By Anthony Esposito
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The Mexican president’s hesitation over congratulating Joe Biden on his U.S. presidential election win drew flack from several Latino Democratic lawmakers, warning it risked souring a restart to bilateral ties after years of tension under Donald Trump.
In an apparent bid to avoid friction with Trump, who has often used Mexico as a veritable political piñata, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Saturday that he was going to wait until “all the legal matters have been resolved” before commenting on the results of the U.S. election.
Democratic Texas lawmaker Joaquin Castro, head of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee’s oversight subcommittee, took to Twitter to categorize the move as “a stunning diplomatic failure.”
Lopez Obrador’s decision comes “at a time when the incoming Biden administration is looking to usher in a new era of friendship and cooperation with Mexico,” said Castro, who was a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet.
A Biden presidency is seen as a chance to reset ties under stress since Trump made his first White House bid, tarring Mexican migrants as rapists and gun-runners and vowing to keep them out with a border wall.
Castro was one of at least a half dozen Democratic lawmakers who criticized the Mexican president, including Arizona state senator Martin Quezada who said “this is beyond disappointing.”
Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said the government had been in touch with Biden’s and Trump’s teams in recent hours and would remain in contact in the coming days.
“Whether it’s keeping the (relationship) with Trump or establishing it with Biden, who has known President Lopez Obrador since 2012, the objective will be to have the best possible relationship,” Ebrard was quoted as saying by local newspaper Reforma.
Ebrard said Mexico’s ties to the United States were strategic, and that Lopez Obrador had demonstrated since taking office how seriously he took the bilateral relationship.
Lopez Obrador has needed to walk a fine line with Trump, whose term is scheduled to end on Jan. 20. Under Trump’s administration, Mexico has had to navigate abrupt demands to stem illegal migration or face trade tariffs.
Lopez Obrador came into office in late 2018 promising a more humane touch with the tens of thousands of migrants, mostly Central Americans fleeing from entrenched violence and poverty, that traverse Mexico to get to the U.S. southern border.
But after Trump threatened to upend $600 billion in annual bilateral trade with Mexico, Lopez Obrador used the newly created National Guard military police to help stem the flow of migrants and acquiesced to have migrants wait for their U.S. court dates on Mexican soil.
“AMLO has been a co-conspirator in Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine the human rights of vulnerable asylum seekers,” said Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, using an acronym for Lopez Obrador’s name.
His reluctance to comment on the U.S. election results stands in contrast to the wave of congratulations for Biden from other world leaders despite Trump’s protests that the election is not over.
Trump has filed a raft of lawsuits to challenge the election results, but electoral officials in states across the country say there has been no evidence of significant fraud, and legal experts say Trump’s efforts are unlikely to succeed.
“President Lopez Obrador, American voters have spoken and Joe Biden is our President Elect. He won fair and square. Don’t get left behind by the train,” warned Mexican-born Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Reporting by Anthony Esposito, Dave Graham and Frank Jack Daniel; Additional reporting by Raul Cortes Fernandez, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Kenneth Maxwell