WASHINGTON – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador kicked off his trip to the United States by visiting the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Benito Juarez on Wednesday morning.
The center-left Mexican leader, popularly known as AMLO, was to meet with US counterpart Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday afternoon.
Shortly after dawn, Lopez Obrador paid a visit to the monument to Abraham Lincoln, the 16th US president and a leader known for abolishing slavery and preserving the Union during the 1861-1865 American Civil War.
He then visited the monument to Juarez, a 19th-century Mexican president and Zapotec Indian known for abolishing the legal privileges enjoyed by the Catholic Church and the army and passing laws to improve living conditions for millions of indigenous people.
AMLO paid his respects at both monuments and greeted a crowd of around 100 Mexican nationals who had gathered for the occasion, but he did not make any statements to the media.
Opinions were sharply divided among the crowd, with some cheering the Mexican head of state and others expressing harsh criticism.
Controversy surrounds Lopez Obrador’s visit due to Trump’s unpopularity in Mexico, where many resent his harsh remarks and actions related to the politically charged immigration issue.
At the start of his presidential campaign in 2015, Trump said that lax US immigration policies were allowing drugs, crime and even “rapists” to cross the border from Mexico.
He also has long vowed to build a wall spanning the entire US-Mexico border and last year threatened to impose escalating tariffs on all Mexican imports unless Lopez Obrador’s administration took decisive steps to halt the northward flow of mostly Central American migrants.
That threat led to a bilateral agreement in which Mexico deployed a new National Guard force to its southern border with Guatemala and agreed to take in more migrants pending their asylum hearings in the US.
Despite the occasionally rocky relationship, Trump now has words of praise for AMLO and the Mexican leader says there is mutual respect.
The Mexican president, known for his frugal lifestyle, arrived in Washington on Tuesday night after a long trip on two commercial flights that included a two-and-a-half-hour layover in Atlanta.
Lopez Obrador, who is making his first foreign trip as head of state, is staying at the Mexican Embassy in the US capital.
The official reason for his visit is to celebrate the July 1 entry into force of US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the successor to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
A spokesperson for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at the start of the week that he would not travel to Washington to commemorate the launch of the USMCA due to scheduling conflicts.
Chantal Gagnon said, however, that the agreement is “good for Canada, the United States and Mexico (and) will help ensure that North America emerges stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.”