Discussions abound, even among restrainers, of a ramped up U.S. role in the region.
Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, is the highest-ranking official yet to meet with Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO as he is popularly called, the president-elect of Mexico. The secretary arrived Friday in the country, alongside Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security chief ostensibly charged with building President Trump’s border wall. Pompeo’s arrival comes at a time when AMLO is seen as the left-wing, Latin American answer to Trump; it also comes as the Central American humanitarian situation, as well as the political collapse in Venezuela, threaten to vault the region from an afterthought in Washington to the front pages. In a sign of how seriously the administration is now taking the region, Senior Counselor Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a Trump favorite, are joining Pompeo and Nielsen.
Obrador takes over in December, an extremely lengthy transition period, as pointed out by the State Department Thursday. “The Mexican political transition is long in comparison to what we have here in the United States – about five months,” a senior U.S. State official briefing reporters said.
But the official implicitly linked the region to core concerns of the president’s base; the need for a steady transition is paramount.
“Our effort to combat transnational criminal organizations in Mexico is directly linked to our concern about the opioid crisis in our country and the flow of drugs across our border,” the senior official said.
The U.S. delegation’s visit also comes at a time of two major developments that concern the region.
First, in their initial phone call earlier this month, Obrador floated to Trump a possible deal: significant Mexican assistance in stemming the flow of refugees from Central America in exchange for a hefty aid package from the United States.