Translation by Matilde São José
COVID-19 continues to be present all over the world as a main subject and North America is not an exception. Even so, the dynamics between these countries and throughout the international community have been restrained due to internal changes mainly in the United States of America.
It was a year marked by elections and changes of mandates in this region, beginning with the United States in January and the official inauguration of President Joe Biden until the early elections that took place in Canada in August, including the Mexican legislative elections.
In January 2021, the Biden administration took over the presidency of the United States, shortly after the events of January 6th in the Capitol and the great violence installed there. It then took on multiple internal and external challenges, related or not to the pandemic. Although the decline of its popularity through the year, the Biden administration has notoriously achieved important goals such as the partial recovery of the economy, a significant growth in the real estate and financial market and the decrease of unemployment. In terms of percentage, the values are extremely appealing – the unemployment rate at 3.9%, a relatively low value, a 30% reduction in child poverty with measures focused on financial support to families, wage increases between 10% and 15% – however, considering the damages in some sectors, specially health, entertainment, restaurants, and others highly affected by the pandemic, adding the current inflation, which contains extremely high values, the balance may not be so positive.
It is important to remind that besides all the economic challenges brought by the pandemic, Biden also faces problems passed from his prior administrations, such as the conflicts over immigration, the conflict with Afghanistan and other external conflicts in which the United States are called to intervene, like in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. It is also necessary to emphasize that some of these decisions, more specifically the withdrawal of military intervention in Afghanistan, were received very badly by the public, causing an enormous damage to the feeling of patriotism so important to American citizens. Whereas this withdrawal coincided with the main incidence of Delta variant cases, Biden’s approval rate has fell until reaching the second lowest value of popularity in the first year of the mandate, only overcame by the unpopularity of Donald Trump.
Additionally, in his campaign, Biden did not make low bar promises, and focused on everything he ideally could achieve without considering the possible obstacles he would surely encounter. Foe example, the disagreements with West Virginia’s Senate on the adoption of measures of extreme importance such as environmental control have been high on American newspapers and political television shows.
However, and ironically, the main barrier to the return of normality has been, without a doubt, the still present “Trumpism” that leads to the denial of both the effectiveness and necessity of vaccination and the results of the 2020 elections, which originate a big disbelief in the current president and weaken his mandate. It is to be welcomed that it was possible to vaccinate more than 60% of the active population in the USA during the year of 2021, even considering the hundreds of thousands of deaths that occurred due to the disbelief in its efficiency. The United States democratic crisis has made Biden’s presidency a constant search for united fronts and solid achievements. Despite this, it is possible to criticize this administration for its reactive delay and lack of agreement. In 2022 it can be fundamental for this administration to unite with most of the democratic party to win the mid-term elections. It is clear that Bidens astronomical unpopularity during the first year of mandate, the constant promises of the return to normality that are not being kept and the growing popularization of his opponents and his more drastic measures will not help. It is therefore possible to predict that this polarization will persist and be more visible in the results of the mid-term elections of 2022.
Mexico has not had an easy year but ended 2021 with the lowest average of daily cases registered since January. By the end of the year, it had a complete vaccination rate of about 55.81%. With the country urgently needing tourism activities to its economy, measures of restraint and public health were mitigated, which was also reflected in the tourists and their behavior. Being one of the few countries without major restraint measures, it is expected that it can suffer a big impact in terms of cases and deaths, given the increasing expansion of the Omicron variant and its extremely infectious nature.
The Mexican 2021 was also marked by the legislative elections and mainly by the violence associated with its political campaigns, where a minimum of 35 candidates lost their life. There were more than 20,000 election posts and the governance of 15 of the country’s 32 states was at stake. President Lopez Obrador would need his party to maintain an absolute majority so that his mandate would remain secure and stable, since he is currently in the middle of this mandate. With an abstention of more than 50%, his supporters achieved a legislative absolute majority big enough to approve the constitutional reforms. However, the dissatisfaction of the population is clear, caused by the pluralization of the results and by the abstention rate. It is predicted that the party may have begun its decline.
