MEXICO CITY (AP) — U.S.-Mexico relations — a direct trade-off under the Trump administration, with Mexico suppressing immigration and the U.S. not putting pressure on other issues — have become trade, foreign policy, energy and climate change.
President Andres Manuel López Obrador will visit Washington on Tuesday to meet with President Joe Biden, a month after Lopez Obrador rejected Biden’s Invitation to the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. The Mexican leader asked Biden to invite the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela – all countries with anti-democratic regimes – to the summit, and he also called U.S. support for Ukraine a “grave mistake.”
On this and other issues, Lopez Obrador clearly has a worse relationship with Biden than he has with Donald Trump, who threatens Mexico, but he just wants one thing from his southern neighbor What: Preventing migrants from reaching the border.
“I think it’s more of an effort by the Biden administration to re-institutionalize this relationship, to restore this relationship that’s not just centered on immigration and trade. I think that leads to issues that AMLO is less willing to talk about,” said the Wilson Center for Mexican Studies Andrew Rudman, the director of the institute, said he used the Mexican acronym for the president in Spanish.
U.S. officials want López Obrador to ditch his reliance on fossil fuels and his campaign to back Mexico’s state-owned power utility at the expense of foreign-built natural gas and renewable power plants. Washington has filed several complaints under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement, urging Mexico to enforce environmental laws and rules that safeguard union rights.
Lopez Obrador has also angrily rejected any U.S. criticism of Mexico’s killing of journalists or his own efforts to weaken checks and balances in the Mexican government. He was also outraged at U.S. funding of citizens and NGOs in Mexico, which he claimed were part of the opposition.
All this creates a witch brew in the bilateral relationship.
“At the end of the day, the problem is that you have a complete mismatch in this relationship,” said Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States from 2006 to 2013.
The U.S. “needs Mexico as a key partner, from ‘nearshore’ (manufacturing for the U.S. market) … in terms of competitiveness, North American energy security, energy independence, energy efficiency, etc.,” Sarukhan said. “The problem is you have a Mexican president who doesn’t care about these things.”
What the Mexican president is interested in talking about is inflation, which soared to nearly 8% in June. Inflation and the economic fallout of the pandemic are causing more and more Mexican immigrants — 22 of the 53 immigrants who died recently after being abandoned by smugglers in a Texas semi-trailer were Mexican .
“We have to find a way to act together and help each other control inflation,” Lopez Obrador said Friday. “That’s a topic I’m going to raise. We have a plan.”
White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said the same day that the Bidens were looking forward to welcoming Lopez Obrador and his wife at the White House.
“They will discuss a broad and in-depth agenda, including joint efforts on immigration, food security and economic opportunity, so the president looks forward to having those conversations,” Jean-Pierre said.
She avoided questions about Lopez Obrador’s repeated public criticism of the Biden administration, including the U.S. effort to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Britain for prosecution.
“We see President AMLO of Mexico as a partner,” she said, adding that there would be many conversations. “I’ll leave it there.”
The problem is that the Biden administration is willing to press Mexico on anything.
With Republicans like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ruthlessly pointing out immigration issues, Mexico has enormous leverage. It is not obligated to accept anyone returning at its borders except Mexican citizens, but it allows the United States to continue deporting immigrants of other nationalities under the Title 42 health regulations.
López Obrador very much wants the US to issue more work visas to Mexicans and Central Americans. While it remains a thorny issue in U.S. domestic politics, more visas could help tame clandestine border crossings.
Adding such visas “seems to be a way to address our labor shortage in this country, while also taking some of the pressure off Mexico and Central America,” Rudman said. “So that seems to be a target of Lopez Obrador, and a Biden administration might be inclined to deliver.”
Sarukhan believes that Biden is in a similar position to that of European leaders, who essentially outsourced immigration control of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and migrants to Turkey, who accepted them and prevented them from going to Greece. In exchange, he said, Europeans had to endure the increasingly authoritarian approach and foreign policy snub of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“In many ways, the Biden administration has fallen into its own Erdogan trap,” Saruhan said.
As if to underline the similarities, the Turkish president plans to visit Mexico later in July, perhaps to support a new “non-aligned” bloc like the one that existed during the Cold War in the 1960s and 1970s.
Lopez Obrador rarely passes up an opportunity to anger America. He recently said that if Assange is imprisoned in the United States, the Statue of Liberty should be demolished and returned to France.
Still, there are some signs that Mexico is trying to make up for the summit and other deficiencies.
In late May, Mexico began cracking down on hundreds of meth and fentanyl labs that have been shipping a steady stream of drugs to the U.S. that have killed tens of thousands of Americans from drug overdose.
The number of methamphetamine labs seized in Mexico increased from 6 in May to 72 in June, many of which appear to have been operating for years. Days before Lopez Obrador traveled to Washington, authorities raided two large warehouses in the northern city of Culiacan and found half a ton of fentanyl and half a million fentanyl pills.
Rudman was skeptical that the Mexican army suddenly found so many labs in operation. “How could Mexico not know?” Rudman asked.
The question remains why Lopez Obrador got along better with Trump than with Biden.
“I think you could argue that AMLO and Trump ran similar campaigns and won for similar reasons,” Ludman said.
López Obrador’s plan to encourage Mexico’s self-sufficiency in food, energy and other areas is reminiscent of Trump-style nationalism.
“It makes Mexico great again,” Rudman said.
Miller reported from Washington.