Newly inaugurated U.S. President Joe Biden. Photo: The Mercury Press

By KELIN DILLON

With the newest U.S. President Joseph Biden inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20, questions have arisen in Mexico about what type of relationship will transpire between Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and the new Biden administration in the years to come.

In his daily press conference on the morning of the inauguration, López Obrador said the main focuses of the relationship between the neighboring countries would be migration, economic stimulus and the handling the still-looming coronavirus pandemic.

AMLO noted the importance of welcoming a new U.S. administration, since “38 million Mexicans live and work” in the United States.

He stressed the importance of maintaining a good economic relationship between the two, noting that 90 percent of Mexico’s exports go to the United States.

In his press conference the morning prior, Tuesday, Jan. 19, López Obrador described the current status of the relationship with Biden as “good,” and noted his optimism for its future. 

“In President Biden’s campaign, he offered to carry out immigration reform. and I hope that this commitment is fulfilled,” said AMLO. “I will recognize it and I’m going to celebrate it.”

Despite AMLO’s attempts to reassure the Mexican public that all is well, some are concerned López Obrador’s past behavior may have started off the budding relationship with Biden on the wrong foot.

AMLO waited until Dec. 15, a month after the U.S. election’s end, to congratulate Biden on winning the presidency, a notably extended silence considering the worldwide controversy at the time over Donald Trump’s insistence of electoral fraud, drawing criticism of López Obrador from Democrats in the United States.

“This represents a true diplomatic failure for the president of Mexico at a time when the Biden administration seeks to usher in a new era of friendship and cooperation with Mexico,” said Joaquín Castro, U.S. representative for the state of Texas and leader of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

López Obrador had an unlikely friendship with Trump, despite the contentious former U.S. president’s previous vocal disdain for Mexico and its countrymen, with Trump referring to AMLO as a “cherished friend” and the two exchanging baseball bats upon meeting. Trump’s former national security advisor, Robert O’Brien, even said the two leaders “really hit it off,” a camaraderie perhaps AMLO was not eager to replace.

Tensions also arose in the past weeks between Mexico and the United States following the extradition of General Salvador Cienfuegos back to his home country of Mexico, where the charges originally levied against him by the United States were dropped on Jan. 14.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had crafted a case against Cienfuegos, Mexico’s former secretary of defense, alleging that he was collaborating with the H-2 Cartel, and arrested him in Los Angeles on Oct. 15, 2020, on drug trafficking and money laundering charges, sparking outrage from López Obrador, who had not been informed of any case against the general prior to the arrest.

Cienfuegos was then extradited to Mexico under the promise that he would face full prosecution for the charges, something that never came to be after Mexico’s Attorney General of the Republic (FGR) decided not to pursue the case.

AMLO publicly said that the DEA’s charges against Cienfuegos were “fabricated” during one of his morning press conferences, and ordered the public release of confidential documents from the United States’ case against the general, drawing criticism from the U.S. Justice Department over the actions less than a week before Biden’s inauguration. 

“Publishing such information violates the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between Mexico and the United States, and questions whether the United States can continue to share information to support Mexico’s own criminal investigations,” said a spokesman for the Justice Department following the controversy.

Inhabitants of Mexico are also on the fence when it comes to how well they think the two leaders will get along.

A national survey done by El Financiero showed a lack of optimism among the Mexican population — only 36 percent of Mexicans believe the two presidents will have a positive relationship. Approximately 15 percent think the leaders will have a bad relationship, while 45 percent believe it will be neutral. 

In the same survey, 48 percent of the population revealed they believe relations between the United States and Mexico to be favorable, with 16 percent categorizing the relations as negative.

The report also showed that 45 percent of Mexicans have a favorable attitude towards Joe Biden, up 7 points from October 2020.

Biden’s predecessor, Trump, left office with a dismal 7 approval rating among Mexicans, with 82 percent of the population reportedly having a negative opinion of the former U.S. president. Interestingly enough, over half of the population surveyed believed Trump will run for president again during the next election cycle in 2024.

As the first days of Biden’s presidency begin, only time will tell just how well the relationship between Biden and López Obrador will play out, though after a rocky start, it may be an uphill battle.

…Jan. 21, 2021

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