In Canada, following a political strategy, the then prime minister and his party tried their luck in early elections, claiming that the agreements made with the conservatives about COVID-19 restraint measures put the Canadians and the country’s economy at risk, defending that the country needs a stable government that follows the rules dictated by science. Trudeau did not obtain great effects with this alteration, the results of the election were extremely similar to the ones in 2019, with the liberal party represented by himself reaching a relative majority. Although the win, the incapacity to acquire an absolute majority created a negative connotation around this result. Nevertheless, great political changes are not to be expected, with Canada remaining one of the countries with the highest rate of vaccination (84%) and with an economy in constant recovery, being one of the biggest economic recoveries of the G7. The government expects the country’s GDP to return to the pre-pandemic value in the first half of 2022.
In 2021, the Canadian government supported the families and businesses most affected by the pandemic, the same support is expected to remain after the entry and proliferation of the Omicron variant.
However, the country faces the same internal challenges as the United States because all the positive results are, in a certain way, haunted by the extremely high inflation that is expected over the coming period. In that way, Canada has presented multiple financial measures including support and banking regulations so that this value does not become unbearable for households and businesses. The government gives prominence to the middle class and the necessity of maintaining a sustainable economy for the group that sacrifices the most. With this, new programs that support education are launched in 2022 with the goal of saving families money and contributing to the economical growth of the new generations.
Even with all this support, it is important to refer that the country went through several lockdowns during the year and that these had significant impacts on the development of the country’s economy. In December, and with the gradual return to normality, vaccination campaigns for children were increasingly widespread and adherence was positive.
We also highlight the event of the “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation”, a day that honors the ones that lost their life and the survivals of the residential school system in Canada, looking forward to progressively eliminate social injustice towards native American citizens and to keep on learning from the history of colonization and oppression of these people.
The United States correspond to one of the world’s greatest powers, many say that it is in fact the leading international power, due to its influence on this territory and its extreme relevance for the international community.
As previously stated, Biden’s administration inherited some rather complex conflicts, one of them being the strained competitiveness with China. The United States president continues to put pressure on the international community to act and face what he considers the Chinese “high technology authoritarianism”. Even so, during this year the country assumed new commercial agreements with China and strategically positions itself in the seas of the Pacific with the aim of controlling the trade of that territory. It is expected that this intense search for domain and constant competitiveness with China will prevail. It is even plausible to assume that it will be a new feature of the contemporary geopolitical map.
It is important to highlight the relevance of this conflict, with other countries such as Canada being strongly affected by the dynamics in this market both economically and diplomatically. Throughout this year, the diplomatic relations between Canada and China were affected by some one-off events – the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and the arrest of Canadian citizens in China – and by the perpetuation of the prejudice caused by the pandemic. 2022 will be a definitive year for relations between these two powers.
Unlike his predecessor, Biden believes that the best way of fighting terrorism is through direct action on extremist groups located in territories like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, West and Southeast Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. His administration advocates a more individualistic proposal using action groups that operate in these territories and does not believe in the positive effect of excessive impediments to the entry of these citizens in the country. Equally, the President supports a less violent approach, claiming thar this one should be used in extreme situations of defending US fundamental interests and promises to end with war in Afghanistan and in the Middle East. His most media-driven measure, the complete ceasing of American military intervention in Afghanistan, was not well received by the national and international community which has accumulated criticism not only for its implementation, but also for the devastating consequences it has had on the Afghan people.
Likewise, Biden re-established some international alliances and turned his diplomatic focus on reconquering his allies by reinforcing his presence in NATO and by being part of the Paris Agreement and the Iran Deal. Additionally, Biden faces the immigration crisis as a problem caused by Trump’s administration and advocates a more comprehensive immigration reform, focusing on the reasons why this is necessary and the conditions of the countries of origin of these citizens.
Ecology and climate change were another major issue during 2021 and countries are increasingly committed to act and take measures to reverse it. For example, Biden’s administration believes in a generalized reform in terms of transports, infrastructures, with greater control over companies’ and particulars’ ecological footprint and by creating new jobs. The past year proved as surprising and demanding as the previous one and the North American territory, with some of the major international powers, is considered a sensitive and particular area. It is believed that in 2022 the polarization felt in the political system of the United States and Canada will prevail, even with opposite effects in both countries, and geopolitical outcomes are eagerly awaited during the coming year. However, it is very likely that the next 12 months will not be sufficient to address these issues and that many of them will be repeated in the upcoming year predictions.