Trump and AMLO worked together to craft a new version of the 1994 NAFTA agreement.
We should not underestimate the enormous symbolic and strategic importance of the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) in Washington on July 7.
Trump was elected in 2016 on an explicitly anti-Mexican platform. He called Mexicans “rapists” and threatened to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) while vowing to build an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful wall” on the border with Mexico.
In contrast, in 2017, Lopez Obrador, as a presidential candidate, undertook a tour across the U.S. to express his solidarity with Mexican migrants threatened by Trump’s draconian immigration policies. The Mexican leader called Trump a “neo-fascist” and presented international human rights claims against the White House both in the United Nations (UN) and at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Once AMLO was elected president in 2018, the expectation was that the two heads of state would inevitably collide, spoiling a long history of constructive bilateral collaboration. Surprisingly, however, Trump and Mexico’s president have gotten along really well.
Lopez Obrador made the first goodwill move. The Mexican leader could have easily used his political capital —after a landslide victory in July 2018— to stir up the masses against the bully in Washington.
Instead, he brandished a pen and wrote a letter to Trump in which he proposed “a new stage in the relationship between Mexico and the U.S., based on mutual respect and the identification of areas of mutual understanding and interests.”
Trump followed suit. Rather than railing against a new “radical leftist” president south of the border, Trump called the Mexican leader to congratulate him warmly on election day. Immediately afterward, he sent a high-level delegation to meet with AMLO’s transition team in Mexico City and quickly set to work forward with bilateral trade negotiations.
Of course, Trump has continued to insult Mexicans and immigrants while applying pressure on the Mexican government to control the flow of migrants north.
The U.S. president, however, has not taken a single action against the AMLO administration or violated Mexican sovereignty, something which is not a small feat, given the White House’s tendency toward neo-imperialist policies, such as with Venezuela and Iran, for instance.