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The Two Amigos

Lopez Obrador surprised observers with his tepid words and praise for Trump last week, despite his harsh words and mistreatment of immigrants. Why did he do that? Mexico and the United States, in AMLO's words, have a “peculiar coexistence.”
Jorge Ramos is an Emmy Award-winning Univision network news anchor.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador meeting President Donald Trump at the White House, July 8, 2020. Crédito: Jim Watson / AFP via Getty Images

The photo came out good. But it was sad and painful, listening to the praise and falsehoods the president of Mexico had for the most anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant president of the United States in decades. Despite Andrés Manuel López Obrador's trip to Washington, there is no “new reality” for Mexican immigrants in the United States. On the contrary, it's worse every day.

It is undoubtedly an odd friendship claimed by AMLO and Donald Trump. The popular leftist leader and the abusive rightist mogul. History will judge the president of the United States harshly for his racism, sexism and attacks on immigrants. And López Obrador will be reminded all his life that when he had the opportunity to confront the bully, he decided not to do it and remain silent.

López Obrador has confronted, with courage and guts, the most powerful, dangerous and contemptible figures in Mexican politics. That's why he surprised with his tepid words and praise for Trump, who has mistreated and insulted Mexican immigrants so often. Why did he do that? The new free trade agreement with the United States and Canada (TMEC) has already taken effect, and there was no rush to visit Washington before the elections on Nov. 3.

AMLO said, falsely, that Trump has treated Mexico with “courtesy,” “understanding and respect.” But I doubt the immigrants Trump called “rapists” feel respected; or that the Mexican Dreamers – more than half a million – who Trump wants to deport feel understood; or that the Mexican students in the United States would consider new regulations that might leave them without visas as a courtesy.

The president of Mexico also did not tell the truth when he told Trump, “You have never tried to impose anything on us.” In fact, the U.S. president threatened to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on Mexican imports if Lopez Obrador did not put a stop to the caravans of Central American migrants crossing his territory. Mexico, facing a a terrible problem with violence, had to assign thousands of members of the new National Guard to immigration-related duties.

Another Trump imposition was keeping in Mexico the tens of thousands of Central American refugees who seek asylum in the United States. That goes against the policies of previous U.S. governments to accept for humanitarian reasons those who are fleeing from violence and extreme poverty. AMLO has turned into Trump's immigration policeman.

Another surprise from the meeting is that neither of the presidents – so adept on the blessed social networks – dared to answer questions from the news media. No even one. They were afraid that López Obrador would be asked if he still considered Trump to be a racist, as he said in 2017. Or that Trump would be asked if Mexico will pay for his wall, as he insisted at the beginning of the year.

Among the positive aspects, we have to highlight that AMLO has masterfully avoided conflicts with Trump and negotiated the new trade agreement with the United States and Canada. And, in a powerful message of austerity and simplicity, he and his delegation traveled aboard a commercial flight. Hard to think of another president anywhere in the world who would do the same.

We also have to take note of the warm and emotional welcome AMLO received from many Mexican immigrants who turned out to see him at the Benito Juárez monument in Washington. Without a doubt, AMLO knows how to manage symbols.

Mexico and the United States, in AMLO's words, have a “peculiar coexistence.” Sometimes they are “distant neighbors” and sometimes “dear friends.” There are few relationships so uneven anywhere on the planet. That's why, faced with the powers of the United States, the only formula that works is the dignity, wisdom and ingenuity of Mexicans.

“The predictions were wrong. We did not fight,” López Obrador said in a speech before a dinner with business people. And he was right. “We are friends and we will continue to be friends.” The problem is that that friendship does not at all benefit the 38 million people born in Mexico or of Mexican origin who live in the United States.

That “new reality” – better treatment for immigrants in the United States – that AMLO referred to after he returned to Mexico does not exist. On the contrary. Trump constantly attacks foreigners. He already separated Hispanic families and even put children in cages. And during the current presidential campaign he will not stop attacking immigrants and promoting his new border wall. Trump remains the same, and it is a mistake to believe he will change just because AMLO asked him.

The dark omens (for a clash between AMLO and Trump) did not come through. But the losers were the Mexican immigrants, the Dreamers and the foreign students. The man who could speak for them and defend them decided to remain silent. And all for a photo.