By Rafael Bernal
The leading Mexican presidential candidate slammed President Trump Wednesday as “blaming migrants” for America’s problems.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a populist firebrand with a lead in the polls for the 2018 election, told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington that poor distribution of income and bad tax policies, not immigrants, are the cause of economic distress.
“President Trump’s approach of blaming migrants for the problems of the United States has been excessive. We will not allow that, you can’t implement a campaign of hate against Mexicans because that is neofascism,” he said.
Lopez Obrador was in town to present a complaint against Trump’s executive orders on immigration at the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
“We are denouncing that Secretary [of Homeland Security John] Kelly’s executive measures affect not only Mexicans, but migrants from all over the world,” said Netzaí Sandoval, the lawyer who wrote the claim.
IACHR is the human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), of which both the United States and Mexico are members.
But Lopez Obrador used the opportunity to criticize his political opponents in Mexico, and their relationship with the Trump administration.
Lopez Obrador criticized Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto for his handling of a phone call with Trump in January, in which Trump allegedly joked about sending American troops to help counter Mexican drug cartels.
“As a Mexican, I lament that President Peña allowed himself to be subjugated by President Donald Trump in the phone call,” he said.
Lopez Obrador said that once in power, he would change the nature of the bilateral relationship “without disrespecting anyone, but with firmness.”
He said it is “very probable” that he will win the upcoming election, scheduled for July 2018.
“We will convince the government of the United States and Trump that the best thing is a good deal, an understanding based on cooperation for development,” he said.
But Lopez Obrador warned the overlap between his administration and Trump’s would be short-lived if the Trump administration did not change its tune on migrants.
“I have no doubt that it was an inhuman campaign and politicking. Since it worked in the last election, they think with that propaganda they will consolidate and achieve reelection. I think they are making a mistake, and it is something that cannot be allowed,” he said.
Lopez Obrador said immigrants should not be blamed for problems in the United States, pointing instead to distribution of income, the lack of a progressive tax system and the treatment of immigrants.
Asked whether he was using immigrants as a political tool to further his cause, Lopez Obrador said he doesn’t fight for political positions, but for causes.
“If [I fought] for positions, I would already be president,” he said.
Lopez Obrador narrowly lost presidential elections in 2006 and 2012, in both cases making claims of fraud.
His populist message has earned him comparisons to late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, and more recently to Trump.
Mexican presidential candidates traditionally avoided public appearances outside their country, but have brought their campaign to the United States during this cycle. They are spurred by the defense of immigrants threatened by the Trump administration and electoral reform which makes it easier for Mexican citizens to vote abroad.
The center-right National Action Party’s Margarita Zavala addressed the Atlantic Council in Washington last week. She called Trump’s immigration policy a “discourse of hate” and called on all Mexican politicians to do everything they can to help immigrants in the United States.
Lopez Obrador claimed Wednesday he had been defending migrants for “a long time,” something his opponents had “copied.”
Asked whether she could counter a populist message like Lopez Obrador’s, Zavala said she would have to be very clear in her positions, but ultimately individuals would have to take responsibility for their vote if “they applaud populism, they applaud hate, they applaud demagoguery.”