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Mexico’s president says he wants to avoid a clash with Trump

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2019-05-31 Mary Beth Sheridan
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wearing a suit and tie: Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, May 31, 2019. © Henry Romero/Reuters Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, May 31, 2019.

MEXICO CITY —President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Friday that he would defend the interests of Mexicans but wanted to avoid a clash with Washington, after the Trump administration announced it would slap punitive tariffs on its southern neighbor unless it did more to stop irregular migration.

“There is no need for confrontation,” the leftist president said at his daily morning news conference.

Mexico is heavily dependent on trade and this year has surged to become the No. 1 trading partner of the United States, eclipsing Canada and China. The Mexican peso slid nearly 3 percent overnight on the news, to almost 20 pesos to the dollar.

López Obrador said he has received broad support from the Mexican public after Trump announced late Thursday that he would impose a 5 percent tariff on all goods coming from Mexico unless it stopped the migration flow.

“I want to insist that we will not fall into any provocation; we are going to act prudently,” said the president. “With respect to U.S. authorities, and President Donald Trump, we think that all these conflicts in the bilateral relationship must be confronted and resolved with dialogue.”

López Obrador dispatched his foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, to Washington on Friday for urgent talks.

The White House plans to launch the penalties on June 10 and increase them if Central American and other migrants continue to cross Mexico to the United States.

López Obrador has maintained a cordial relationship with Trump despite significant policy differences on immigration and other issues.

Mexico has responded to concerns about the growing surge of migrants at the U.S. border by stepping up deportations of undocumented immigrants and intensifying its scrutiny of people crossing its southern border.

“We haven’t just been sitting around with our arms crossed,” said López Obrador.

He said that Mexico would enforce its immigration laws but would not take actions that violate human rights. He noted that people were flowing out of Central America “not by choice, but necessity” because of violence and a lack of jobs.

López Obrador has sought to enlist the United States and other countries in supporting a “Marshall Plan” for Central America, aimed at improving infrastructure and job opportunities in a way that would discourage migration. But while Washington has offered loan guarantees, so far it has not committed substantial funding to the plan.

mary.sheridan@washpost.com

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