Sowing life: Mexico uses social programs to expand its influence in Latin America

The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and his Salvadoran counterpart, Nayib Bukele, at the presentation of the Sembrando Vida program in 2019.
The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and his Salvadoran counterpart, Nayib Bukele, at the presentation of the Sembrando Vida program in 2019.Isabel Mateos (DARK ROOM)

Two flagship programs of the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador are preparing to disembark in the Caribbean. The Sembrando Vida reforestation plan and the Young Building Future subsidy network will arrive in Cuba and Haiti next year, according to the Mexican Foreign Ministry. In the last three years, both proposals have traveled the corridors of the White House and have aroused interest in Havana, although the certainties about their impact and reach abroad are few. The strategy of exporting policies made in mexico It is part of international cooperation, but seeks to shore up the country’s presence on the continent and expand its influence in the face of the crises that are going through it: from migration and poverty to political instability.

The commitment to Sembrando Vida is not new. Mexico had already taken the program to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras as a recipe against the so-called root causes of migration. The possibility of exporting the reforestation plan to Central America arose just three weeks after López Obrador assumed the presidency, in December 2018, and was presented to the Donald Trump Administration as a long-term dam in the face of the migration crisis. After formal acts with the Central American leaders and various problems, the program finally started on the ground almost two years later, in October 2020.

When Joe Biden arrived at the White House, the Mexican government insisted to Washington that it should finance the implementation of Mexican-inspired social programs in Central America. During the first half of the year, the Biden Administration was hesitant and reluctant to link migration to environmental issues. López Obrador sold the issue on a visit to the country by John Kerry, the former Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 and the main official for Climate Change in the current government. Kerry praised the initiative, but that didn’t translate into concrete action until early December, when Sembrando Oportunidades, a potpourri with a focus on the agricultural sector after months of negotiations.

Sowing Life has gradually become a mantra of the Mexican Government. The Mexican proposal against irregular migration is presented both as a lifeline against poverty and as a response against climate change. The program distributes direct aid in Mexico of $ 100 to $ 250 a month in exchange for planting fruit and timber trees on its plots. The goal for this year was to support more than 425,000 beneficiaries and cover more than one million hectares, with an approved budget for 2021 of almost 29,000 million pesos (about 1,450 million dollars).

In Central America its scope is much more modest: it benefits some 20,000 people and has a budget of just $ 31 million for each country, according to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself. It also has a considerable peculiarity: the Mexican authorities have not wanted the money to pass through the Central American governments and ensure that it is delivered by hand to the peasants, which implies creating a registry, supervising compliance and distributing the aid on foreign soil. That has not gone down very well in some political sectors of the three Central American countries where it is applied and enters a gray area of ​​Mexico’s policy of non-intervention.

Sembrando Vida has also faced various criticisms in Mexico. Environmental defenders point out that it has contributed to deforestation. Civil and academic associations question its opacity: the absence of technical application and evaluation parameters to measure its success or failure. The Social Management and Cooperation organization described it as “inefficient” and gave it a score of 35 out of 100 for problems in its design and failures in the coverage of its target population. And journalistic investigation Sowing life and the chocolate factory raised doubts about a company owned by the president’s sons that has been supplied by producers included in the program, despite the fact that the peasants themselves complained that it was not viable and that they had to cut down other species to introduce cocoa. Despite everything, the Mexican Cooperation Agency (Amexcid) said that the Dominican Republic was another of the countries that had shown interest in attracting support from Mexico.

Amexcid was also part of the commission that the López Obrador government sent to Peru two weeks ago to advise the president, Pedro Castillo, on economic issues. The diplomatic mission is unprecedented in other countries during this management. “The meetings that were held with the president of Peru and his Cabinet also included an exchange of experiences on the implementation of social programs in support of various sectors of the population, several of which already exist in that South American country, such as support for older adults, ”reads a statement from the Mexican authorities.

With Brazil absent from the regional scene, the second largest economy in Latin America also opted to give new impetus to the Commission of Latin American and Caribbean States during its presidency this year and to increase cooperation in vaccines during the first months of the year. Now it is the social programs that play a leading role in the projection of its foreign policy towards the continent and in the complex relationship with the United States: the sale of a success story abroad that still divides opinions within the country itself.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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