Why Mexico’s president is staying quiet on border
Before he was president of Mexico, Andre´s Manuel Lo´pez Obrador had a lot to say about President Donald Trump’s plans for a border wall. The wall was “an attempt to strong-arm and humiliate Mexico that is unacceptable and incompatible with international law,” he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in 2017. The wall “goes against humanity,” he said in a speech in Los Angeles the same year. But since being elected last July, Lo´pez Obrador’s tone has changed dramatically. This week, as Trump’s push for the barrier reached a peak, Mexico’s president was reluctant even to utter the syllable. “I don’t even want to mention the word,” he said this week. “It’s an issue that’s not even on our agenda. I don’t think about it.” Lo´pez Obrador has shown similar caution in response to Trump’s other provocations, including a planned change that would force asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are reviewed. AMLO, as he is known, seems determined to be seen as focused largely on domestic politics while viewing US flash points as distractions. “AMLO will have to respond at some point, but he’ll do so calmly,” said Esteban Illades, the editor of Nexos, a cultural and political magazine based in Mexico City. “He understands that a shouting match with the world’s loudest person will only end in defeat.” Before being elected, Lo´pez Obrador’s criticism of the wall was couched in terms of national pride. He denounced his predecessor, Enrique Pen˜a Nieto, for not taking a stronger stance against Trump. He declared he could persuade Trump not to build the wall, “that it’s not necessary,” as he said in Tijuana last February. At a news conference this week, Lo´pez Obrador articulated his administration’s hope that it could work with Trump on development projects to deter migration. “We are persuading, convincing, the US government that the best thing is to develop Central America [and] Mexico,” he said. “That migration becomes a choice, not an obligation. That is our policy.” Lo´pez Obrador’s diplomatic shift hasn’t raised many eyebrows in Mexico, where, despite opposition to Trump and the wall, the population is more concerned with domestic issues. “Mexicans aren’t really worried about the wall in general,” Illades said. “President Trump’s [Wednesday] speech went largely unnoticed in Mexico because people here are much more worried about the gas shortage in a large part of the country.” Lo´pez Obrador sought to take the long perspective on US politics. Each presidential term, he said, is “very short”. “So when a new president takes office, almost as soon as they take power they’re already thinking about re-election, and their opponents are doing the same,” he said.