MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador challenged US President Joe Biden to end an attitude of “abandonment” and “disdain” for Latin America and the Caribbean when the two leaders met on Monday, making a brutal opening for his summit of North American leaders.
The comments were in stark contrast to the public display of affection between López Obrador and Biden shortly before, as they smiled and kissed and shook hands for the cameras. But when the two sat down in an ornate room at the Palacio Nacional, flanked by high-ranking delegations, it didn’t take long for tensions to bubble to the surface.
Most of the work of the summit will be handled on Tuesday, when the two leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will hold hours of talks. Migration, both legal and illegal, and border security will be key topics.
On Monday, López Obrador challenged Biden to improve life across the region, telling him “the key is in your hand.”
“This is the time for us to decide to end this abandonment, this disdain, and this forgetfulness of Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.
He also complained that too many imports are coming from Asia instead of being produced in America.
“We ask ourselves, could we not produce what we eat in America?” he said. “Of course.”
Biden responded by defending the billions of dollars the United States spends on foreign aid around the world, saying “unfortunately our responsibility does not end in the Western Hemisphere.” And he referred to US deaths from fentanyl, a drug that runs across the border from Mexico.
Although both men promised to work together, it was a bitter exchange, on full display in front of reporters. They met privately for an hour before having dinner with Trudeau and his wives.
The meeting is held most years, although there was a break when Donald Trump was president of the USA. It is often called the “summit of the three amigos”, a reference to the deep diplomatic and economic ties between the countries, but new types have emerged.
All three countries are struggling to handle the influx of people arriving in North America and combat smugglers who profit from persuading migrants to make the dangerous journey to the US.
In addition, Canada and the United States accuse López Obrador of violating a free trade agreement by favoring Mexico’s state-owned utility against power plants built by foreign and private investors. Meanwhile, Trudeau and López Obrador are concerned about Biden’s efforts to boost domestic manufacturing, raising concerns that US neighbors could be left behind.
Biden and López Obrador have not been on very good terms in the past two years either. The Mexican leader did not make any intention to adminess Trump, and last year he was not at the Los Angeles summit because Biden did not invite the authoritarian regimes of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
However, efforts were made to thaw the relationship. Biden made a point of flying into the new Felipe Angeles International Airporta prestigious project of the president of Mexico although it is a matter of controversy.
The airport, expected to cost $4.1 billion when completed, is more than an hour’s drive north of the city center, has few flights and until recently lacked consistent drinking water. However, it is one of the main projects that López Obrador is racing to complete before his term ends next year, along with an oil refinery, a tourist train in the Yucatan Peninsula and a train connecting the Gulf coast and ports the Pacific Ocean.
The two leaders entered Mexico City in a Biden limousine. López Obrador was fascinated by the presidential vehicle known as “the Beast,” and said that Biden “showed him how the buttons work.”
In a warm statement, the Mexican president described the first meeting between the two leaders on the trip as “very pleasant,” and said “President Biden is a friendly person.”
The US and Mexico also agreed on a major change in migration policyBiden announced last week.
Under the plan, the US will send 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela back across the border from among those who entered the US illegally. It is not easy for migrants who come from those four countries to return to their home countries for various reasons.
In addition, 30,000 people per month from those four nations receive sponsorsbackground checks and an airline flight to the US he will be able to legally work in the country for two years.
On Monday, before the summit began, López Obrador said he would consider accepting more migrants than previously announced.
“We don’t want to anticipate things, but this is part of what we are going to talk about at the summit,” said López Obrador. “We support this type of measure, to give people options, other options,” he said, adding that “the numbers could increase.”
Mexico would also likely need an increase in the number of people receiving work authorization in the United States to take back more deported migrants.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, cautioned that nothing has been decided yet.
“What we need to see is how the program that was announced last week works in practice, if there is any need to make any adjustments to that program and then we can talk about taking the next steps ,” he said.
On his way to Mexico, Biden stopped in El Paso, Texas, for four times – his first time at the border as president and the longest he has spent along the US-Mexico line. The visit was highly controlled and appeared designed to counter Republican claims of a crisis situation by showing an orderly operation to process migrants who enter legally, dispose of smuggled contraband and humanely treat those who do. entered illegally.
But the trip likely did little to dissuade critics from both sides, including immigrant advocates who accuse the Democratic president of instituting draconian policies unlike those of his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump.
The number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border has increased dramatically during Biden’s first two years in office. There were more than 2.38 million stops during the year ending September 30, the first time the number has exceeded 2 million.
On Monday evening, López Obrador formally welcomed Biden at the Palacio Nacional, the first time since 2014 that Mexico hosted a US president.
In a show of solidarity, the first ladies from the US and Mexico gave the same speech, alternating between Jill Biden in English and Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller in Spanish.
“We believe that poverty is not the destiny of God, but the result of inequality,” said Jill Biden. “We know that the poor deserve a better life and we work with compassion, every day, to improve the lives of all.”
Earlier in the day, Jill Biden met with women from the fields of education, art and business, most of whom received US fellowship programs or scholarships.
“Do whatever you want but teach others,” she said.
Biden is expected to make his first trip to Mexico as president with another to Canada, although it has not yet been scheduled.
A senior Canadian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Canada is working with visiting Americans in the near future.
Associated Press writers Andres Leighton in El Paso, Texas; Anita Snow in Phoenix; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Mark Stevenson and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City; Rob Gillies in Toronto and Chris Megerian and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.