MEXICO CITY -- Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will visit U.S. President Donald Trump on July 8 and 9 in his first trip abroad as the country's leader, the foreign relations secretary confirmed Tuesday.
The trip has proved controversial among many Mexicans because it comes just months before U.S. elections, and because of Trump’s previous disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants. Many here remember former President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ill-starred meeting with Trump that some feel strengthened the then-presidential candidate ahead of the 2016 U.S. election.
Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard wrote in his Twitter account that more details about the visit by López Obrador, who is famous in Mexico for declining international travel until now, will be forthcoming Wednesday.
The trip was originally meant to celebrate the July 1 implementation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. However, López Obrador will spend July 1 in Mexico celebrating the second anniversary of his July 1, 2018 election victory.
The two leaders have displayed surprisingly cordial relations despite ideological differences. Trump said of López Obrador last week, “He’s really a great guy. I think he’ll be coming into Washington pretty soon.” López Obrador has called Trump a friend and said his administration has shown respect for Mexico.
“The main objective of the meeting proposed by President López Obrador is promoting our interests, and is not related to internal (U.S.) political processes,” Roberto Velasco Álvarez, the Foreign Relations Department’s director of North American affairs, wrote in his Twitter account last week.
López Obrador said “it is very important to participate at the launch of an agreement that I consider historic.”
However, Mexico’s former ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhán, called the trip “a colossal political, electoral, diplomatic and long-term strategic error.”
López Obrador has studiously avoided conflict with Mexico’s much larger neighbor, even after Trump threatened to put crippling tariffs on Mexican goods imported into the U.S. unless Mexico did more to stop migrant caravans. Mexico effectively blocked the caravans.
Trump angered many Mexicans when as a candidate in 2016, he said Mexicans crossing the border brought drugs, crime and “tremendous infectious disease” to the U.S.. At the time, critics said Peña Nieto gave him a pulpit when he invited both U.S. candidates to Mexico City in 2016, but only Trump accepted. After taking office, Trump continued to promise to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it.
In a recent piece for the Washington Post, Mexican columnist León Krauze wrote about the 2016 meeting, “Why would López Obrador, who was so critical of Peña Nieto’s decision to prop up Trump during a contentious election, risk international opprobrium and condemnation at home over the exact same mistake?”