-Kremlin hawks in his administration.  At one point, McMaster declared that there was “incontrovertible” proof of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.  In response, Trump admonished his adviser, remarking on Twitter that McMaster “forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians.”  Hardly deterred, McMaster later went on to blame Russia for a nerve attack on former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England.  Needless to say, such remarks hardly served to mend bridges with Trump, and it wasn’t long before McMaster was obliged to resign.

The other high level official to go out on a limb on Mexico, Rex Tillerson, met a similar fate.  Like McMaster, the former Secretary of State acknowledged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, calling it a “serious issue” which had been “fairly well-established.”  The Secretary of State also delivered tough critical remarks on the Salisbury incident in England.  Echoing McMaster, Tillerson said the nerve attack on Sergei Skripal “clearly came from Russia.”  The remarks stood in sharp contrast to the White House, which failed to blame Russia for the attack.  Just thirteen hours after Tillerson delivered his blistering remarks on Salisbury, Trump fired his Secretary of State on Twitter no less.  On a further ironic note, even if Tillerson had retained his job, the diplomat might have found it difficult to deploy USAID resources in Mexico since the Trump administration has sought to cut the agency by more than a third as part of an all out assault on traditional U.S. foreign policy and hollowing out of the State Department.

Dirty Tricks

Within Mexico meanwhile, McMaster and Tillerson’s charges of Russian interference have sparked ridicule, with many online users changing their Twitter handles to Cyrillic script and tradings gifs from Rocky IV.  Needless to say, even before McMaster made his claims, the PRI had been accused of using bots to spread fake storylines, hacking government critics and paying off the press to boost its own candidates.  “If the point of Russian intervention in the electoral process is to undermine confidence in democratic institutions, the truth is there isn’t much left to do in Mexico,” tweeted Carlos Bravo Regidor, professor at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, who added “The Mexican political class has already done this work, without their help.”

Foreign Minister Videgaray has poured cold water on U.S. claims, remarking that “Mexico’s government has no evidence to validate claims about Moscow’s supposed interest in influencing the results” of the election.  Nevertheless, such refutations haven’t stopped the PRI from seizing on U.S. claims and using the allegations as a central plank in its campaign against AMLO.  But even on the left, PRD Senator Armando Ríos Piter voiced concerns, declaring “if [Russia] intervened in the United States, there’s every reason to think that Mexico is a target for attack.”  Responding to charges, MORENA foreign policy chief Héctor Vasconcelos denied any links between AMLO’s campaign and Russian agents.       

Previous Mexican elections have been marred by dirty tricks and shenanigans, and in light of recent indications the next contest will be no different.  Reportedly, the rightist PAN may be looking to exploit allegations of Russian interference by tainting AMLO.  Recently, Mexico’s National Electoral Institute was alerted after thousands of citizens received calls with a recorded message warning that Russia, with the assistance of AMLO, were planning to steel the country’s oil.  After conducting an investigation, the authorities uncovered that the calls had been coordinated by an official linked to the PAN.  On balance, however, it’s unclear how much of an impact the “Russia card” will have on the election, with some observers remarking that “Mexicans don’t have much of a memory of Russia as a dangerous foe.  Creating a fear campaign oriented at Russia won’t have the same effect here as in, say, Poland.”

From Controversial Academic to Blasé AMLO

In the unfolding Russia interference saga, a U.S. professor has played a central role.  Though Mexicans rail against gringo interference in their internal affairs, the Ackerman imbroglio adds a bizarrely ironic new wrinkle since the academic has been accused of supporting the Kremlin’s agenda.  A naturalized American and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute for Legal Research, Ackerman hosts “The Battle for Mexico,” a series of video blogs on RT, a network which has been accused of being a propaganda outlet which seeks to destabilize the West.  As such, the professor has become “the best gringo piñata for Mexican detractors in Mexico, of course, after The Donald.”

Though he has endorsed AMLO, Ackerman has written that he’s not a “spokesman” for the campaign.  The professor adds that he hasn’t received instructions from anyone and denies being a promoter of Russian interests.  Irma Eréndira Sandoval, Ackerman’s wife and a fellow academic, has been tapped by AMLO to lead Mexico’s anti-corruption bureaucracy as the nation’s Comptroller General.  “Only a sexist stuck deep in Cold War paranoia could imagine that she has gained this future post through help from her husband or from Moscow,” Ackerman has written, adding that Sandoval does not receive a salary from AMLO or MORENA for that matter.

