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New president, new page with Mexico?

December 7, 2018

Mexico has a huge reservoir of problems demanding President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s immediate attention. He hit the high points during his inauguration speech Saturday — with poverty, corruption, drug cartels (and their influence) and energy reform topping a long list.

But there undoubtedly looms another external problem that could impinge on his many internal ones. He goes by the name Donald Trump.

And the point we make here is that President Trump and the United States can be part of Mexico’s solutions or act as instigator and provocateur. There is much about Mexico’s internal problems that only it can fix. But the U.S. president can help López Obrador substantively tackle these, or he can substantively distract him.

The good news here is that the new Mexican president avers that his relationship with Trump is good so far — and that he feels respected. But looming on the horizon are problems involving the U.S. that will demand a López Obrador response. Given that his predecessor fell quickly from public favor because he suffered from the perception that he did not answer Trump’s threats strongly enough, the temptation will be for López Obrador to meet fire with fire — to the detriment of both sides.

But what if Trump didn’t shoot salvos?

On that list of problems, of course, are those about which Trump has already fired first shots — the border wall and the caravans of Central Americans traversing Mexico en route to the U.S. border. Trump continues to insist on the wall, though it would be an affront to an ally whose people are migrating to the U.S. in fewer numbers now. And solutions would be more at the ready if the president would quit demonizing those in the caravan and beating up Mexico for not turning them away.

Indeed, all immigrants, legal and undocumented — Mexicans included — seem to be in Trump’s cross hairs. This is not the stuff that fruitful bilateral relations are built on.

And though the new NAFTA — now called the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement — has been signed, Trump is still not relenting on tariffs on aluminum and steel imposed on Mexico and Canada.

We suggest that Trump set the tone immediately with our southern neighbor by rescinding those tariffs. It would be a classy gesture. And congressional approval of the new agreement would also help relations. That’s iffier at the moment than it should be.

López Obrador — or AMLO, as he is commonly known — is a leftist who has indicated he will not be as free market-oriented as his predecessors. And this spells trouble if the result is less foreign investment — including in the nation’s energy sector.

But Trump and all Americans should be rooting for López Obrador’s stated goals for relieving Mexico’s endemic poverty — estimated at 40 percent. If he makes headway here — and grows the country’s middle class — all the nation’s other problems will diminish.

And the U.S. and its president need to realize that Mexico’s drug cartels exist — and are fattened — mostly because of this country’s huge appetite for their products. Our war on drugs has been an abysmal failure. It has only worsened Mexico’s human rights and security problems. It’s long past time to try something new.

And speaking of something new, Trump should stop using Mexico and Mexicans as pawns in his political posturing. Turning a new page on U.S.-Mexico relations is possible with this new president. Trump should seize the opportunity. If Mexico prospers, the U.S. does as well.

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