Mexican president slams US on Central America tour

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GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador kicked off a five-day tour of four Central American countries and Cuba on Thursday lashing out at the U.S. government.

López Obrador has sharply criticized US officials for being quick to send billions to Ukraine, while dragging their feet on development aid to Central America.

On his first stop in neighboring Guatemala, López Obrador asked for US help in stemming the poverty and unemployment that are sending tens of thousands of Guatemalans north of the US border. The Mexican leader had been angered that the United States had rebuffed his calls to help expand his tree-planting program to Central America.

“These are different things and they should not be compared categorically, but they have already approved $30 billion for the war in Ukraine, while we have been waiting since President Donald Trump, asking them to give $4 billion, and to date, nothing, absolutely nothing,” said López Obrador.

“Honestly, it seems inexplicable,” he added. “For our part, we will continue to respectfully emphasize the need for the United States to cooperate.”

López Obrador’s pet program, known as “Planting Life,” pays farmers a monthly salary to plant and maintain fruit and forest trees on their farms.

Mexico has asked the US government to help fund the program, which has yet to happen. Mexico also boasts another program that trains young people in apprenticeships in companies. Critics say both programs lack accountability.

Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard wrote in his social media accounts that meetings with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei and other officials focused on development, migration and strengthening bilateral relations.

Ebrard said Mexico is beginning the tree program in Guatemala’s Chimaltenango province.

This is only the third trip abroad in more than three years for López Obrador, who likes to say that the best foreign policy is good domestic policy. The tour is an opportunity for Mexico to reassert itself as a leader in Latin America and will be welcomed by some leaders under pressure from the US government and others for their alleged anti-democratic tendencies.

Geographically and metaphorically, Mexico finds itself wedged between the United States and the rest of Latin America. López Obrador has deflected criticism dating back to the Trump administration that his administration is doing Washington’s dirty work of trying to stop migrants before they reach the US border.

López Obrador will be received in Central America, in part, as an envoy of the United States in matters of migration policy.

The US government has been trying to reach consensus ahead of June’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles to cement a regional approach to managing migration flows. In recent years, a large number of Central Americans, but also Haitians, Cubans, Venezuelans, Colombians and migrants from other continents, have crossed the Americas.

The visit is an opportunity for López Obrador to show some independence from the United States. López Obrador criticized the US economic blockade of Cuba and said he told US officials that no country should be excluded from the Summit of the Americas. The Biden administration has signaled that Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua will not be invited.

Giammattei, meanwhile, has come under pressure from the US government for backing down in the country’s fight against corruption – a campaign central to López Obrador’s image in Mexico.

López Obrador will travel to El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele has faced international condemnation since he imposed a state of emergency after a spike in gang killings in late March.

The visit of López Obrador, who prefers a “hugs not bullets” approach to security, is an opportunity to show that he is not isolated. Salvadoran security forces have arrested more than 24,000 suspected gang members in just over a month and human rights organizations say there have been numerous arbitrary arrests.

In Honduras, new President Xiomara Castro has forged close ties with the Biden administration. Last month, Honduras extradited former president Juan Orlando Hernández to face drug and arms trafficking charges in the United States. Castro is desperate to activate the economy and create jobs.

The president’s agenda in Belize is less clear, but his last stopover in Cuba will be the most symbolic. Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited Mexico last year for independence celebrations.

López Obrador ruled largely as a nationalist and populist, but he positioned himself politically as a staunch leftist.

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