Harking on the familiar refrain of “fake news,” the professor has argued that claims of Russian intervention in Mexico are “pure fantasy,” “lies” and “speculations spread by agents of the Mexican government through the U.S. media.”  The academic has pointed out that RT (whose Spanish language channel is the most popular foreign media channel in Mexico) isn’t his sole gig and that he also writes a bi-weekly column at both Proceso magazine and La Jornada newspaper.  It’s getting more and more difficult for independent journalists to be heard in Mexico, Ackerman explains, and this has pushed many to seek out other outlets.  While such views are somewhat understandable, Ackerman then doubles down, claiming that RT is equivalent to the BBC or Deutsche-Welle.  Rather than simply washing his hands of RT and putting the controversy to rest, the professor has defended the network and claims that “Mexicans” view RT as a “welcome addition” to the media landscape.

Ackerman isn’t the only blasé figure to dismiss Russian tampering.  Take AMLO himself, who posted a “cheeky” video of himself on Twitter.  It could have been “a scene from a John Le Carré novel,” notes the Guardian: “under a leaden sky, a grey-haired man in an overcoat looks out to sea and chuckles.”  Standing near the Gulf of Mexico in the port of Veracruz, AMLO intones, “I’m standing here waiting for the Russian submarine,” adding sarcastically, “it will be bringing me Moscow’s gold.”   Pausing for effect, the politician turned comedian remarks, “I am now Andrés Manuelovich.”

From AMLO to Corbyn

Predictably, the Washington Post lambasted AMLO for treating the issue of Russian interference as a “punchline.”  Mexico’s democracy is fragile, the newspaper notes, and every measure should be taken to “avoid being the next guinea pig in Putin’s experiment in destabilization.”  The immature AMLO should “get serious” and sort out his campaign’s potential conflicts of interest before dismissing allegations of Russian tampering.

Without putting too much stock in sage pearls of wisdom offered up by the establishment gringo press to the north, the left has a long and somewhat questionable history in relation to Russia, or let’s say certain segments of the partisan left ranging from Mexico to the United States to Europe.  Echoing past history of the Cold War, some leftists tend to shrug off the abuses of authoritarian regimes which claim to be at odds with U.S. imperialism. It is ironic, and that is putting it mildly, that leftists should condone, give a “pass” or even come to the defense of the Kremlin, whose current ideology or lack thereof seems to be indulging in nothing less than a bizarre neo-Czarist revival.

On the Mexican leftist circuit many look up to and emulate Jeremy Corbyn, and recently the British labor leader met with AMLO in the latter’s home state of Tabasco.  Corbyn, whose wife is Mexican, often speaks at solidarity events organized by the Mexican community in London.  In parliament, he has criticized Mexico’s human rights abuses and media censorship.  In light of Corbyn’s progressive credentials, the politician’s lapses on Russia would seem all the more peculiar.  Reportedly, the labor leader is prone to treating Russia as a “good-faith actor” in foreign conflicts, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Though the British politician did not explicitly discard the notion that the Kremlin was responsible for the recent nerve agent attack against Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, Corbyn raised the prospect that Moscow may have “negligently lost control” over its chemical arsenal (he later backtracked, remarking that Russian authorities should be held accountable “on the basis of the evidence”).  Corbyn seems to have taken his cue on Russia from Labor Party Communications Director Seumas Milne, who claimed the Kremlin might not have been responsible for the nerve agent attack while leaving open the possibility that Putin had been framed.  Milne, who some believe comes “as close to an unreconstructed Stalinist as you can get in 21st century Britain,” has said the number of Stalin’s victims has been exaggerated.

Leftist Denials on Russia

Back in the U.S. meanwhile, the liberal Nation magazine has chastised Democrats for excessively focusing on Trump’s ties to Russia, while former Bernie Sanders supporters are prone to dismiss “Russia Gate” and Kremlin interference in the 2016 election as a hoax and “fake news.”  Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted Russians who engaged in operations designed to support Sanders during the campaign, which prompted calls of disbelief from former Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver.  For his part, Bernie declared that he was unaware that Russia sought to promote his campaign.

A top tier contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, Bernie initially downplayed Mueller’s findings, claiming that Russia sought to hurt Clinton and not help his own campaign.  When pressed, however, Sanders defensively blamed Clinton for not doing more to stop Russian attacks, going so far as to claim that his rival possessed more information than he.  In further comments, Bernie remarked that one of his staffers passed on information to Clinton aides about a suspected Russian troll operation.  However, it seems the “staffer” was a mere volunteer who acted on his own without any contact from higher ups at the campaign.  When pressed on the specifics, Bernie was vague, remarking “We knew what we knew when we knew it, and that’s about all that I can say.”

