Mexico’s Lopez Obrador meets Biden amid tensions over migration and fentanyl


Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador needled President Biden over high gasoline prices in the United States during a visit to the White House on Tuesday, which was intended to serve as a make-up meeting between the two leaders.

“While you wait for gas prices to come down in the United States, we have allowed Americans living near our border to fill up their cars on the Mexican side at a lower rate. Drivers in the US are currently filling up their cars at gas stations in Mexico’s border towns, but we could increase our inventory immediately,” said López Obrador.

López Obrador spoke to Biden’s 10 for 31 minutes and said gas in his country costs about a dollar less than in the United States — the average US gas price is now $4.66, according to the AAA. He also noted that “since the energy crisis began, 72 percent of its crude and heating oil exports in Mexico have been shipped to refiners in the United States.”

The meeting between the two men came a month after López Obrador boycotted Biden’s Western Hemisphere summit and was meant to reflect some sort of détente amid rising concerns about migration, trade and the flow of fentanyl across the US southwest border.

Despite the tensions, López Obrador expressed optimism about the relationship between the two countries, telling Biden: “We trust you because you respect our sovereignty. … Always count on our support and solidarity.”

After boasting about the United States as the “fastest growing” economy in the world, Biden returned the favor, calling Mexico a “great nation” and suggesting both countries would benefit from a cooperative relationship.

“I believe that by working with you, we can help solve both of our problems,” Biden said.

Mexico is the second largest trading partner of the United States, and the countries are linked geographically and culturally—for better or for worse. Mexico is the primary source of illegal migrants and illicit drugs entering the United States, while the other way is the flow of weapons from the United States used in Mexico’s spectacular organized violence.

Despite the neighbors’ shared interests, relations have remained rocky, even as Biden has attempted to adopt a more diplomatic course than former President Donald Trump.

López Obrador, the first modern Mexican leader to emerge from the country’s leftist movement, delights in tweaking the United States. On July 4, he proposed a campaign to dismantle the Statue of Liberty if a US judge sentenced WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to life in prison.

More serious was his snub at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. The Mexican president announced he would skip the June event unless the left-wing autocratic leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were invited. Several Central American leaders followed his lead, casting a shadow over Biden’s first meeting with Latin American leaders.

López Obrador’s boycott “has only added to concerns about the shaky health of Mexico’s democracy and its partnership with the United States,” wrote Sen. Robert Menendez (DN.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. in the Mexican newspaper Reforma. (López Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, said his critics in the US Senate had “a lot of hatred for the Cuban people.”)

AMLO is Mexico’s strongest president in decades. Some say he’s too strong.

The second face-to-face talks between the US and Mexican Presidents will take place on Tuesday. Their longstanding concerns — migration, drug trafficking, and the economy — as well as their sharp disagreements over López Obrador’s nationalist energy policies.

The Mexican leader’s comment about cheaper Mexican gas “was a clear attempt to show this disconnect between Mexican energy policy and US energy policy and what AMLO sees as the impact of each policy,” said Jason Marczak, a Latin America scholar at the Atlantic Council .

Marczak said López Obrador has prioritized Mexico’s state oil industry, favoring fossil fuel development over renewable energy, a very different approach to Biden’s green energy policies.

Biden, like Trump, has relied on Mexico to serve as a buffer as migration across the hemisphere has increased, and he faces intense pressure as mid-term elections near and border detentions reach record levels. López Obrador’s government has complied, arresting almost twice as many migrants in the first third of 2022 as in the same period last year.

At the same time, growing numbers of Mexicans are moving to the United States, reversing a decade-long decline in this migration that ended in 2019. Mexicans now make up the largest group of people being arrested on the US southwest border, with more than 560,000 arrests in the first eight months of fiscal 2022 — a 35 percent increase from the same period in 2021.

López Obrador is keen on getting more temporary US work visas for Mexicans and Central Americans, and the two countries are working to streamline procedures for applicants.

“I say this very sincerely and with the utmost respect: it is indispensable for us to legalize and give security to migrants who have lived and worked very honestly for years and also contribute to the development of this great nation,” López told Obrador biden

The US government is also concerned about the skyrocketing fentanyl overdose deaths, most of which have come from Mexico. López Obrador has had an icy relationship with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, claiming that it interfered too much in Mexico’s internal affairs during previous administrations. For years, his government downplayed Mexico’s role in the fentanyl trade.

Nonetheless, in recent months it has dramatically stepped up raids on synthetic drug labs and seizures of fentanyl, in what has been perceived as a response to American pressure.

Roberto Velasco, head of the North America office at Mexico’s foreign ministry, said the move reflects Mexico’s concerns about the domestic impact of synthetic drugs. “We’re seeing growing use of fentanyl in our country,” although it’s still much less than in the United States, he said in an interview.

The War Next Door: The conflict in Mexico is displacing thousands

López Obrador also came on Tuesday deeply concerned about inflation, which has risen to 7.99 percent, a 21-year high.

Though often labeled a populist, the Mexican leader has maintained a prudent fiscal policy and a stable peso, and backed the overhaul of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Still, US manufacturers, lawmakers and energy companies are accusing López Obrador of going against the spirit of the new trade deal by trying to limit competition, particularly in the power sector.

López Obrador last spring tried to reverse a 2013 reform that opened up the state’s power sector to foreign investment, complaining it gave unfair advantages to private companies, many of which offer green energy. While those efforts have failed, international companies have complained that Mexico’s president has delayed permits for renewable energy plants and taken other measures to slow their growth.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s office said in a statement in March it had “serious concerns about the deterioration in Mexico’s energy policy.” When recently asked if she would seek formal consultations with Mexico over alleged trade deal violations, she said, “I’ve made it very clear that all options are on the table.”

After delivering a half-hour filibuster of sorts in the Oval Office, López Obrador finally joked, “President Biden, I’ll be right through,” prompting Biden to laugh and marvel at how a member of the press corps still is held up her phone to record a video of the meeting. Mexico’s Lopez Obrador meets Biden amid tensions over migration and fentanyl

Dustin Huang

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