WASHINGTON – Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador praised on Wednesday his United States counterpart, Donald Trump, in the first meeting between the pair, which focused on trade and did not touch the more thorny issues of the relationship, such as immigration or the wall at their shared border.
In the first of two statements to the press at the White House, Lopez Obrador thanked Trump for treating his country with “understanding and respect,” despite the fact that in 2015 his US counterpart described Mexican immigrants as criminals and “rapists” and still maintains his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
“You have not tried to treat us as a colony; on the contrary, you have honored our condition as an independent nation,” said the Mexican president in an appearance with Trump, which was held with no questions from the media.
“That’s why I’m here to express to the people of the United States that their president has behaved with us with kindness and respect. You have treated us just as what we are: a country and a dignified people; a free, democratic, and sovereign people,” Lopez Obrador added.
He also assured that Trump has not followed the 1904 Monroe Doctrine, which gave the US unilateral rights over Latin America, despite the fact that the White House has vindicated its will to dust off that policy and the US president himself upheld it in his speech to the UN General Assembly in 2018.
“You have never sought to impose anything on us violating our sovereignty. Instead of the Monroe Doctrine, you have followed, in our case, the wise advice of the lustrous and prudent President George Washington who said, quote, ‘Nations should not take advantage of the unfortunate condition of other peoples,’” said Lopez Obrador.
Trump showered Lopez Obrador with flattery, describing him as his “friend” and defining Mexicans living in the US as “incredible” and “hardworking.”
“The relationship between the United States and Mexico has never been closer than it is right now. And as the president said a little while ago, people were betting against that. They were actually betting against that. But it’s never been stronger, never been closer. We’re doing a tremendous job together,” Trump said during a joint appearance before a dinner at the White House.
Lopez Obrador agreed, stating that the two countries are friends and will continue to be.
The meeting closed without any new agreement being made between the two governments, beyond the signing of a joint declaration celebrating the entry into force of the Mexico-US-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to replace the old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The celebration was marked by the notable absence of representatives from Canada, whose Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided not to travel to Washington, apparently due to US plans to impose new tariffs on Canadian aluminum imports.
But Trump and Lopez Obrador did not need help to extol the free trade pact, and in their joint statement they assured that the agreement will be crucial for the recovery of the economic crisis that has plagued both countries as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“With this type of agreement – and respecting our sovereign states – instead of distancing ourselves, we are deciding, we’re opting to walk together towards the future,” stressed the Mexican leader.
The head of the Office of the Presidency of Mexico, Alfonso Romo, assured the media after the meeting that the only issue discussed was the trade treaty and cooperation in the face of the pandemic, and he shook his head several times when EFE asked him if there was talk of immigration, the border or the situation of the so-called Dreamers – young undocumented immigrants in the US.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany confirmed at a press conference that the immigration issue only came up briefly, in the sense of underscoring cooperation between the countries.
Asked if Trump and Lopez Obrador spoke about the former’s electoral promise that Mexico would pay for the construction of the border wall, the spokeswoman said that the issue was not addressed in her presence.
Lopez Obrador apparently preferred to park the immigration issue despite the fact that this week Trump is expected to rescind the Dreamers program known as DACA, which protects from deportation some 650,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children, almost 80 percent of which are Mexican.
The tone of celebration and friendship was reflected in the gifts that were exchanged – a Louisville Slugger baseball bat customized and signed by Trump for Lopez Obrador, and one made by indigenous people of southern Mexico for the US president – and at the dinner they shared along with some 20 businessmen from both countries, including Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.