Amid the political firestorm over Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections here in the United States, it may have been easy to overlook the steady drip of warnings about a possible replay of Russian mischief-making right next door in Mexico. Back in December, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster spoke ominously about “initial signs” of a trademark campaign of subversion, disinformation, and propaganda, ahead of Mexico’s presidential elections on July 1. One month later at a press conference in Mexico City on February 1, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked about evidence of Russian election interference. He had this advice to offer to Mexican officials: “Pay attention. Pay attention to what’s happening.”
But it’s unclear whether Mexican officials, who have repeatedly denied that they see any signs of Russian interference, will heed such advice. President Donald Trump’s relentless vitriol for Mexican immigrants and contempt for NAFTA haven’t exactly endeared his administration to Mexicans, potentially undermining the credibility of such warnings from Washington. (Tillerson didn’t do himself any favors when he called the Monroe Doctrine, which called for keeping European powers out of the Americas, “as relevant today as it was the day it was written.”) Mexico may even view U.S. warnings about the Russian threat as a potential smokescreen for Washington’s intention to interfere in its election, which will pit the unpopular incumbent Institutional Revolutionary Party and the center-right National Action Party against frontrunner and fiery populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City known as AMLO. Indeed, some members of the U.S. political establishment seem to view Lopez Obrador as the second coming of Hugo Chavez.