Experts Foresee Generally Positive US-Mexico Relations Under Leftist President

By Mark Browne | July 4, 2018 | 6:41pm EDT
Left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador celebrates his election victory. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Mexico City ( – Experts see generally positive signs for U.S.-Mexico relations following the victory of left-wing presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico’s election on Sunday.

In spite of Lopez Obrador being a leftist and President Trump a conservative, the two countries’ longstanding cooperation on economic and security issues makes it unlikely that relations between the two leaders will implode.

Trump has proven not to be very ideological and he’s much more open to non-traditional ways of dealing with foreign leaders, said Richard Miles, director of the U.S. Mexico Futures Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Lopez Obrador, he added, can “also be that way as well.”

“We might be surprised. The relationship might be that much better.”

After speaking with Lopez Obrador by phone, Trump told reporters at the White House that he expects a “very good relationship.”

“We’ll see what happens, but I do believe it will be a very good one.”

After the phone call, Lopez Obrador tweeted that the conversation was “respectful,” and that he proposed to Trump that the two countries work together towards an agreement to increase employment opportunities in Mexico, to reduce migration and crime.

During a telephone forum Monday sponsored by the Wilson Institute, former assistant secretary of state Earl Anthony Wayne said, “I do think this is a window of opportunity for both sides to set a new tone in the relation and work on the concrete things that need to be addressed.”

While campaigning for the presidency Lopez Obrador appeared to be deliberately restrained in his comments about the U.S.

“He is trying to keep space open to have a good working relationship with the U.S. but none of that is assured,” Wayne said. “It is going to depend on what both sides say and do with each other in the months ahead.”

Lopez Obrador only takes office in December. When he does, NAFTA negotiations, security and immigration are likely to be at the top of the list of international issues he will have to address.

Experts generally agree that he will not make significant changes to Mexico’s approach in the ongoing efforts to renegotiate the trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute, said pressures now faced by Mexico will remain the same for Lopez Obrador, who will likely seek an agreement for domestic and economic reasons.

“I think that Lopez Obrador will be tough while seeking an agreement,” he said. “He will have to walk that fine line that the current government has tried to walk during the past year.”

Wayne said Trump and Lopez Obrador would likely find common ground on the need to promote security and fight drug trafficking.

Mexico is facing historic levels of criminal violence, resulting in the highest homicide rate in the country’s history last year.

Both countries have a “great shared interest” in continuing their cooperation in fighting organized crime and drug trafficking from Mexico into the U.S., Wayne said.

During the campaign, Lopez Obrador said he would consider giving amnesty to cartel leaders to reduce drug-related violence.

He has since “walked back” the position, however, according to Miles of CSIS.

Miles warned that any decision by Lopez Obrador to reduce or abandon Mexico’s battle against the drug cartels would pose a significant challenge to good relations with the U.S.

“If he gives up the fight against the cartels, I think that would cause a big problem.”

Mexico under a Lopez Obrador presidency is likely to continue its effort to restrict the illegal entry of migrants from Central America, said Eric Olsen, deputy director of the Latin American Program at the Wilson Institute.

That’s because the policy has support among the Mexican people, and not just the U.S., he said, adding that a reversal of the policy would be “unwise.”

In the view of Maureen Meyer, director for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America, Mexico’s next president” will be much more focused on what is in Mexico’s best interest as he approaches the Mexico-U.S. relationship, and not as willing to enter into cooperation with the U.S. where he feels Mexico has little to gain.”

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