The ‘Three Amigos’ Talk Microchips
Mexico could benefit from U.S. overtures on semiconductor manufacturing—if its government gets on board.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s Latin America Brief.
The highlights this week: U.S. plans to make North America a semiconductor hub could benefit Mexico, Brazil picks up the pieces from its Capitol riot, and an Argentine film wins a Golden Globe.
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Flexing North Americanism
On Monday and Tuesday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and U.S. President Joe Biden met in Mexico City for the latest North American Leaders’ Summit. Since 1994, the three countries have been connected by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was renegotiated between 2018 and 2020 to become the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The so-called Three Amigos summits began in 2005 to build on this economic cooperation and discuss other topics.
Recent changes to U.S. immigration policy loomed large at this year’s event. Last week, U.S. authorities announced that they will add Haitians, Cubans, and Nicaraguans to the nationalities of undocumented migrants immediately expelled at the U.S. southern border, even if they seek asylum. Until now, border authorities had often processed asylum-seekers from those countries because Mexico would not take them back; Cuba and Nicaragua either limited or refused to accept deportations of their nationals.
Meanwhile, Washington will offer up to 30,000 parole slots per month for migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela so that they can temporarily live and work in the United States without a formal visa. To be eligible, applicants must have a U.S. sponsor and enter the country via plane. Migrant rights groups slammed the further erosion of the U.S. asylum program under Biden, though some said the new quotas were important legal avenues for migration.
Another agenda item at the summit was Washington’s goal of making North America a hub for semiconductor manufacturing amid growing tensions with China and efforts to make U.S. supply chains more resilient after the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though officials did not provide a detailed road map, the plan could be an economic boon for Mexico.
Last year, the U.S. Congress passed around $52 billion in funding to boost its microchip industry and attract investment from foreign chip companies. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on a visit to Mexico in September 2022 that Washington saw potential for Mexican plants to test and package microchips, steps that come after chip creation.
This week, the “three amigos” announced they will co-host an event with officials and industry envoys from all three nations in the first half of this year to coordinate better on semiconductors going forward. Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday that Canada’s exact role in the hub was “still somewhat to be determined”; the country is currently home to some of the world’s largest semiconductor producers and production plants for indium, a mineral used in chips.
Some coordination is already underway: Expansión reported that U.S. and Mexican officials have identified three specific technology plants in Mexico—Intel, Skyworks Solutions, and Walcom—that they envision programming U.S.-made chips. And last November, Arizona State University signed an agreement with Mexico’s ambassador to the United States to train workers in the semiconductor sector in northwest Mexican border states. $500 million in the U.S. microchips funding package passed last year is earmarked for such forms of “international cooperation.”
Washington said it is eager to cooperate with Mexico on microchips. But it’s unclear how much López Obrador and his government are committed to doing the same.
Hypothetically, a growing semiconductor industry in Mexico could introduce new jobs and strengthen the country’s technology sector. Mexican Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier told Bloomberg last August that the government was considering introducing special incentives for semiconductor-related companies to grow their business in Mexico. Such measures usually take the form of tax breaks or other subsidies.
By December 2022, however, Reuters reported that Mexico City had not introduced any major financial incentives, and potential foreign investors were hesitating over problems accessing renewable energy in the country. (López Obrador’s efforts to increase state control over the electricity sector have privileged dirtier forms of fuel.) In their meeting on Tuesday, Biden reportedly urged López Obrador to implement Mexico’s own policies to promote the industry.
Even without new financial incentives from the Mexican government, some U.S. companies that previously relied on materials from Asia began in 2022 to buy those supplies from Mexico instead; they aimed to avoid shipping delays like those experienced during the pandemic, the New York Times reported last week. The trend was particularly pronounced in the textiles industry.
It is more complex to build up a semiconductor supply chain than a textile sector. But the millions of dollars being pumped into chips just across the border in the United States present Mexico with an opportunity if managed well.
The Week Ahead
Monday, Jan. 23, to Tuesday, Jan. 24: Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visits Argentina.
Tuesday, Jan. 24: Argentina hosts a conference of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.
Tuesday, Jan. 24: The United Nations Security Council meets to discuss the situation in Haiti.
What We’re Following
Peru’s bloodshed. Seventeen protesters and one police officer were killed in Peru on Monday in the deadliest day yet of nationwide protests that have followed the December 2022 ouster of former President Pedro Castillo. Castillo was impeached and detained after attempting to dissolve Congress.
