Business & Economy

Lopez Obrador denies rupture with Spain, but “pause” creating confusion

By Pedro Pablo Cortes

Mexico City, Feb 10 (EFE).- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday denied that there is “a rupture” with Spain, but his suggestion that there will be a “pause” in bilateral relations has sparked renewed diplomatic and commercial confusion with the European country, Mexico’s second-largest foreign investor.

The president did not clarify what the so-called “pause” consists of, but he argued that it is due to the fact that Spain’s “political branch” has supported companies that “abused Mexico,” including Iberdrola, Repsol and OHL because, Lopez Obrador said, they were “favorites” of earlier administrations.

“I didn’t speak about a rupture. No. I said ‘we’re going to calm down the relationship,’ that nobody’s going to be thinking about looting Mexico with impunity. That already happened, it’s a lack of respect. They should offer an apology,” the president, who is known as AMLO, said at his daily press conference.

After the initial remarks by the Mexican leader on Wednesday, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares called for “asking President (Lopez) Obrador what he meant,” arguing that there is “a strategic association that goes beyond sudden verbal statements.”

AMLO’s comments have created uncertainty because “there does not exist in diplomatic law or in international law the concept of pausing diplomatic relations,” international relations expert Arlene Ramirez Uresti told EFE.

“The remarks of President (Lopez) Obrador could have consequences for Mexico, from economic sanctions up to the Spanish government … asking for an end to diplomatic relations,” she warned.

Spain is Mexico’s second-largest foreign investor, having sunk $76 billion into the country by the close of the third quarter 2021, an amount that amounts to 12 percent of all foreign direct investment, and 6,500 Spanish companies do business with Mexico, according to figures provided by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce (Camescom).

Despite their informality, AMLO’s remarks “create unnecessary friction” with Spain and “there certainly could be” consequences for Spanish investment, said Iliana Rodriguez Santibañez, an attorney and international relations specialist at the private Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

“It’s going to take some time to know what the impact of this pause is. As long as it doesn’t translate into real deeds, we would not be able to determine the consequences, but there’s no doubt that it sends a signal to all the companies,” the professor said.

The Mexican leader’s accusations come as he is promoting his energy reform to shore up the position of the Federal Energy Commission (CFE) in the face of what he called “looting” by foreigners, in particular Spanish energy companies, although no lawsuits have been filed nor is there evidence of those alleged abuses.

In this context, AMLO’s comments at his morning press conferences are generally geared toward mobilizing his “base,” but they have the collateral effect of “warning” investors, Rodriguez Santibañez said.

“It’s political discourse, the aim is to send this signal to the people that ‘we’re doing something with integrity, with morality and we’re not going to accept acts of corruption like those that there were in the past,” she said.

The surprising pause called for by Lopez Obrador also has aroused suspicions because it came amid the scandal that has erupted after it was revealed that his son Ramon Lopez Beltran lived in a house in Houston, Texas, owned by a Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) contractor.

Thus, the president’s remarks could be a “smoke screen” or a “distraction,” argued Ana Vanessa Cardenas, an international analyst with the Anahuac Mayab University.

“It’s evident that the statements that are made in the morning set forth the agenda for the media and distract attention from other matters or leave them in the inkwell to give legs to other controversies. So, it seems to me that they’re serving as a smoke screen,” she said in an interview.

She noted that “diplomatic relations have been altered” since Lopez Obrador sent a letter in 2019 to Spain’s King Felipe VI asking him to apologize for the abuses Spaniards committed during the conquest of Mexico in the 16th century.

Now, these “diplomatic blunders” are being accompanied by statements by the president against Spanish firms.

“They aren’t consequential among nations, for diplomatic relations. These controversies have to be settled in the legal realm, presenting proof so that an investigation can be performed on these companies and officials in Mexico,” she said.

Despite the fact that AMLO has said that the “Mexican people are offended,” international observers have urged the president to stop focusing personally on relations with Spain.

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