MEXICO CITY –
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador challenged US President Joe Biden to end his “abandoned” and “contempt” attitudes towards Latin America and the Caribbean when the two leaders met on Monday, opening head for the summit of North American leaders.
The comments stand in stark contrast to the public display of affection between Lopez Obrador and Biden just before, when they smiled, hugged and shook hands for the camera. But once the two sat down in a splendid room in the Palacio Nacional, flanked by a delegation of top officials, tensions quickly arose.
Most of the summit work will be settled on Tuesday, when the two leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have hours of talks. Migration, both legal and illegal, and border security will be key themes.
On Monday, Lopez Obrador challenged Biden to improve lives across the region, telling him “you have the keys in your hands.”
“This is the moment for us to resolve to eliminate this abandonment, disdain and forgetfulness towards Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.
He also complains that too many imports come from Asia instead of being made in the Americas.
“We asked ourselves, can’t we produce in America what we consume?” he say. “Of course.”
Biden responded by defending the billions of dollars the United States spends on foreign aid around the world, saying “unfortunately, our responsibility doesn’t end in the Western Hemisphere.” And he mentioned deaths in the United States from fentanyl, a drug shipped across the border from Mexico.
While both men were committed to working together, it was a remarkably heated exchange, on full display in front of reporters. They met privately for about an hour before having dinner with the Trudeaus.
The meeting is held most years, although there is a hiatus when Donald Trump is US president. It is often referred to as the “three friends summit,” a reference to the deep diplomatic and economic ties between the nations, but new tensions have emerged.
All three countries are struggling to handle the influx of people to North America and crack down on smugglers who profit from persuading migrants to make the dangerous journey to the US.
In addition, Canada and the United States accuse Lopez Obrador of violating a free trade agreement by favoring the Mexican state-owned company for power plants built by private and foreign investors. . Meanwhile, Trudeau and Lopez Obrador are concerned about Biden’s efforts to boost domestic manufacturing, creating fears that America’s neighbors could be left behind.
Biden and Lopez Obrador have also not had a particularly good relationship over the past two years. The Mexican leader made no secret of his admiration for Trump, and last year he skipped the summit in Los Angeles because Biden did not invite the dictatorships of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
However, efforts have been made to thaw the relationship. Biden has made his point about flying into the new Felipe Angeles International Airport, a prized project by the Mexican president even though it’s controversial.
The airport, expected to cost $4.1 billion when completed, is more than an hour’s drive north of the city center, has few flights and, until recently, was short of drinking water. However, it is one of the key projects that President Lopez Obrador is racing to complete before his term ends next year, along with an oil refinery, a cruise line in the United States and the United States. Yucatan Island and a railroad connecting the Gulf coast and Pacific seaports.
The two leaders arrived in Mexico City in Biden’s limousine. Lopez Obrador was fascinated by the presidential car dubbed the “beast” and he said Biden “showed me how the buttons worked.”
In a remarkably warm comment, the Mexican president described the two leaders’ first meeting during the trip as “very pleasant” and said “President Biden is a friendly person.”
The United States and Mexico have also reached an agreement on a major change in immigration policy, which Biden announced last week.
Under the plan, the US would send 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela back across the border from among those entering the US illegally. Migrants from these four countries do not easily return to their homeland for various reasons.
Additionally, 30,000 people per month from these four countries who receive sponsors, background checks, and an airline flight to the United States will have the ability to work legally in the country for two years.
On Monday, before the summit began, Lopez Obrador said he would consider taking in more migrants than previously announced.
“We don’t want to predict everything, but this is part of what we will discuss at the summit,” said Lopez Obrador. “We support this kind of measure, to give people alternatives,” he said, adding that “the numbers could go up.”
Mexico will also likely require an increase in the number of people allowed to work in the United States in order to take back many of the migrants being deported.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, warned that nothing has been decided yet.
“What we need is to see how the program announced last week performs in practice, if there are any adjustments that need to be made to it and then we can talk about it. taking the next steps,” he said.
On his way to Mexico, Biden stopped in El Paso, Texas, for four hours — his first to the border as president and the longest he’s spent along the US-Mexico route. . The visit was tightly controlled and appeared to be designed to counter Republican claims of a crisis situation by demonstrating a smooth operation to handle migrants who entered lawfully, illegally, and illegally. remove contraband and treat illegal immigrants humanely.
However, the trip did not seem to be able to quell criticism from both sides, including immigrant advocates, who accused the Democratic president of setting evil policies that were no different. policies of his hard-line predecessor, Republican Donald Trump.
The number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border has increased dramatically in Mr Biden’s first two years in office. There were over 2.38 million stops in the year ended September 30, for the first time this number surpassed 2 million.
On Monday afternoon, Lopez Obrador officially welcomed Biden at the Palacio Nacional, the first time since 2014, Mexico has hosted a US president.
In a show of solidarity, the first ladies of the United States and Mexico gave the same speech, alternating between Jill Biden in English and Beatriz Gutierrez Muller in Spanish.
“We believe that poverty is not predetermined by God, but is a product of inequality,” said Jill Biden. “We know that the poor deserve better and are working with compassion, every day, to improve lives for everyone.”
Earlier in the day, Jill Biden met with women in education, the arts, and business, most of whom are recipients of U.S. partnerships or scholarships.
“Do whatever you want but teach others,” she says.
Biden is expected to continue on his first trip to Mexico as president with another to Canada, although it has yet to be scheduled.
A senior Canadian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Canada is working with the Americans on the upcoming visit.
Associated Press writers, Andres Leighton of El Paso, Texas; Anita Snow in Phoenix; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Mark Stevenson and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City; Rob Gillies in Toronto and Chris Megerian and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.