Vice President Kamala Harris launched her first trip abroad this week with a diplomatic visit to Guatemala and Mexico, a step toward leading U.S. efforts to stem migration from Central America.
The Vice President met with community organizers, business owners and Presidents Alejandro Giammattei and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leaders of Guatemala and Mexico, respectively. In March, President Joe Biden tasked Harris with addressing an increase in migration — including unaccompanied minors — at the southern border.
On Tuesday, Harris met with President López Obrador, also known as “AMLO,” Mexico’s president since 2018. Here’s what you should know about him:
From Mayor to President
A former activist who led protests against petroleum contamination and marched to oppose electoral fraud, López Obrador was elected mayor of Mexico City, the country’s capital, in 2000.
He left his mayoral term early to run for president in 2006 on an agenda to “put the poor first.” Attack ads compared him to late-Venezuelan President and socialist leader Hugo Chavez, and López Obrador lost. He ran — and lost — again in 2012, but finally succeeded in the 2018 election.
López Obrador has come under scrutiny recently for supporting Félix Salgado, a state government candidate and member of the ruling Moreno Party who is accused of sexual assault.
Women’s rights activists and demonstrators nationwide protested against López Obrador’s administration for his continued backing of Salgado.
Related: Harris tackles migration in high-profile visit to Guatemala and Mexico. Here’s what’s on the agenda.
Meeting with Harris
Harris spoke Tuesday with López Obrador on issues the two leaders began discussing in April. The meeting is a chance to reaffirm the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Mexico and address policy changes affecting migration from Northern Triangle countries El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to the U.S.
Learn more: Vice President Kamala Harris to lead White House efforts to stem migration at the border
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is inoculated with the first dose of the Astra Zeneca vaccine against COVID-19 after his daily news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City on April 20. (Photo: PEDRO PARDO, AFP via Getty Images)
The trip represents new outreach efforts by the Biden administration to Central America after funding for the region was cut during former President Donald Trump’s term in office.
At the meeting with the Mexican president, Harris announced the U.S. will invest an additional $130 million in technical assistance and cooperation over the next three years to Mexico while it implements labor legislation to support workers, improve working conditions, and address child and forced labor. An additional plan to create $250 million in new investment and sales in southern Mexico by bolstering local agriculture and eco-tourism was also announced.
Harris and López Obrador also committed to partnering in exchanging information and initiating measures to stop human trafficking and human smuggling operations, expand forensic capacity and work together to help solve over 82,000 cases of missing persons and disappearances in Mexico.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (R) listens to US President Joe Biden delivering his inaugural speech during the Earth Day Summit, at the National Palace in Mexico City, on April 22, 2021. (Photo: PEDRO PARDO, AFP via Getty Images)
AMLO’s relationship with the U.S.
As a presidential candidate, he supported the North American Free Trade Agreement and promised a cordial relationship with the U.S. But AMLO did not commit to stopping Central American migrants entering the U.S. border.
“We won’t do the dirty work of any foreign government,” he said of the matter.
The Mexican president, who formed an unlikely friendship with Trump, bragged about wanting to sell the presidential airplane to the former president back in 2018.
When he visited Washington last summer, López Obrador praised Trump for “respecting” Mexico but did not meet with senior Democrats or Biden, who was then a presidential candidate.
And when Biden won the 2020 presidential election, López Obrador delayed in congratulating the new U.S. president, raising concerns about U.S.-Mexico relations.
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