By MARK LORENZANA
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) loves delivering long-winded speeches. Anyone who has the stamina (and nothing else to do) should tune in sometime to his daily morning press conferences at the Palacio Nacional to experience firsthand how truly agonizing these morning sessions can be — they last for hours.
U.S. President Joe Biden had the misfortune of being at the receiving end of López Obrador’s “speech” on Tuesday, July 12, when the two heads of state met at the Oval Office of the White House. Sure, the AMLO tirade didn’t last for hours — only 30 minutes — but it might have been the longest 30 minutes of Biden’s life.
Biden opened up the meeting with a crisp 10-minute speech, which was then followed by AMLO’s half-hour monologue that was equal parts awkward and painful for everyone else in the room — not just for the U.S. president. But being the good host that he was, Biden managed to grin and bear the brunt of López Obrador’s soliloquy, which was — unfortunately — devoid of any eloquence.
López Obrador proceeded to lecture Biden — jackhammer style — on a myriad of issues: the immigration problem in the U.S.-Mexico border, rising inflation, how gas prices in Mexico are lower than in the United States, etc. AMLO even prodded Biden to “follow” the “bold example” set by former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt — who steered the United States through the Great Depression and World War II.
Biden patiently waited for López Obrador to finish — and then managed to inject a bit of humor and sarcasm into the proceedings by complimenting a reporter on her endurance at how she had recorded the entire AMLO monologue on her phone: “Let me say one thing: I can’t get over how that lovely lady is holding that camera steady all this time. It’s amazing.”
Biden then proceeded to answer the issues raised by AMLO — point by point.
On the immigration problem, Biden said that both Mexico and the United States needed to work together to solve the trafficking of migrants, and reminded AMLO about the “multibillion-dollar smuggling industry that’s preying on our most vulnerable, including the 53 souls who died in a tractor trailer in San Antonio last month.” In that tragedy, in which the undocumented migrants — mostly Mexicans — died after being trapped inside a trailer truck just outside San Antonio, Texas, two Mexican nationals, who had overstayed their visas in the United States, were charged in a U.S. federal court in connection with the human-smuggling attempt.
On the worldwide inflation problem, Biden conceded that “we are suffering from inflation imposed as a consequence of what’s going on in Ukraine,” but reminded AMLO that the United States still has “the lowest (inflation) rate of almost every major nation in the world.”
On AMLO’s comment that China has become “the factory of the world,” Biden said that the United States — not China — is the factory of the world. “China is not going to be the factory of the world. You’re in the factory of the world — the United States,” Biden said. “We produce more agricultural product than anything close to what they do.”
On the issue of soaring gas prices, which López Obrador took as an opportunity to poke fun at Biden (in a misguided attempt at one-upmanship) by saying he’s allowed Americans to cross the border into Mexico so they could buy cheaper gas, the U.S. president reminded AMLO that economic growth in the United States is currently leading the world. But most importantly, López Obrador conveniently forgot to mention that gas is cheaper in Mexico because of a big subsidy that is costing the country close to 300 billion pesos a year and which is threatening to bleed the nation’s coffers dry.
Biden, after the meeting, thanked AMLO and rushed off to the Middle East for more pressing matters, and even managed to praise his counterpart: “As I told you from the beginning — and I mean it — I see, we see Mexico as an equal partner. And despite the overhyped headlines that we sometimes see, you and I have a strong and productive relationship and, I would argue, a partnership.”
López Obrador of the leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) loves bombastic rhetoric, as evidenced by his daily soliloquys from his pulpit at the Palacio Nacional. It’s not clear if the “journalists” that he regales — or tries to regale — in person during his morning press conferences truly enjoy his speeches or if they are just being polite. Any journalist worth his or her salt, though, would have no problem separating wheat from chaff, which in the case of AMLO’s diatribes are more chaff than wheat.
When AMLO decided to snub the Biden administration’s invitation a month ago by boycotting the Summit of the Americas, he might have been thinking that he was making a point — that he would be missed — but the major regional summit went on swimmingly without him anyway.
Perhaps López Obrador was reminded of this again after the meeting with Biden — which ended, not with a bang, but a whimper.