McALLEN — Though the message was tempered with cautious optimism, a speech from Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute director Duncan Wood on Thursday predicted continued strife in Mexico and along the border under the administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Wood is an internationally renowned specialist on North American politics, Mexico and U.S.-Mexican ties who lectures and publishes on hemispheric issues and relationships.
His lecture, presented to business and community leaders from the area, touched on the rise of Lopez Obrador, his goals as president and his successes and failures as a leader.
Wood said that although Lopez Obrador ran on a platform of accountability and transparency, warning signs about the veracity of those claims have become apparent, and that the administration appears to be unable to rejuvenate the economy and stifle criminal violence.
According to Wood, evidence of those failures can be seen in the Rio Grande Valley, especially economically.
“The individual consumer or family who crosses the border, they’re spending less money right now. That’s probably the biggest right now, in addition to the personal challenges of many of the cross-border families,” he said. “The border region in general is being negatively impacted by the lack of economic growth.”
Wood claims that if Lopez Obrador fails to turn the economy in the right direction, there could be dire consequences for both the economy in Mexico and along the border.
“When the Mexican economy is doing well, it means there are more people crossing the border to shop. There’s been no problem with cross-border trade; we’re seeing a steady flow of goods, Mexico’s become the number one trading partner with the United States,” he said. “Thank goodness that the peso has held steady, because if we begin to see the collapse of the value of the peso, which is not beyond the realms of possibility … you’ll see even less of that cross-border shopping taking place.”
Wood said that higher interest rates in the United States could cause problems for the value of the peso, but for now rates are holding steady.
Wood also touched on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a new North American trade deal passed by the Senate on Thursday.
Although the USMCA has been touted as a landmark economic agreement that could stimulate growth intensely, Wood eyes the agreement with more skepticism when it comes to Mexico.
“The underlying problem is not the trading conditions; the underlying problem is the lack of certainty for investors. Until Andres Manuel resolves that problem, until he restores the faith of investors both foreign and national, I’m afraid that the economic problems are not going to be resolved,” he said.
In addition to continued drug violence and signs of corruption, Wood said that Lopez Obrador’s administration has weathered a series of high-profile economic snafus. Those missteps include canceling a multi-billion dollar airport project for Mexico City that was already underway, bungling an effort to increase oil production and a pledge to sell the presidential plane that was ultimately never fulfilled.
“If I had a chance to sit down with Andres Manuel, and if he would listen to me, I would tell him that he needs to start listening more to the business community in Mexico,” Wood said. “He needs to reassure them and he needs to provide them with guarantees that he will respect their decisions and that he will provide them with a conducive business environment in which to invest, and he’s not doing that right now.”