Perhaps feeling the heat, however, Bernie had a change of heart and came out more forcefully against Russian conduct, blasting Kremlin interventionism which helped campaigns “including my own.”  “Mueller’s indictment,” the Vermont Senator added, “provides further evidence that the Russian government interfered in 2016.  It also shows that they tried to turn my supporters against Hillary Clinton in the primary and general election. I unequivocally condemn such interference.”

Weighing in on the controversy, Washington Monthly remarked “None of this is to say Sanders knew he was being helped…None of this is to say he’s in cahoots with anyone.”  Nevertheless, the publication adds, Bernie’s new problem is a divided left, since “Russia, and now oligarchs, are driving a wedge between leftists of all persuasions trying to make sense of facts as they present themselves and leftists so doctrinaire they are blind to what’s happening.  So expect [Bernie] to play both sides.  On the one hand, he’ll stoke doubt about ‘Russiagate’ for loyalists, while on the other insist it was a ‘direct assault on the free democratic systems that stand in contrast to the autocratic, nationalistic kleptocracy of Vladimir Putin and his backers in the Russian oligarchy.’”

In light of recent history, Russia seems to have done an excellent job at manipulating partisan leftists far and wide for its own opportunistic ends.  Indeed, even as they cast doubt on the “Deep State” and establishment foreign policy hawks, partisan leftists seem to have bizarrely come full circle by echoing Trump’s supporters who routinely claim that “Russia Gate” is pure propaganda.

Russian Motivations

But getting back to the matter at hand, what does the Kremlin specifically have to gain as far as the Mexican election is concerned?  “For one thing,” remarks the Atlantic, Moscow seeks to project itself as a great power.  It likely sees Mexico’s election as an opportunity to reciprocate for what it perceives as Washington’s long history of meddling in the internal political of former Soviet states.  Interfering in the Mexican election is also an easy way for Russia to cast itself as an equal to the United States—to show that it’s no mere regional power, to borrow from Barack Obama’s unfortunate phrasing.”

Hardly a “peripheral” country, Mexico is set to become a top-five economy over the next fifty years, and observers note the close links between the U.S. and Mexico ranging from energy, economics, transportation and national security, not to mention the 37 million Mexican-Americans and immigrants residing in the U.S. with Mexican roots, all of which serve to make the southern country an attractive target if Moscow seeks to sow chaos in the western world.  “Trump’s outbursts,” notes Bloomberg, “dovetail with depictions of the worst of U.S. intentions that you can find in any Mexican history book.  His repeated demands for a border wall, his threats to tear up NAFTA and his denigration of Mexicans as criminals and rapists have created a natural opening for Russian dissemblers.”

Ironically enough some have picked up on underlying similarities between AMLO and Russia, since both share conservative social views on gay marriage and abortion.  “By devoting propaganda resources to AMLO,” writes the Atlantic, “Moscow likely hopes to ensure that a divisive and anti-U.S. candidate wins the presidency, and that it can curry favor with him once he is in office.”

From Zimmermann to the Russian Revolution

On the surface at least, the notion that Russia might create mischief for the U.S. on its southern border might seem outlandish, yet there is some historical precedent here.  Indeed, during the latter stages of World War I, Germany hoped to recruit Mexico to the Axis side.  In a telegram, German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann instructed his ambassador in Mexico to take extreme measures if the U.S. joined the allies. Specifically, Germany was prepared to offer Mexico the opportunity of regaining the lost territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in exchange for financial aid.  For Germany, the proposal formed part of a larger strategy to keep the U.S. pinned down on the home front.  Interestingly enough, when the Zimmermann telegram came to light, the news inflamed public opinion in familiar ways reminiscent of today, as American anti-interventionists denounced the telegram as a forgery and “fake news.”