Security forces appear responsible for most of the killings, according to media reports. Amnesty International, the U.N., and several foreign envoys condemned the violence, and Peru’s attorney general opened an investigation into the government of Dina Boluarte, who previously served as Castillo’s vice president.
In addition to opposing Castillo’s ouster, many of the demonstrators have called for early general elections; a December 2022 poll by Ipsos found that 85 percent of Peruvians would support a fresh presidential vote. Some lawmakers have conditioned their support for early elections on explosive proposals like kicking off a constitutional rewrite or overhauling existing electoral authorities.
“It’s difficult to find political solutions when what is broken in Peru is politics itself. We have destroyed the tools for processing our disagreements over the years. There are no legitimate organizations nor leaders. Without politics, what is left is pure conflict,” Peruvian political scientist Rodrigo Barrenechea tweeted.
Paraguay-Taiwan ties. Paraguay’s opposition presidential candidate, Efraín Alegre, said last week that he will revoke the country’s diplomatic recognition of Taiwan if he wins the April elections. Paraguay is the only South American country that formally recognizes Taiwan; many of the 14 nations in the world that do are in Central America.
Alegre hopes to oust the incumbent Colorado Party, which has held the presidency for all but five of the past 77 years. Throwing a geopolitical curveball into this usually static political competition could create new space for Alegre, who has touted the economic potential of increased Chinese purchases of Paraguayan agricultural products.
Argentina’s latest cultural victory. The Argentine film Argentina, 1985 won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film on Tuesday. It depicts the civilian trials of military officials responsible for atrocities during the country’s 1976 to 1983 military junta, incorporating visual flashbacks to accompany the fact-gathering and courtroom narrative as well as the personal lives of investigators.
The film was beloved among many Argentine critics, with Clarín reporter Pablo Scholz praising the acting duo of Ricardo Darín and Peter Lanzani as well as the flashes of humor in the film.
Still, Bolivian American writer Lucia Arce Ahrensdorf wrote in Foreign Policy in November 2022 that the film oversimplifies the “kaleidoscopic” causes of the dictatorship and fails to mention anti-democratic strains in the mass political movement, Peronism, that preceded it.
Question of the Week
A famous painting in Brazil’s presidential palace was punctured multiple times during Sunday’s insurrection in Brasília, the nation’s capital. Which artist painted it? (Hint: It’s the only Brazilian artist on this list.)
The painting, As Mulatas, is thought to be worth at least $1.5 million.
FP’s Most Read This Week
• It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse by Alexander J. Motyl
• Lessons for the Next War by FP Contributors
• Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine by Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer
In Focus: Security Forces Under Scrutiny
Brazil is picking up the pieces—literally and figuratively—from Sunday’s mass storming of the National Congress, Supreme Federal Court, and presidential palace by supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro. Many of the demonstrators had called for a military intervention to reverse the results of last October’s presidential election, which Bolsonaro lost to Lula. Lula took office on Jan. 1.
As Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court and federal police investigators move to probe the roots of the attack, they have zoomed in on evidence of failures by security forces to protect the three affected government buildings. Videos show rioters easily overcoming small security blockades while some police officers stood back and watched.
Protecting these buildings is a joint responsibility of the police of the capital district, Brasília; a special presidential security office; and the Brazilian military. Federal police investigators called for and received court approval to detain top Brasília security official Anderson Torres and police chief Fabio Augusto Vieira. Meanwhile, newspaper Estadão reported that the palace security office ordered a troop of guards to go home 20 hours before the attack despite ample evidence it was being planned.
Military and police commanders know how to deploy enough security guards to stop large-scale rioting in Brasília: In 2017, they met anti-government protesters with a force far larger than that deployed on Sunday, Estadão reported.
Pro-Bolsonaro sympathies in Brazil’s military and police are well documented. They were not sufficient for the top military command to overturn last October’s election results or block Lula from taking office, as hardcore Bolsonaro supporters had demanded at the time. But reporting by Estadão and other media outlets suggests pro-Bolsonaro sentiment among some security forces may have still proved significant enough to enable the putschist riot in the nation’s capital.
Valor Econômico columnist Maria Cristina Fernandes argued on Sunday that while the police and court investigations into the violence is important, Lula also has the obligation to assert his authority as commander in chief of Brazil’s armed forces and take a decisive posture against anti-democratic behavior in its ranks.
Catherine Osborn is the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Latin America Brief. She is a print and radio journalist based in Rio de Janeiro. Twitter: @cculbertosborn
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