Mexican foreign policy and investment have long been centered on its relationship with its powerful neighbor to the north, the United States.
Economic ties with Europe and Asia have also been on the rise but remain relatively modest.
After all, Mexico averaged 350 billion dollars in exports to the United States every year.
But historically Mexico’s economic footprint regarding its neighbors to the south has been negligible at best, aside from a few large corporations such as Banco Azteca and Bimbo.
This is also true regarding travel and cultural exchange, despite the fact that Mexico and Central America (except Belize) share the same language and similar customs.
“Mexico has long looked to the north or across the Atlantic and neglected our neighbors to the south. This has been a historic misstep and missed opportunity,” says Chetumal-based lawyer Raul Lopez Ojeda, who lives near the Belizean border.
But during the administration of President Manuel Lopez Obrador, it would appear that things are beginning to change.
Since the beginning of his term, Obrador has made a point of expressing solidarity with Central America and the Caribbean, going as far as donating much sought COVID-19 vaccines in 2021.
Furthermore, Obrador has threatened to pull out of the upcoming Summit of the Americas this coming June in Los Angeles, unless Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are invited also.
The president has also invested heavily in the “Sembrando Vidas” program which seeks to combat climate change in Guatemala and El Salvador by directly paying citizens of these countries to plant trees.
Also in the headlines is a controversial plan of the president to bring 500 medical doctors from Cuba to work in rural parts of the country, though Mexico’s association of medical professionals insists there is no need for such a measure.
Regardless of the merits of theae programs, there is no denying that Obrador has put a focus on Central America and Cuba like never before.
In fact, the scope of the president’s state visit to Central America and Cuba is unprecedented in Mexican history.
“State visits to Central America or Cuba have historically been very brief and with little fanfare. But this feels very different,” said Darío Brooks, Latin America analyst for the BBC.
On the president’s agenda are efforts not just to expand trade across the region, but also to ease and increase mobility.
To this end, the president announced that Guatemalan citizens would soon be able to travel visa-free to Mexico, a move much frowned upon by Washington D.C.
Regardless of Obrador’s motivations, these and other policy moves are placing Mexico in a strategic position that may allow it to shift its reliance on the US, even if just ever so slightly.