In the early years following the Russian Revolution, Moscow similarly aimed to exploit Mexico for its own ends.  Keen to distract the U.S. from intervening in the Soviet Union, the Comintern sought to promote communist activity in Mexico.  Confronted with an apparent rapprochement between the Mexican and Russian revolutions, U.S. president Calvin Coolidge seriously weighed the prospect of military action against “Soviet Mexico.”  As it happens, however, such U.S. paranoia was misplaced.  Indeed, though Mexico more or less tolerated the communists, relations broke down in1929, when Moscow made an ill-conceived attempt to manipulate an abortive right wing coup against the Emilio Portes Gil administration.  Reportedly, Moscow hoped the coup would disrupt Mexican oil supplies to the U.S.  Understandably, Portes Gil was “glad to find a reason to end the difficult diplomatic relationship” with the Soviet Union, and ties were suspended until the 1930s.  To be sure, a certain segment of the Mexican artistic intelligentsia continued to flirt with Russian-style Communism, though Moscow’s truly thug-like nature was exposed in 1940 when Stalinist agents hunted down and killed Leon Trotsky, who had sought refuge in Mexico City.

During the Cold War, the Mexican government seems to have regarded the Soviet Union with a certain degree of ambivalence, though the authorities allowed Moscow to launch propaganda and espionage operations against the United States from Mexico City.  Indeed, the Soviet embassy there was one of the largest beyond the Iron Curtain, and it was there that Lee Harvey Oswald famously met with KGB agents prior to the Kennedy assassination.  At times, the Soviets sought to cultivate a solid partnership with Mexico, while simultaneously stirring up labor and political unrest via the local communist party.  Nationalist Mexico allowed the Soviets to spread propaganda in the papers, including a story blaming the creation of HIV/AIDS on the Pentagon.  In the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union, the KGB simply morphed into the FSB in Mexico, with ties to news services such as RT.

Sowing Discord on NAFTA

Whether Putin has actually devised such a complex and wide-ranging scheme to divide the U.S. and Mexico while sowing confusion, the Kremlin seems to have succeeded beyond its wildest dreams.  Indeed, Trump’s hostility toward NAFTA has led Mexico to diversify its foreign and trade relations.  Both Russia and Mexico share common interests such as oil and industrial growth, and Trump’s protectionist rants have spurred Moscow to court the Latin American nation.

The U.S. is the largest purchaser of Mexican goods, and scrapping NAFTA would hit both economies, though in the medium to long-term, Mexico could develop other trading opportunities.  Recently, President Peña Nieto met with Putin which served to “further enhance the optics of Mexico casting a wide net to potentially offset trade losses that would come from a destroyed NAFTA.”

MORENA, meanwhile, has praised NAFTA though the party argues that the agreement hasn’t benefited small businesses. AMLO hasn’t exactly championed the trade agreement, and the politician has sought to protect poor people from the ravages of NAFTA while emphasizing social development.  The politician has said he would renegotiate the agreement on a “moral basis,” though the politician probably recognizes that scrapping NAFTA outright would be politically risky.

Post-Election Milieu and Russia

In the event that AMLO wins the election, how would his government deal with Russia?  Scouring the candidate’s website for answers can be frustrating: under his foreign policy section, AMLO doesn’t offer any particulars beyond the usual platitudes and bromides, remarking that Mexico should diversify its relations and deal with such nations as Russia.  It would seem that beyond mere cheeky appearances awaiting insidious Russian submarines, AMLO doesn’t have much to say on these matters.  That’s not very surprising in light of history: indeed, leaders of Latin America’s now moribund “Pink Tide” cultivated ties with authoritarian regimes around the globe without much internal debate on the leftist circuit.  If anything, the past seems to be repeating itself once again in Mexico, with the political right trying to make hay out of AMLO’s supposed ties to Russia, and the left looking the other way or just staying mute.

Look around within the leftist world, it’s unclear who is going to force AMLO to address Russia front and center.  Take, for example, fashionable Jacobin magazine whose unfortunate title evokes proto-totalitarians of an earlier era.  While the publication spares no ink over the question of whether MORENA is truly a revolutionary force in the minds of retro Trotskyists and other Marxists, Jacobin makes no mention of foreign policy or the Kremlin.  Dissent magazine similarly hits AMLO for not being sufficiently socially progressive but similarly skirts wider international questions of concern.

In the upcoming Mexican election, it’s unclear whether charges of Russian “collusion” will have much of an impact.  Maybe, in the event that the contest is close, the charges might play a role as per the U.S. presidential election of 2016.  Whatever the case, perhaps the larger question is what Mexico’s own “Russia Gate” reveals about the nature of wider geopolitics, and specifically Mexico’s ties to the U.S. and other large powers.  Needless to say, as Russia flexes its muscles, the partisan left throughout the West and Mexico in particular seems to be reverting to type.

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