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Five Key Takeaways From the Letter Mexico's New President Sent to Trump

Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador tells Trump there will be a lot of changes ahead.
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Andrés Manuel López Obrador waves to supporters during the closing rally of his campaign at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City on June 27th, 2018.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador waves to supporters during the closing rally of his campaign at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City on June 27th, 2018. 

On July 1st, Mexican citizens voted overwhelmingly for leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador—the former mayor of Mexico City—to become their next president. López Obrador and President Donald Trump spoke over the phone the next day, and, on Sunday, July 22nd, the Mexican president and his team followed up by releasing the contents of a letter López Obrador sent his American counterpart.

Though this is the first official letter he has sent Trump, López Obrador published a book called Oye, Trump ("Listen Up, Trump") in 2017. A collection of quotes from López Obrador’s speeches, the book offered tough talk on the American president, including a remarkable quote in which López Obrador declares that Trump and his advisers "speak of Mexicans the way Hitler spoke of the Jews" just before the Holocaust.

Here are some key takeaways from the seven-page letter:

1. "There will be many changes, Mr. President Trump."

In the past year, incumbent Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has drawn condemnation from many Mexicans for his hesitancy to push back against Trump. Thus, while López Obrador—known in his country as AMLO—strikes a cordial tone in his first letter to Trump, the new Mexican leader takes care to appear firm with the American president. He explains that there will be "many changes" when it comes to immigration and border security. He informs Trump that he is sure that the two countries will reach agreements based on mutual respect and with "an absolute respect for human rights."

2. "Regarding migration, I must comment that the most essential purpose of my government will be to ensure that Mexicans do not have to migrate because of poverty or violence."

Sympathy for migrants is a major motif in AMLO's letter. He declares that his government will "try to make emigration optional and not necessary." To do so, López Obrador explains that he and his government intend to carry out "the greatest effort ever undertaken in Mexico." Much of the letter explains López Obrador’s New Deal-style plan for the country: a "new, national project" that includes massive, job-creating infrastructure projects; efforts to plant millions of hectares of fruit and timber trees; and plans to rein in corruption.

3. "The migration problem should be addressed in a comprehensive manner, through a development plan that includes the Central American countries, where millions of inhabitants do not have job opportunities and are forced to leave their villages to seek a better life and mitigate their hunger and poverty."

Continuing his sympathetic portrayal of migrants, López Obrador declares that any solution to the immigration problem ought to focus on the well-being of would-be migrants within their communities of origin. He explains that he plans to introduce an appropriation bill in Mexico's legislature that will dedicate 75 percent of new funds to finance "projects to create jobs and fight poverty." Only the remaining 25 percent of funds would be dedicated to border control and security. Though he says that he plans to fight drug trafficking and illegal smuggling, López Obrador makes it clear that his priority is to make migration "economically unnecessary" for impoverished Mexicans and Central Americans.

4. "In the matter of trade, I think it is worth making an effort to conclude the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement."

The ultimate test of the new Mexican administration's relationship with the Trump team will be the ongoing renegotiation of NAFTA. Talks between the United States, Mexico, and Canada have been halting and inconclusive, and the deal remains controversial (and, in many areas, deeply unpopular) within both the U.S. and Mexico. Trump and López Obrador both ran on populist platforms, and now the two presidents will need to work to make sure they appear tough at the negotiation table—and come home with a deal that fulfills campaign promises.

5. "Mr. President Trump, I await your comments on my approach that seeks to reach a friendly understanding and mutual respect with you, with your people and with the great nation that you represent."

Though buoyed by his tough talk against Trump on the campaign trail, López Obrador frames his letter through a lens of cooperation and mutual respect. He thanks Trump for his "goodwill and respectful treatment" during their first phone call, and expresses his appreciation for a visit from members of the administration (a picture on López Obrador’s website shows him standing next to Jared Kushner, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin). López Obrador ends his letter by highlighting the unique relationship between Mexico and the U.S., and he opts for a friendly, traditional Mexican farewell: "I send you a warm hug."