Mexico's President Weathers A Torrent Of Criticism Over Meeting With Trump Andrés Manuel López Obrador's critics say he's making a mistake by going to Washington and is giving in to the U.S. president's whims. But López Obrador says, "We are going ... with our heads high."
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Mexico's President Weathers A Torrent Of Criticism Over Meeting With Trump

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Mexico's President Weathers A Torrent Of Criticism Over Meeting With Trump

Mexico's President Weathers A Torrent Of Criticism Over Meeting With Trump

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/887150180/887925823" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump invited the leaders of Canada and Mexico to the White House this week to celebrate a new regional trade agreement. Canada's prime minister declined the invitation, citing the coronavirus, as well as work. Mexico's president accepted. And as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, Mexicans are divided over whether the visit is a good idea or not.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Outside a Mexico City Metro stop, Cristian Corte sells tacos and gorditas. He sees my mic and quickly pulls down his thin paper mask, eager to vent his anger about the president's trip.

CRISTIAN CORTE: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I want him to tell Trump to stop stepping all over us and to treat everyone as equals," says Corte. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently told reporters not to worry; the trip will be dignified.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We are going with our heads held high as representatives of this great people of this great country," said Lopez Obrador. His critics don't see it that way. Former diplomats, columnists and political pundits daily decry the visit, which will be his first out of the country as president. Many say Lopez Obrador is once again bowing to Trump's whims and will be seen as helping the U.S. president politically during a tough reelection campaign.

DENISE DRESSER: It is a very risky move. It puts his legacy into question.

KAHN: Denise Dresser is a professor and political commentator in Mexico City.

DRESSER: Forever the Mexican president will be captured in a photograph standing by someone who Mexicans view as xenophobic, as racist. And by standing next to him, Lopez Obrador validates those positions.

KAHN: Others say Lopez Obrador is using the trip as a distraction from domestic troubles, especially the rising rate of infections from the coronavirus. Mexico has now surpassed France and Spain in the number of COVID-19 deaths. Roberto Velasco, head of North American relations in Mexico's Foreign Ministry, brushes off the criticism. He says Lopez Obrador's trip is a vital trade and commercial mission.

ROBERTO VELASCO: We do not get to pick and choose which governments we work with and which others don't when there are citizens of ours and commercial interests and such important bilateral affairs to attend, as is the case with the United States of America.

KAHN: The economy is on the minds of many Mexicans, too. A recent poll showed that nearly 60% of Mexicans favor Lopez Obrador meeting with Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING)

KAHN: Like this construction worker Saul Hernandez, they're worried about finding work.

SAUL HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I just hope they do something good because jobs are hard to come by these days in Mexico," he says. Mexico has lost more than a million formal jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic and is slipping further into recession. Lopez Obrador's trip involves health considerations, too. He's flying on a commercial airline to Washington, D.C., which critics say could expose him to the virus. He refuses to use the presidential plane, calling it too extravagant for a country as poor as Mexico. In the past, he's refused to be tested, also, saying he has no symptoms. Today, however, he said before leaving and keeping with White House protocols, he will be tested.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

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