Financial advisers often differentiate between low-risk, low-return investments, from higher-risk bets, albeit with higher potential returns. The President’s trip to Washington followed a different logic: high risk with low returns. Given what was involved, it was not a bad strategy, but victory can only be claimed once it becomes clear that the reverberations do not prove counterproductive.
The speeches of the two presidents could not have been more contrasting, because each had a different objective. For Trump, the goal was to end the dispute that he himself generated with Mexico to appease Hispanic voters. His speech was flat, predictable, and contradictory with everything he had said since his campaign in 2016, particularly regarding the border, migration, NAFTA and, in general, Mexicans. A sparse speech, designed to praise his guest and, at the same time, addressed to his potential voters.
The objective of President López Obrador, of which there was so much speculation, was transparent: to be recognized by the President of the United States. More than a national agenda, his was personal and electoral (and, maybe, rewarded with the arrest of César Duarte, a former governor of Chihuahua). His speech was not that of a president engages in sensitive negotiations, but of one who had reached the zenith of the mountain and wanted to turn it into a historical milestone for his base. Shouting “Long live Mexico” at the White House might seem a bit out of place, but it was the call of someone who had just been legitimized by a higher authority. And that is the problem of the speech: despite repeatedly demanding to be treated with respect and as an equal, the speech suggests that he does not feel he is.
The dinner hosted by President Trump offered the opportunity for American businessmen, strongly represented by large investors in Mexico, especially in the automotive, financial and energy sectors, to ask questions and make clear statements about their concerns regarding decisions that, from the cancellation of the Mexico City airport, have characterized the López Obrador government. A dinner chaired by the businessman in Trump, who clearly understands the importance of certainty and trust in investment decisions, was a perfect context for American entrepreneurs to express themselves “frankly,” as the diplomatic jargon would have it.
The list of guests from the Mexican side leaves no doubt about the way AMLO conceives of business; all of his guests represent activities dependent on the government: contractors, owners of concessions (like telecoms, radio, mining and television), and sellers of services to the government itself. The contrast with the Americans is palpable, which will not help to mitigate the concerns that the AMLO government raises every time it cancels an investment project, calls for a manipulated “consultation” or eliminates an autonomous regulatory body.
The Mexican government is pleased to have concluded the visit without major incidents, which is to be celebrated, but its sights were not high to begin with. There are three risk factors that were not addressed, two of them consciously: the Democrats and the Mexican communities in the United States. The date of the meeting was not a coincidence: if it had taken place a week earlier, with the Congress in session prior to its summer recess, the president would have had to visit, at the very least, Ms. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House and a key person in the approval of the USCMA; otherwise, it would have created a diplomatic incident. Pretending that there will be no repercussions from the Democrats or candidate Joseph Biden’s team is naive. For them, the visit constitutes an AMLO vote for Trump, so one ought to wait to assess the results of the visit. Better leave the celebration for later.
Regarding the communities of Mexicans, it is inexplicable that there was not even an informal meeting with the leaders of such militant organizations and which the current president cultivated for a long time. A meeting would have had a minimal cost; not having organized one will surely have a monumental cost. One wonders who decided something so absurd and at the same time so obvious.
The third risk factor is related to the protests that took place when the president stood guard at the monuments of Juárez and Lincoln. I was not there, but the screams did not sound like Mexican Spanish; rather, they appeared South American, perhaps Cuban or Venezuelan. It is known that there is some opposition along those lines brewing in the state of Florida, so it is not impossible that the president has opened a dangerous Pandora’s Box without even realizing it.
Two no less important unknowns remain: the first is what will happen when a journalist catches Trump off guard and he returns to his traditional anti-Mexican rhetoric or when, in the next few days, he acts on the DACA issue.
On the other hand, nothing in this visit altered the stumbling block on the Mexican side: the wind will take care of the words heard in the Rose Garden; what matters then is not speeches but the results. To be successful, the new trade agreement, the avowed reason for the meeting, depends entirely on the certainty that the government of President López Obrador generates among investors, something not guaranteed. The visit was saved; Now the economy needs to be saved as well.