MEXICO CITY (AP) – On his first trip abroad as Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador traveled to Washington on Tuesday to meet with his counterpart Donald Trump, a leader who has repeatedly used Mexico as a pinata to harangue his supporters .
The visit, which takes place just four months before the elections in the United States, has many Mexicans appalled. Trump has insulted them, threatened crippling tariffs to force Mexico to play an awkward role in his northern neighbor’s immigration policy, and has insisted that Mexicans pay for a border wall that keeps immigrants out of the United States.
However, López Obrador has had a surprisingly warm relationship with Trump. He likes to point out that Trump recently helped Mexico strike a deal with other oil-producing nations not to cut production as much, and that he helped Mexico get more respirators to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Both presidents speak of a flourishing friendship that seems to stem from their respective search for openly nationalist agendas.
By Tuesday night, his flight had landed at Dulles International Airport, after a stopover in Atlanta.
There is no doubt that Trump will try to take advantage of the visit for his own benefit. One of the objectives of the meeting is to praise a trade agreement that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement, which according to Trump was bad business for the United States, something that will allow the American president to criticize former vice president Joe Biden for having voted to favor of the old NAFTA. Trump could please his supporters by using sharp words towards Mexico or simply play with López Obrador’s desire to express his gratitude.
In 2016, when Trump was running for president, he visited López Obrador’s predecessor, an invitation for which President Enrique Peña Nieto was harshly criticized in Mexico, including by López Obrador himself. After that visit, Trump flew to Arizona, where he criticized immigrants.
López Obrador, pragmatic and nationalist above all else, knows that there is no more important ally than the giant of the north, especially as Mexico’s economy sinks deeper into a recession. If Trump wins a second term, López Obrador could have concluded that he will need a friend for the remaining four years of his six-year term. If the Democrats take office, he is confident that they will respect the importance of the bilateral relationship and that they will not hold a grudge against him.
“Maybe he’s making the right bet and we don’t know,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor at the Schar Faculty of Politics and Government at George Mason University. Correa-Cabrera hopes Trump will use the visit to please his voter base, perhaps even reviving the claim that Mexico will pay for the border wall, an issue that López Obrador repeatedly sidestepped on Tuesday.
“He is aware of what can happen,” he said. “It happened to Peña Nieto. It can easily happen to him, ”said the teacher.
López Obrador insists that he does not want to be trapped by the internal politics of the United States. He says that he will mark the new Treaty between Mexico, the United States and Canada (T-MEC by its Spanish acronym), which entered into force on July 1.
“There is no way that (López Obrador) can turn this visit in his favor,” said Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico of the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University.
Payan said immigration has always been on the bilateral agenda, but he sees little chance that Mexico will win any concessions from Trump, whose government continues to curb immigration, both legal and illegal.
“I think Trump today is more interested than ever in restricting access to the American job market,” added Payan.
Mexico’s worrying level of violence could provide an opportunity for rapprochement. In 2019, the highest number of murders registered in Mexico was recorded. López Obrador could ask for more help from the United States in terms of intelligence information or in monitoring the financial transactions of drug traffickers. The Mexican president has insisted that he will not undermine Mexico’s sovereignty and has been a harsh critic of the Merida Initiative, which brought the financial and material support of the United States to its predecessors in the Mexican government as they fought against the cartels.
Associated Press journalist Deb Riechmann in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.