Mexico’s López Obrador accuses Biden of ‘disdain’ in talks on immigration, fentanyl trafficking and security

The Mexican president told his US counterpart to ‘do away’ with his ‘abandonment of Latin America’ in a bilateral meeting held as part of the North American Leaders’ Summit

El presidente de México, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, y su homólogo estadounidense, Joe Biden
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (l) and US President Joe Biden, at a bilateral meeting on January 9.Andrew Harnik (AP)

US President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador held a bilateral meeting on Monday as part of the North American Leaders’ Summit. Most of the summit’s work will be handled on Tuesday, when the two leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are to hold hours of talks.

The key topics addressed at Monday’s meeting were security, climate change and immigration.

The first issue discussed at the bilateral summit was climate change, specifically Mexico’s Sonora Plan, which is aimed at boosting renewable energy in the country and creating more economic opportunities. Under discussion was a proposed expansion of the semiconductor supply chain and further mineral exploitation in the Mexican states of Sonora, with a hub in Arizona, to increase North America’s competitiveness.

US President Joe Biden greets Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on January 9.
US President Joe Biden greets Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on January 9.HECTOR VIVAS (Getty Images)

The second issue on the agenda was migration and development cooperation. Mexico wants to expand the joint investment plan in Central America, which promotes social programs in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. The goal of the program is to address the root causes that push migrants to seek refuge in the United States. Last week, the US announced that it will expand a program that allows people to enter the country, so long as they can demonstrate that they have the means necessary to support themselves. Each month, up to 30,000 citizens from Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua will be able to receive authorization to enter and work in the US for two-year periods. However, anyone who tries to enter illegally into the United States will be deported to Mexico. Last year, there were more than two million migrant arrests, the highest number since World War II.

The third big item was security and the war on drugs. The opioid crisis is taking a heavy toll on the United States, claiming tens of thousands of lives every year. Washington wants Mexico to address the fentanyl trade and the role that Mexican cartels play as the main drug traffickers. The two leaders “discussed increased cooperation to prosecute drug traffickers and dismantle criminal networks, disrupt the supply of illicit precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl, shut down drug laboratories, and prevent trafficking of drugs, arms, and people across our shared border,” according to a White House statement.

But López Obrador also challenged Biden to do more for the region, particularly in terms of development cooperation and investment in social programs. “I hold that this is the moment for us to determine to do away with this abandonment, this disdain, and this forgetfulness for Latin America and the Caribbean,” said López Obrador. “Dear President Biden, I am certain that you are a humanistic president, a visionary president, and that there are conditions that couldn’t really be better to initiating new policy of integration – economic, social integration.”

Biden, for his part, defended that “the United States provides more foreign aid than every other country.” “Unfortunately, our responsibility just doesn’t end in the Western Hemisphere,” he added.

As is the case of all diplomatic summits, countries may reach an agreement, but send different political messages, which are tailored to voters at home.

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