Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador visited President Trump at the White House this week. The two men mostly focused on economic issues, including celebrating a revamped North American trade accord that took effect at the beginning of this month. A topic that wasn’t discussed publicly by the two men was the hot button issue of the wall along the U.S. – Mexican border.
During a government press conference Friday in Mexico, AMLO (as he is popularly known in Mexico) expressed his thanks to Trump for leaving any talk of the wall to the time they spent during a White House dinner. It wasn’t quite a formal state dinner at the White House, thanks to the coronavirus, but nonetheless, the president hosted a White House dinner for his guest. The border wall was discussed by the two men during the White House dinner, just not in front of the White House press corps during their joint press conference.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday expressed his gratitude to Donald Trump for avoiding in public the thorny subject of the U.S. president’s promised border wall during the two leaders’ summit in Washington earlier this week.
Lopez Obrador also thanked his U.S. counterpart for a less “discriminatory tone” during his visit, a rare reference from the Mexican leader to Trump’s past insults toward Mexico and its migrants.
“We thank him for not raising the subject (of the border wall) in public,” Lopez Obrador told reporters at a regular government news conference, adding that the wall was mentioned during a White House dinner “but without the purpose of imposing anything.”
Perhaps AMLO felt compelled to mention that Trump didn’t make a big issue of the border wall in front of the press and only gently during their dinner (if his characterization is correct) because of the backlash AMLO has received in Mexico for making the trip to the White House. Before the visit, AMLO was warned about the risks of such a visit, especially given the alleged anti-Mexican rhetoric in past speeches.
The visit, they have said, was an incomprehensible choice in the middle of a pandemic and global economic crisis, coming with the risk of public humiliation at the hands of Mr. Trump, who has called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “animals” and has said that Mexico is “not our friend.”
“President Trump’s discourse regarding Mexico has been more respectful than it was previously, for which we are very grateful,” Mr. López Obrador said in a recent news conference. “I am also going to give thanks for the U.S. government’s respectful treatment of us.”
Bernardo Sepúlveda, a former foreign minister, wrote in an open letter to the government that the trip would “negatively affect national interests” in the long term, noting that Mr. Trump has been “stigmatizing, offending and humiliating Mexican immigrants.”
Nonetheless, AMLO persisted. He’s no worse off for the visit, it seems. He was right to accept Trump’s invitation and publicly appear amiable. AMLO can tout the fact that Trump was “respectful to Mexico” and “not treating us like a colony” to his countrymen.
The comments caused some back home to cringe. Critics say that López Obrador, popularly known as Amlo, has meekly agreed to US demands to step up migration enforcement, and accepted Trump’s policy of sending asylum seekers to await their hearings in Mexico.
But Amlo also won praise for voicing support for Mexican migrants in the US – and escaping relatively unscathed from his encounter with Trump.
Trump showed “an unusual courtesy to his peer” and “@lopezobrador gave a speech of historic, political and diplomatic depth as the representative of a free, dignified, democratic and sovereign country,” tweeted Álvaro Delgado Gómez, columnist with the newspaper El Heraldo de México.
Mostly, however, Amlo won plaudits for simply avoiding humiliation.
“Trump surprised us in a good way: he behaved,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, a political analyst. “He didn’t score any goals against Amlo. It was Amlo who scored an own goal, when he talked about ‘respect’ and ‘understanding’. That was unnecessary and excessive, and provided the fodder Trump’s campaign was looking for electorally.”
So, let the critics be “surprised”. It was a win for both Trump and AMLO. Let the political analyst condescendingly say that Trump “behaved”. Trump is the most powerful man in the world, he had no need to punch down to the Mexican president. The fact is that President Trump and President AMLO have worked well on border issues and Mexico actually cooperates with law enforcement at the border. That sure didn’t happen during the terms of the two previous presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Those two presidents bent over backward to show how woke they were to Mexico yet received little in exchange. Obama had to resort to deporting illegal migrants while trying to appease others with DACA. Trump has been consistent since he first rode down the escalator in Trump Tower to declare himself a candidate for president. His consistency has paid off.
The visit underscored the surprisingly warm personal relations between the austere Mexican and his US counterpart. “The predictions were wrong,” Amlo told reporters. “We didn’t fight. We’re friends, and will continue to be friends.”
Trump is no doubt enjoying the Democrats’ reaction to the visit. Joe Biden knows it’s a good move for Trump’s re-election campaign. Biden sounds out of touch when he says “We need to work in partnership with Mexico.” Hey Joe, that’s exactly what is happening. Try to keep up.
North of the border, Democrats blasted the visit as unnecessarily helping Trump’s re-election. Joe Biden tweeted: “Trump launched his 2016 campaign by calling Mexicans rapists … We need to work in partnership with Mexico. We need to restore dignity and humanity to our immigration system.”
Trump’s campaign was quick to produce videos of Trump welcoming Amlo to the White House and spread them on social media – something that didn’t go unnoticed in Mexico.
“Trump has capitalised on this according to script. And he’ll continue doing so until election day,” Heredia said. “If voters say, ‘you’re a racist,’ he can now answer, ‘Look, I have the president of Mexico at my side … If I were a racist, he wouldn’t be here.’”
Any time a Castro twin is bothered by a move by the White House usually means Trump is on the right track.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquín Castro slammed Trump for engaging in political spin to distract from his “failure to contain” the coronavirus pandemic that has disproportionately affected Latinos in some states.
CHC members signed a July 1 letter to Trump that said holding the meeting while members were in their districts addressing the needs of communities devastated by the pandemic is a “blatant attempt to politicize the important U.S.-Mexico relationship along partisan lines.”
Democrats are just unhappy that they didn’t get the credit for the visit or the photo ops to use in their own campaigns. Chalk this up as a win.