Updated July 7, 2020—Forget U.S. President Donald Trump’s demands that Mexico pay for the wall. Set aside Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s 2017 book Oye, Trump calling for “a united front against the dehumanizing and capricious politics of the Republican president.” Never mind the fact that prior Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s decision to host Trump during the 2016 U.S. election cycle was widely considered an error that coincided with the nadir of his approval ratings. Despite all that—and a pandemic to boot—López Obrador and Trump, who have referred to each other in friendly terms regardless of seeming to stand on opposing ends of the political spectrum, will meet at the White House this week.
Here are six things to know about the White House visit by López Obrador, frequently referred to as AMLO.
1. Why is he going?
Despite COVID-19 battering both countries, the Mexican president heads to Washington to celebrate the implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. The deal, negotiated and signed during the Peña Nieto presidency, replaced the quarter-century-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The value of trilateral trade between NAFTA members Canada, Mexico, and the United States exceeded $1.2 trillion in 2019.
Mexico was the United States’ top trade partner in 2019, although bilateral trade fell by 40 percent in April year on year, largely as a result of coronavirus-related disruptions to the auto-manufacturing supply chain.
AMLO also makes the case that traveling to Washington preserves positive relations. “My critics, our adversaries, ask how can I go [to the United States] if he [Trump] has offended Mexicans?” he said during his daily press conference on July 6. “I want to say to the people of my country that in the time we’ve been in government, there has been a relationship of respect, not just toward the government but especially toward the people of Mexico.
2. Here’s who AMLO is meeting with and a look at his agenda.
López Obrador, who travels during the evening of July 7, said his activities in Washington begin the following morning when he will lay bouquets at monuments to Abraham Lincoln and Benito Juárez, Mexico’s first indigenous president who oversaw the country’s period of liberal reforms in the mid-nineteenth century. The following Mexican officials are expected to accompany AMLO: Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Martha Bárcena, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, Economy Minister Graciela Márquez, and Chief of Staff Alfonso Romo. AMLO’s wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, will not join the trip.
AMLO, who will stay in the residency of Mexican Embassy, will meet with Trump in the White House for a private meeting during the afternoon of July 8. They are expected to sign a joint communication. The White House will also host a dinner for the two presidents to meet with U.S. and Mexican business leaders representing sectors such as energy, media, finance, and automanufacturing. Members of AMLO’s presidential business council, including Ricardo Salinas Pliego and Carlos Hank González, will join.
The Mexican president will return home early on the morning of July 9.
3. Here’s who he won’t be meeting with.
Despite the meeting’s purpose being tied to the USMCA implementation, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not travel to Washington. López Obrador said, however, that Trudeau told him on a July 6 phone call that he would visit Mexico as soon as such a trip is possible.
Although the meeting comes with the U.S. presidential election cycle well underway, López Obrador will not meet with presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, saying, “It wouldn’t be right to speak with candidates because it’s a working visit.” While vice president in 2012, Biden traveled to Mexico and met with AMLO and Mexico’s other presidential candidates running at that time. Given that Mexico’s president serves one six-year term and AMLO began his presidency in 2018, he will govern through 2024, so for most of the four-year term with whomever wins the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
AMLO has also said he will not meet with Mexican migrant groups. Mexicans abroad overwhelmingly supported López Obrador in the 2018 presidential election. Even amid grim U.S. unemployment figures, Mexicans sent $15.5 billion home in the first five months of 2020—a 10 percent increase over the same period last year, aided in part by a weakening peso.
4. This will be AMLO’s first international trip since taking office in December 2018.
Not only that, he hasn’t left Mexico since September 2017 when he traveled to Washington, as well as to Cantabria in northern Spain to visit the homelands of his deceased grandfather. López Obrador’s approach to the world is defined by his belief that the best foreign policy is good domestic policy. In contrast, Peña Nieto made nine international trips in his first six months as president and, before him, President Felipe Calderón made four during that time.
5. He will fly commercial.
One of AMLO’s first acts as president was to announce the sale of the presidential jet—a Boeing 787 Dreamliner purchased for $218 million by the Calderón government. López Obrador, known for being frugal, had long framed the plane as a display of opulence, referring to the prior occupant of the Oval Office when saying that “not even Obama” had a plane like it.
But it hasn’t been easy to find a buyer for the Dreamliner, which has depreciated in value by $130 million. For now, the plane sits in a hangar in California at an estimated annual cost of just over $700,000—not much less than what it cost to have it in operation. AMLO announced earlier this year that the jet will be raffled off to raise funds for medical equipment. The raffle is scheduled for September 15, when Mexico traditionally celebrates the “cry of independence.”
Even with no presidential plane at his disposal, AMLO is a frequent flyer who travels on commercial flights. In January, El País estimated that, in the time since he won the presidency in July 2018, López Obrador’s journeys around Mexico equaled more than three trips around the world.
The Mexican president will continue the trend on this trip, flying commercial. As there is no direct flight between Mexico City and Washington during the pandemic, he is traveling on Delta with a layover in Atlanta.
6. He took a COVID-19 test before traveling.
AMLO, who does not publicly use a face mask, announced July 6 he would would get a test before traveling. On July 7 he revealed the results came back negative. He has been in meetings with officials who subsequently tested positive, including with Finance Minister Arturo Herrera in late June.