The man who could be Mexico’s next president came to Washington on Tuesday and sharply criticized President Trump’s push to build a wall along the border Tuesday, arguing the problem of illegal drugs flowing north from Mexico is fueled by U.S. consumption and won’t solved by more security measures.
“This problem needs to be addressed from the demand sides in terms of consumption in the United States,” said Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the veteran leftist politician who is the early front-runner in Mexico’s 2018 presidential race. He told a packed house at a Washington think tank that he is eager for a serious dialogue on trade and security with Mr. Trump, but has no interest in the president’s “propaganda” on such matters.
“We need to establish a relationship of respect, expressing desires for cooperation and setting aside propaganda, because it is not serious to say, ‘I’m gonna build a wall and you’re going to have to pay for it,’” Mr. Lopez Obrador said, mocking the repeated vows Mr. Trump made on the campaign trail last year.
Mr. Trump was clearly “just doing this to exploit nationalist sentiment that exists in all people,” he added. “It does not sound serious to me.”
Mr. Lopez Obrador, speaking an event hosted by the Inter-American Dialogue and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, promised to fight an unprecedented fight against corruption if elected next July.
He arrived as the U.S., Mexico and Canada were conducting intensive talks on Mr. Trump’s demand for a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and on a day the Mexican government was denouncing Mr. Trump’s decision to phase out the program that protects hundreds of thousands of young immigrants — a large majority of whom are from Mexico — from deportation.
The populist Mr. Lopez Obrador, 63, lost presidential runs in 2006 and 2012, and there are questions whether his third run will be a charm. While opinion polls through the summer put his new National Regeneration Movement — known as Morena — well ahead of the nation’s establishment parties, the election is still a long way off and Mr. Lopez Obrador has a history of fading down the stretch.
Washington’s foreign policy establishment has long viewed the former Mexico City mayor as a Ralph Nader-esque outsider, too far to the left to garner the broad support needed to win the presidency, but there were signs Mr. Lopez Obrador’s rivals are taking his latest bid seriously.
On the day Mr. Lopez Obrador was in Washington, The Associated Press reported that the Mexico’s conservative party, known as the PAN, had struck a deal with the center-left Democratic Revolution Party on an electoral alliance to battle both the PRI party of outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto and Mr. Lopez Obrador next year.
Mr. Lopez Obrador, in remarks delivered in Spanish, stressed his anti-corruption and anti-establishment message, highlighting scandals that have plagued Mr. Pena Nieto’s presidency.
“There is nothing that has done more damage to Mexico than dishonesty, the dishonesty of the people running our government,” he said, adding that Morena’s goal is “not to reduce corruption or to just keep it in line, but to completely eliminate it.”
Mr. Lopez Obrador also criticized the Trump administration’s trade policies, saying the administration’s threat to impose dramatic tariffs on goods heading north from Mexico as a way to pay for a wall along the border and reduce the bilateral trade deficit were simply unrealistic given the pain such a move would bring to U.S. consumers.
“If you impose this tariff,” he said, “it would cost U.S. citizens more to buy new cars, and if we were to punish the Mexican auto industry, consumers would have to pay a price for that in the United States.”
Mr. Lopez Obrador also vowed that, if elected, he would vigorously defend the rights of Mexican immigrants and migrant workers inside the United States, enlisting Mexico’s consulates throughout the U.S. in the fight.
“The 50 Mexican consulates in the United States in a short period of time will fully take on the defense of Mexicans and migrants,” he said, adding that a Lopez Obrador administration would turn the facilities into “true centers for the defense of migrants” by elevating an official at each consulate to the “rank of ambassador.”
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