Mexican President to speak on development and migration on tour

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador plans to kick off a five-day whirlwind tour of four Central American countries and Cuba on Thursday to discuss his government’s approach to development and ways reduce the pressure to migrate.

It will be just the third trip abroad in more than three years for a president who likes to say that the best foreign policy is good domestic policy. The tour is an opportunity for Mexico to reassert itself as a leader in Latin America and will be welcomed by some leaders under pressure from the US government and others for their alleged anti-democratic tendencies.

Geographically and metaphorically, Mexico finds itself wedged between the United States and the rest of Latin America. López Obrador has deflected criticism dating back to the Trump administration that his administration is doing Washington’s dirty work of trying to stop migrants before they reach the US border.

López Obrador will be received in Central America, in part, as an envoy of the United States in matters of migration policy. He and President Joe Biden spoke by phone on Friday and their foreign secretaries met in Washington on Tuesday.

The US government tried to reach a consensus before June’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. It hopes to cement a regional approach to the management of migratory flows, which in recent years have involved a large number of Central Americans, but also more recently Haitians, Cubans, Venezuelans, Colombians and migrants from other continents who cross the Americas.

“We are working closely together to address what is an unprecedented migration challenge in our hemisphere, and indeed around the world, and collaboration with Mexico is absolutely vital,” the secretary of state said Tuesday. American Antony Blinken.

There is agreement between López Obrador and Biden that the root causes of migration like lack of economic opportunity, crime and corruption need to be addressed. López Obrador has repeatedly urged Biden to fund an expansion of some of the Mexican leader’s signature social programs in Central America.

One pays farmers to plant trees that would eventually generate income through fruit or timber and incentivizes them to stay put, a program hailed by White House climate envoy John Kerry during a visit last year. Another puts young people on apprenticeships in companies. Critics say both programs lack accountability.

Guatemala’s foreign ministry, where López Obrador will make his first stop on Thursday, said he expected to discuss immigration and the tree-planting program.

Ana Vanessa Cardenas, coordinator of the international relations program at Anahuac Mayab University in Mérida, said the connection between Mexico and the United States is important for Central American governments under pressure to address root causes. of migration because “Mexico is the facilitator of this aid and also a motivating factor for this aid.

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has come under pressure from the US government for backing down in the country’s fight against corruption – a campaign central to López Obrador’s image in Mexico.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele has faced international condemnation since imposing a state of emergency after a spike in gang killings in late March. show that it is not isolated. Salvadoran security forces have arrested more than 22,000 suspected gang members in just over a month and human rights organizations say there have been numerous arbitrary arrests.

Mexican Senator Emilio Álvarez Icaza, former president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, called on López Obrador to suspend his visit to El Salvador last week. “It would set a very serious precedent if the first time a Mexican president visits El Salvador is in the midst of a state of emergency,” he said.

“It speaks badly of Mexican democracy, but for the other country (El Salvador) it has the opposite effect,” Cardenas said. “It confirms that things are being done within a framework of international recognition that Nayib Bukele would struggle to obtain from another country.”

In Honduras, new President Xiomara Castro has forged close ties with the Biden administration. Last month, Honduras extradited former President Juan Orlando Hernández to face drug and arms trafficking charges in the United States and Castro has campaigned to fight corruption. She is desperate to activate the economy and create jobs, so she could be open to López Obrador’s proposals if there is money behind it.

The president’s agenda in Belize is less clear. The tiny country doesn’t have a significant migration problem, but López Obrador hinted at a talking point earlier this week. One of his favorite projects is building a tourist train around Belize’s neighboring Yucatan Peninsula. The Maya train has been criticized for its environmental impact and lack of feasibility studies, but López Obrador insists it will bring development to poor areas.

On Tuesday, López Obrador said the train would benefit Belize and Guatemala by boosting economic activity along Mexico’s southern border.

The president’s last stop in Cuba will be the most symbolic.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited Mexico last year for independence celebrations. López Obrador ruled largely as a nationalist and populist, but he positioned himself politically as a staunch leftist.

“All the Mexican presidents in post-revolutionary Cuban history have made a trip to Cuba and obviously (Andrés) Manuel López Obrador, left-wing president, could not be an exception,” said Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican diplomat and senior director of McLarty Associates in Washington.

The visit is also an opportunity to push back against the idea that López Obrador has aligned himself too much with the United States to help curb migration, he said. López Obrador criticized the US economic blockade of Cuba and said he told US officials that no country should be excluded from the Summit of the Americas. The Biden administration has signaled that Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua will not be invited.

“I believe his trip to Cuba is a message to the leftmost wing of his group,” Guajardo said.


AP writers María Verza in Mexico City and Sonia Pérez D. in Guatemala contributed to this report.

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