Why Mex­ico’s pres­i­dent is stay­ing quiet on bor­der

Hawke's Bay Today - - World - Kevin Si­eff anal­y­sis

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.

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