Mexican President López Obrador to receive Biden and Trudeau at summit, as tensions rise due to migration crisis and war on drugs

The ‘three amigos’ – the leaders of Mexico, Canada and the United States – will meet in Mexico for the first time in more than a decade. This will also be the first visit by an American president to Latin America since 2014

López Obrador, Biden y Trudeau
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau at the last North American Leaders’ Summit in Washington, D.C., in November of 2021.MANDEL NGAN (AFP)

On Monday, January 9, US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will travel to Mexico for the start of the North American Leaders’ Summit. The meeting marks the first visit to Latin America by a US president since 2014.

The so-called “three amigos” will cross paths amid turmoil caused by the war on drugs and a worsening migration crisis. The summit will take place just four days after the arrest of Ovidio Guzmán – the son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán – whose henchmen have since set fire and sowed chaos across Culiacán, the capital of the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa.

Much of the discussion will focus on combating undocumented immigration and drug trafficking, although the agenda will also include topics such as the environment, inflation, healthcare and poverty reduction.

On Sunday, Biden landed at the Felipe Ángeles International Airport, after taking a tour of the US-Mexico border for the first time since he was sworn into office. Border control has been a major point of contention in the United States, with the Republican Party repeatedly using undocumented immigration to attack Biden’s administration. Biden will lead a delegation that includes Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, along with other senior members of his cabinet and top US diplomats stationed in Mexico and Canada.

Biden will first meet his Mexican counterpart at the National Palace for a closed-door meeting. Trudeau is scheduled to arrive around 2.40pm on Monday, upon which the summit between the three leaders will begin. Biden is bringing a portfolio to his fellow North American leaders that includes a wide array of issues, such as climate change, global supply chains and immigration. The initial conversation between the three men is scheduled to last for 90 minutes.

The fight against fentanyl trafficking – a drug that has claimed the lives of more than 70,000 Americans in 2022 alone – will be one of Biden’s top priorities. Every day, nearly 200 Americans die from an overdose of the drug, which is principally manufactured in Mexico with chemicals originating from China.

López Obrador knows that he will be pressed on migration and security topics, but he will also be demanding greater economic integration within North America. The bilateral meeting comes just days after the White House announced an agreement with Mexico, which will require the Obrador administration to increase control of the border. In exchange, the US will begin offering new avenues of legal immigration to citizens of Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Around 3.30pm, the three leaders will deliver a message to the media. A joint declaration is expected, which will formalize various agreements between Canada, Mexico and the United States across six different areas: diversity; equity and inclusion; environment and climate change; competitiveness with the rest of the world; migration and development, as well as health and security. Announcements on separate bilateral issues are also scheduled.

Biden will fly back to Washington Monday afternoon. Trudeau and López Obrador, meanwhile, will meet again on Wednesday morning. The diplomatic marathon will close with the signing of a memorandum of understanding recognizing the legacy of the Indigenous peoples in Canada and Mexico.

At a White House press conference by John Kirby – spokesman for the US National Security Council – it was stressed that the leaders’ talks will prioritize the fight against the rising supply of fentanyl and the ongoing opioid crisis. Mexico, Kirby stressed, has taken some “significant steps” in the fight against this scourge. He alluded, specifically, to the capture this week of Ovidio Guzmán, arrested on Thursday in an operation that came about after six months of work by the Mexican authorities.

The violent fall of El Chapo’s son – whose father is serving a life sentence in a US prison – has highlighted the issue of insecurity in Mexico. President López Obrador has denied that Washington played any collaborative role in the arrest, which left 29 people dead, including 10 soldiers. When asked about this, Kirby pivoted: “It is not an insignificant achievement by the Mexican authorities… we have to continue collaborating with them in a synchronized manner.”

Still, Washington expects more results in terms of fighting crime and developing new public health strategies for drug prevention, treatment and recovery. To achieve results, the American government has offered Mexico more carrots than sticks, with promises to improve labor mobility and strengthen the economic alliance in the region, so that North America can compete globally as a single trading bloc. There is talk of further development of mining – especially for crucial minerals such as lithium – and expanded supply chains for semiconductors.

Biden’s decision to link his visit to the southern border with the trip to Mexico is not minor. “I know very well that migration is raising the tension in border communities,” the US president commented from the White House on Thursday.

The agreement set to be formally announced this week will expand a program that has been in place since last year, which allows people based in the United States to sponsor Venezuelan citizens to enter the country, so long as they can demonstrate that they have the means necessary to support them.

This program – which has led to a 94% reduction in the irregular crossings of Venezuelans into the US – will also be extended to nationals of Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua, whose economies have also collapsed. Each month, up to 30,000 citizens from those countries will be able to receive authorization to enter and work in the US for two-year periods. However, Biden warned that “if the request is denied… or [if the individual] tries to cross illegally, they will be returned to Mexico and will not be eligible for this program in the future.” Mexico has agreed to return up to 30,000 migrants per month to the four aforementioned countries should they attempt to cross irregularly.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS