Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador challenged President Joe Biden to end what he calls an attitude of “disdain” and “abandonment” for the Caribbean and Latin America as the two leaders met Monday, making for a blunt opening to the summit of North American leaders in Mexico City.
Despite public displays of affection between Biden and López Obrador shortly before their opening statements, when the two leaders shook hands and embraced for the cameras, the comments were a stark contrast. Once the two sat down, flanked by delegations of top officials in an ornate room at the Palacio Nacional, it didn’t take long for tension to emerge.
Most of the summit’s critical work will be handled Tuesday when the leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are scheduled to hold hours of talks. Border security, as well as legal and illegal migration, will be critical topics.
Monday, López Obrador challenged the U.S. president to improve life across the region, saying, “you hold the key in your hand.”
“This is the moment for us to determine to do away with this abandonment, this disdain, and this forgetfulness for Latin America and the Caribbean,” said the Mexican president. López Obrador also complained that too many imports are coming from Asia instead of being produced and distributed in the Americas.
López Obrador continued, “We ask ourselves, couldn’t we produce in America what we consume? Of course.”
In response, President Biden defended the billions of dollars the U.S. spends on foreign aid worldwide, saying, “unfortunately, our responsibility just doesn’t end in the Western Hemisphere.” He also referenced American deaths from fentanyl, a drug pouring over Mexico’s southern border.
While both presidents pledged to work together, it was a noticeably terse exchange before a roomful of reporters. After the remarks, the presidents met privately for around an hour before having dinner with Prime Minister Trudeau and their wives.
Strains between countries have emerged
The summit is held most years, although there was a suspension during the presidency of former President Donald Trump. Although it is often referred to as the “three amigos summit,” because of the countries’ deep economic and diplomatic ties, new strains on the relationships have emerged.
All three countries are struggling under the weight of the surge of people arriving in North America and the ability to crack down on smugglers who frequently profit from convincing migrants to make the treacherous trip to the U.S.
López Obrador and Biden haven’t been on especially good terms over the past few years. The Mexican leader is an admirer of former President Trump and skipped a summit last year in Los Angeles because the U.S. president didn’t invite the regimes of Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela.
However, there have been attempts at repairing the relationship. President Biden announced last week that Mexico and the U.S. agreed on a significant shift in migration policy.
Under the new plan, the United States will send 30,000 migrants each month from Haiti, Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua back across the border from those who crossed the border illegally. Additionally, 30,000 people per month from those four countries who secure sponsors, an airline flight into the country, and pass background checks will be able to work legally in the U.S. for two years.
Before the summit began, López Obrador said he would consider taking in more migrants than was previously announced.
“We don’t want to anticipate things, but this is part of what we are going to talk about at the summit,” said the Mexican president. “We support this type of measures, to give people options, alternatives,” he stated, adding that “the numbers may be increased.”
Additionally, Mexico would also likely require an increase in those authorized to work in the United States to agree to take back more migrants being expelled.
However, Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, warned that nothing has yet been decided.
“What we need is to see how the program announced last week works in practice, what if any adjustments need to be made to that program, and then we can talk about taking the next steps,” he said.