Mexican president fears tariffs, wants to pay off water debt to US

Texas

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador chides opposition leaders in Chihuahua for backing occupation of dam, placing Mexico in "difficult position" with the United States

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Mexico will make good on its water obligations to the United States under a 1944 treaty despite the objections of government and business interests in Chihuahua, the president of Mexico said on Friday.

Speaking at the inauguration of a health clinic in Juarez, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said his administration has no intention of punishing residents as a result of the water fight with the state.

“I am very happy to be among you, the people of this border city and the people of Chihuahua. I came to tell you that, independently of the differences we have […] with the authorities of Chihuahua, we will always continue to support the people …,” the president said.

Chihuahua farmers have taken over the state’s largest water dam since Sept. 8, saying they will not be able to plant crops next spring if Lopez Obrador takes their water and hands it over to the United States.

Mexico owes the U.S. nearly a year’s worth of water under the treaty and must make payment by Oct. 24. The farmers and Chihuahua authorities say they have already contributed enough water and that it’s not their fault that the federal government has mismanaged the liquid over the past five-year cycle of the treaty.

Demonstrators hold signs urging the president of Mexico to withdraw the National Guard from Chihuahua state dams. (Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

But the president is keeping a different count. On Friday, he said all his other border states have contributed their share of water for the United States except Chihuahua.

Lopez Obrador said he’s afraid the U.S. could use non-payment as an excuse to renegotiate the treaty, which he admits is more favorable to Mexico than to the United States.

“We have … one of the few treaties in which our country is most-favored. […] They give us three times more water than we return. But if we don’t deliver our portion, we leave ourselves open to changes that could hurt. Or worse, they could take measures against Mexico under the guise that we are not complying with the treaty,” he said.

At the height of last year’s migrant crisis, the Trump administration threatened to impose tariffs of up to 25% on Mexican products if Mexico didn’t stop caravans from Central America and help the United States solve the crisis.

Initially a proponent of the free transit of people, Lopez Obrador sent soldiers to the Guatemalan border to stop the caravans and began to accept tens of thousands of migrants sent from the U.S. to Mexico to await the outcome of asylum requests. This became known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.

Lopez Obrador on Friday again mentioned the prospect of being threatened with tariffs from the United States if he doesn’t deliver the water.

“They could impose tariffs to the merchandise we export to the United States,” he said. “We want to maintain good relations with the United States.”

The president went on to talk about several public works projects he has planned for Juarez, including the new clinic, street improvements, and loans for small businesses. But before that, he gave Chihuahua leaders one last send-off.

“In a very irresponsible and opportunistic way, they have become nationalists and they don’t want us to hand over the water, placing our country in a very difficult situation,” Lopez Obrador said.

Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador waves at residents of the Tierra Nueva neighborhood, where he inaugurated a new clinic on Friday. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral, who’s expressed support for the farmers and leads a coalition of opposition party governors, was not invited to the president’s event.

Lopez Obrador did not address when Mexico will start making its water payments or if he intends to dislodge hundreds of farmers from La Boquilla dam. News reports and U.S.-Mexico relations experts warn that Lopez Obrador has shored up the army’s presence in southeastern Chihuahua, near the dam.

Cheers and jeers welcome president to Juarez

Several hundred people lined the highway near Juarez International Airport on Friday morning to witness the arrival of the president to the city. Some carried signs of thanks and welcome, others demanded the withdrawal of the National Guard from the dams and that the murders of Jessica Silva, a farmer shot to death by soldiers at La Boquilla last month, be brought to justice.

“Lopez Obrador wants submissive governors. He doesn’t want governors like Javier Corral who question his actions,” said Jose Marquez, who held one end of banner at the airport that said “Nothing but lies.”

People who identified themselves as sympathizers of the Morena political party came to Juarez International Airport to welcome president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. (photo by Julian Resendiz./Border Report)

Across the road, Carlos Gomez held a bullhorn and led cheers prior to the president’s arrival.  “We have no complaints. We are grateful for what he has done for the working people,” he said.

At the Tierra Nueva neighborhood, where unpaved roads welcome visitors, the residents expressed support for Lopez Obrador, but were adamant in asking him to spend more money in their community.

“I have been living here for 20 years and they still haven’t paved the streets”, said Miguel Angel Simoni Hernandez. “I support the president, but I want him to see that some neighborhoods that are completely abandoned. What have they done with the money? Where has it gone?”

Because of COVID-19 social distancing rules, the president did not meet one-on-one with neighbors, Juarez officials said.

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