Mexican leader in rare trip to see Trump under virus cloud

by Shaun Tandon and Alina Dieste

Mexico’s leader is paying his first foreign visit Wednesday in the unlikeliest of circumstances — in the midst of the raging coronavirus pandemic to see US President Donald Trump, who has disparaged his country.

A left-wing populist, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in 2018 refusing to travel overseas but has made his first exception — flying commercially, in economy class, to Washington.

Trump would hardly seem to be an ally, having campaigned for the White House on promises to build a wall on the southern border and on vilifying Mexican immigrants as criminals.

But AMLO, as the Mexican leader is known, has shown a pragmatic streak in managing relations with Trump, mindful that even small actions by the giant neighbor can have enormous consequences for his country, especially on the economic front.

The official reason for his visit is the launch of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a modified successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement which Trump had branded a killer of working-class US jobs.

Despite coming from opposite sides of the political spectrum, Trump and Lopez Obrador have also been cooperating in the US leader’s efforts to stop Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States as they flee violence.

Trump said Tuesday that he expected “quite a meeting” with Lopez Obrador.

“He’s a good man. He’s a friend of mine. And we have a great relationship with Mexico,” Trump said.

Lopez Obrador said Tuesday before leaving Mexico: “I want to maintain good relations with the United States. That’s what suits us.”

Lopez Obrador is banking on the new trade agreement to prop up the Mexican economy which is expected to contract 8.8 percent this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left more than 30,000 dead in Mexico.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to come to Washington to make it a three-way summit. (AFP)