López Obrador to Biden: ‘You are the first US president that has not built one meter of wall’

The North American Leaders’ Summit came to a close on Tuesday, with the leaders of Mexico, US and Canada announcing their commitment to turn the region into a competitive trade bloc

López Obrador to Biden
US President Joe Biden, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the end of the summit.Nayeli Cruz

The North American Leaders’ Summit came to a close on Tuesday with US President Joe Biden, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau eager to put on a unified front, despite tensions.

The goal of the talks – often called the “Three Amigos Summit” in reference to the deep diplomatic and economic ties among the countries – was to turn North America into a trade and political bloc that can compete in the current geopolitical situation. Beyond the signed agreements, the three leaders sought to quell criticism they face in their home countries, strengthen their image as heads of government and push their agendas in the regional forum.

This was Biden’s first visit to Mexico since coming to office nearly two years ago, and it also marked the first visit to Latin America by a US president since 2014. “You, President Biden, you are the first president of the United States in a very long time that has not built, not even one meter of wall,” López Obrador said. “And that we thank you for that, sir.”

At the summit, Biden focused on the fentanyl trade, which is controlled by Mexican cartels and kills tens of thousands of people through overdoses every year, and defended his new migration policy. Under the plan, 30,000 people per month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela who get sponsors, background checks and an airline flight to the US, will be able to work legally in the country for two years. In exchange, Mexico will take charge of the migrants from these countries who cross into the US illegally. At the press conference, Biden thanked López Obrador for “stepping up to receive into Mexico those not following the lawful pathways we’ve made available, instead of – attempting to unlawfully cross the border between our countries.”

Biden spoke about the need to strengthen regional supply chains and invest in semiconductors, a trade area dominated by China and Taiwan. He also addressed questions about the potentially classified documents found at the Penn Biden Center, where he kept a space after he left the vice presidency. “I was surprised to learn that there are any government records that were taken there to that office,” he said.

López Obrador, for his part, celebrated Biden’s promise to invest billions in cooperation programs aimed at addressing the root causes of the migrant exodus in Central America. And he pushed Biden to “insist” Congress regularize undocumented Mexican migrants who work in industries where American employers are struggling mightily to find enough workers – a feat no US president has managed. The Mexican president also scored points domestically by getting Biden and Trudeau to land at Felipe Ángeles International Airport, his administration’s flagship project that is not certified yet to fly commercially to the United States.

Trudeau applauded North America’s intention to be more competitive and to face up to global challenges, such as the war in Ukraine and the crisis in Haiti. Speaking in a mix of English and French, the Canadian prime minister told the closing press conference: “This summit was extremely fruitful. We were able to reiterate our vision and the force of our partnership.”

Biden, López Obrador and Trudeau signed a joint declaration involving six pillars: “1) diversity, equity, and inclusion; 2) climate change and the environment; 3) competitiveness; 4) migration and development; 5) health; and 6) regional security.” “The leaders are determined to fortify our region’s security, prosperity, sustainability and inclusiveness,” the document stated.

Just one question from a reporter from each country was allowed at the closing ceremonies. The chosen journalists tried to get the three leaders to respond to their questions, but their efforts were thwarted by protocol. Even so, López Obrador took more than 20 minutes to answer a question, using the time to speak about everything from his social programs and plans to eradicate corruption to the dangers of vaping and why young people should seek happiness without having to take drugs.

Biden and Trudeau waited patiently, staring into space, nodding when alluded to, and sometimes bowing their heads. Both were visibly exhausted by the marathon agenda. The Mexican president spoke for so long that some of the reporters looked shocked, while others laughed. Photographers even whistled during López Obrador’s speech in an effort to get him to stop talking – sounds that were heard in the live broadcast.

Biden apologized to reporters for not answering their questions and went directly to the airport, two hours later than originally planned. His convoy, made up of around 30 escort vehicles, drove through downtown Mexico City to the airport, where Biden boarded Air Force One and flew to Washington. López Obrador and Trudeau have a bilateral meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

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