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Cross-Border Relations Between Biden and AMLO Off to a Rocky Start

By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security

On Nov. 7, four days after the highly-contested U.S. presidential election, American media projected former Vice President Joe Biden as the winner and President-elect.  Following tradition, dozens of world leaders across the globe called or tweeted their congratulations to Biden. There were several unsurprising exceptions, including leaders from Russia, China, North Korea, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. However, the most surprising of all was the response from the president of Mexico.

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Several hours after the election was unofficially called by the U.S. television networks and the Associated Press, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, remained suspiciously silent. He finally made a statement late on Nov. 7 indicating he would not congratulate Biden until all legal remedies were pursued for verifying the results. This stance was in line with the Trump administration’s pursuit of multiple lawsuits alleging voter fraud in several states. It’s also indicative of a potential rocky start to cross-border relations with a new Biden administration in January.

AMLO and Trump

On the surface, AMLO and President Donald Trump seem to make for strange bedfellows. AMLO is widely seen as a center-left progressive politician. For decades, he was a member of Mexico’s notorious, but enduring, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Between 1996 and 2012, he was a leader in the social-democrat Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), under which he ran for president and a very tightly contested election against former President Felipe Calderon in 2006. In 2012, he founded another social democratic party, the National Regeneration Movement known as MORENA.

Social Encounter Party

In 2018, AMLO was elected president as part of a coalition that also included the socially conservative right-wing Social Encounter Party (PES). His presidency began with high approval ratings, but still dealing with the same major issues plaguing the previous Enrique Peña Nieto administration – notably high levels of corruption and a violent drug war. Tensions between the United States and Mexican governments were also running very high over border wall construction and skyrocketing levels of illegal immigration.

National Guard Troops To The Border

AMLO’s decisions as president have veered away from his campaign promises in favor of the the goals of the Trump administration. He ratified the new U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreement, agreed to send thousands of National Guard troops to its borders to slow down illegal immigration in response to Trump’s threats of imposing a 25 percent tariff on certain goods, and agreed to accept asylum seekers while they waited for their U.S. immigration hearings. AMLO has also received no small amount of criticism for downplaying the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nationalist Tendencies

Many observers of the U.S.-Mexico relationship are scratching their heads at AMLO’s support of President Trump, especially considering how Trump has spoken about Mexicans, and basically steamrolled over Mexican sovereignty, in the last four years. However, the two leaders have many things in common, including nationalist tendencies, a love of maligning the press, a fondness for conspiracy theories, and support for fossil fuels. AMLO’S only international trip since taking office has been to Washington, DC to sign the USMCA trade deal, and he did not meet with senior Democrats during his visit.

Reinstatement of DACA

Upon examining all of this background and context, it’s easier to understand why AMLO would be supportive of Trump’s attempts to stay in power, and approach a new relationship with President-elect Biden with apprehension. Biden has made very clear that several of his priorities during his first 100 days in office would include actions that immediately impact Mexico, including a halt to border wall construction and the reinstatement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In late October, a Mexican Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Mexican government did not have a candidate preference, and would work productively with whoever won.

That being said, AMLO has benefited tremendously from the Trump administration staying out of Mexican affairs, despite concerns over growing drug war violence, corruption, and human rights violations.  The southwest border has been shut down to vehicular and foot traffic for months due to the pandemic, but none of this seems to have affected AMLO’S Relatively high approval rating.

It’s too soon to set to determine what details the new Biden administration’s policy towards Mexico and border security will include. Hopefully, AMLO will keep his word, and the Mexican government will continue to work productively with the new administration going into 2021.

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