Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador identifies as leftist, dismissing his opponents as “conservatives”.
Donald Trump launched his 2016 bid for the US presidency by describing Mexican migrants as “rapists” and threatened economic ruin by ripping up a trade deals between Mexico, the United States and Canada.
But some of the Mexican president’s supporters are pulling for an unlikely candidate in the upcoming US election: Donald Trump.
“We want President Trump to stay in office. Why? Because there’s good communication between him and President López Obrador,” said Carolina Mayor, a veterinarian. “They understand each other perfectly because they’re nationalists. They’re nationalist presidents.”
Amlo, as Mexico’s president is known, has not commented on the election, saying he wants to stay out of US politics. But he has forged a surprisingly close relationship with Trump, going out of his way to praise the US president, and deploying the national guard to crack down on Central American migants.
Trump, meanwhile, has dialed down the insults and repeatedly called Amlo a “great guy”.
Some Amlo supporters, taking a cue from the leader, have also adopted positive attitudes toward Trump – who they claim Amlo was able to “tame”.
“I don’t think Trump is racist. Perhaps he says these things for political reasons,” Mayor said of the US president. “But broadcasters speak very badly of Trump – and they do the same with López Obrador.”
Despite the many obvious differences between the austere Mexican leader and his ostentatious US counterpart, there are also close parallels, said political analyst Bárbara González
Like Trump, Amlo frequently badmouths the press, describes himself in self-aggrandizing terms, indulges conspiracies and wallows in self-pity. “A president has never been attacked like now,” he said in a statement on his commitment to press freedom.
Like Trump, Amlo is an enthusiastic supporter of fossil fuels, dismissing clean energy as a “fallacy”. Trump recently intervened in Opec+ negotiations to allow Mexico not to make serious cuts to its oil production.
“They are both leaders of break-with-the-past movements and they both thrive on negative polarization and foster a cult of personality,” said González.
Amlo’s only international trip since taking power was a visit to Washington in July where he celebrated the signing of the USMCA trade deal – and was immediately included in Trump’s campaign ads. He did not meet with senior Democrats while there – a move analysts say could come back to bite him should Joe Biden win on 3 November.
A foreign ministry spokesman said the Mexican government did not have a preference and would work productively with whoever won.
But Amlo has continued to signal that he is comfortable working with the Trump administration: he recently released water from the Rio Grande Basin to the US to ensure Mexico met its obligations under an international treaty – despite drought conditions in Chihuahua state. He also sent immigration officials to the southern border in a show of force as a new caravan of Central Americans attempted to head north.
Amlo’s apparent acquiescence on migration matters – including allowing asylum seekers to be returned to dangerous Mexican border cities while they wait for their cases to be heard in US courts – has not hurt him domestically. Polls put his approval rating above 60%, while Mexican attitudes towards migrants have also worsened.
“We gave in on stopping migrants, but from then onward, we haven’t heard many opinions from Washington on topics that would usually cause tension between the two countries,” said Brenda Estefan, a former security attache at the Mexican embassy in Washington.
Those tensions traditionally included security issues, human rights and promoting democracy. But despite record murder rates, rampant conflict between organized crime factions and constant attacks on the Mexican press, the US government has stayed mostly silent.
“Trump won’t get into your affairs and you won’t get into his. That’s very comforting for Amlo,” said Jorge Guajardo, senior director at McLarty Associates in Washington and a former Mexican ambassador to China. “So I think Amlo is heavily invested in a Trump re-election.”