Updated July 12, 2018—In Mexico, the transition period from election to inauguration is anything but short: all in all, it will be five months from the time Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the presidential election until his December 1 inauguration. But he's looking like he's ready to take office, and one hallmark is that, less than two weeks since his victory, he already has a high-level meeting slated with top White House officials. On Friday, in his headquarters in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood, the future president many simply refer to as AMLO will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and U.S. President Donald Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Joining AMLO will be Marcelo Ebrard, his pick to be Mexico’s next foreign secretary who, like the president-elect, is a former Mexico City mayor. Ebrard also worked on helping U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton court Latino voters in 2016. Other representatives on the Mexican side will include Alfonso Durazo, AMLO's pick for chief of public security; Jesús Seade, who is set to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); Martha Bárcena*, AMLO's possible choice for ambassador to the U.S.; and Graciela Márquez Colín, the president-elect's pick for economy secretary.
Here’s what to know before the July 13 meeting.
The relationship so far
When López Obrador was on the campaign trail, some observers posited that bilateral ties could only get worse if he won. After all, AMLO launched his campaign near the border in Ciudad Juárez by saying: “Neither Mexico nor its people will be a piñata for any foreign government.” On the other hand, with Mexican public opinion of the United States slumping since Trump took office, all of the candidates took firm stances in opposition to Trump’s anti-Mexico rhetoric.
In the wake of AMLO’s win, the tone has been anything but hostile, however. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that, despite fundamental differences, López Obrador and Trump share a straightforward manner of talking, or because they both tend to have inward rather than globalist perspectives. But the country’s new leadership also gives the Trump administration a chance to start over with Mexico. On the day after the election, the two had a half-hour call that Trump called “great,” saying: “I think the relationship is going to be a very good one.” AMLO, in turn, described the call’s tone as “respectful.” He has also invited the U.S. president to his December inauguration.
Issues on the table
It will be no surprise for anybody paying the slightest attention to Trump policies that immigration will be a topic during AMLO’s July 13 meeting with U.S. officials. And it’s an area where there are chances for common ground. In his victory speech, López Obrador said he hoped to make his country a place where “a Mexican can work and be happy where he was born…and that those who emigrate do so because they want to, not because they need to.”
He also said that in his call with Trump, he pitched a deal for development projects in Mexico to stem migration and improve security. In recent days, Durazo said the next administration plans to avoid Trump-like immigration tactics. He shared plans to build a specialized border police force to be stationed at Mexico’s northern and southern borders with the goal of slowing undocumented migration, human trafficking, drugs, and guns, reports Bloomberg. Durazo also suggested that marijuana should be decriminalized. Olga Sánchez Cordero, AMLO’s interior secretary pick, has gone a step further and suggested the same for poppies used in heroin production.
Stalled renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are also likely to be discussed at the meeting. Although AMLO has pledged to strengthen Mexico’s internal market, he hasn’t taken to negative, Trump-like attacks toward the trilateral deal. He may be recognizing popular will on that front: most Mexicans hold a positive view of NAFTA and feel Mexico should stay in the pact. So far, López Obrador has indicated collaboration with the current government’s efforts on the talks.
AMLO could find common ground on a point the Trump administration has pushed: raising salaries for workers in Mexico, which has one of the lowest minimum wage rates in Latin America. While on the campaign trail, López Obrador pledged to lift salaries, and his transition team is already working on boosting minimum wage levels, which goes hand in hand with AMLO’s efforts to keep Mexicans from leaving home.
The effort to stem the flow of people leaving Mexico is a reminder that López Obrador isn’t donning the presidential sash just yet. Nielsen met with current Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray Caso and Central American foreign ministers in Guatemala City this week, and, even if all eyes are on AMLO's visit, the U.S. delegation will be meeting with current President Enrique Peña Nieto and Videgaray in Mexico’s capital as well. The two countries are exploring the possibility of a “safe third country agreement” that would require asylum seekers crossing Mexico to apply for refuge there rather than in the United States, reports The Washington Post.
*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Alicia Bárcena would attend the meeting. Martha Bárcena will be in attendance.