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President Trump came into office calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. Mexico's president once compared Trump's rhetoric to Hitler's. However, yesterday, the two leaders displayed an unlikely cross-border bromance at a White House celebration for a new regional trade agreement. Many Mexicans welcome the new cordial relations, while others worry their leader went too far to appease Trump. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is already on his way home after his day-and-a-half trip to Washington. Before boarding his flight to Mexico City, with a layover in Miami - the president only flies commercial - he got out a quick tweet.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "It wasn't a long visit, but it was very intense and very important to the economies of the three countries in North America," he said. That was, after all, the reason Lopez Obrador said he was making his first international trip since taking office 18 months ago - to celebrate the passage of the revamped U.S, Mexico and Canada trade pact. Mexican Congresswoman Dolores Padierna, who is from the same political party as the president, says Lopez Obrador did that and even got rare public praise from the U.S. president.
DOLORES PADIERNA: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "If there is one characteristic, one quality that the president has, it's that he's a strategist, a skilled diplomat," says Padierna. "He got what he wanted in Washington." Trump acknowledged Mexicans' contribution to the U.S., even calling them incredible. Lopez Obrador supporters say Trump's 180-degree turnaround from his anti-Mexican rhetoric is a victory. His critics, however, see the visit as an embarrassing appeasement, especially when Lopez Obrador publicly thanked Trump for his respect and understanding.
LEON KRAUZE: It was completely surreal.
KAHN: Leon Krauze, a Univision anchor and a Washington Post commentator, says Trump has not been respectful of Mexico and has imposed repeated demands on the country, especially when it comes to immigration.
KRAUZE: Mexico's full acquiescence to Trump's demands on immigration has created a humanitarian catastrophe along the country's northern border and has undermined Mexico's compassionate tradition towards immigration. Indignity is never good diplomacy.
KAHN: Others say that Lopez Obrador was used as a political pawn to help Trump's sagging reelection campaign and improve his relations with Hispanic voters. In fact, the Trump campaign has already tweeted out Lopez Obrador's comments praising Trump. Gaspar Rivera Salgado, a professor at UCLA and a member of a binational Indigenous rights group, says Mexican migrants in the U.S. wanted much more from the visit.
GASPAR RIVERA SALGADO: They asked Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to push for a change in the draconian policies being implemented by this president, to also have courage and ask him not to continue attacking the Mexican immigrant community here in the United States. And those issues were not discussed. That was the big elephant in the room.
KAHN: Rivera says it was another glaring mistake that no Mexican civic leaders or immigrants were invited to the White House dinner last night, just some of Mexico's richest businessmen. Marti Batres, a leading Mexican senator in the president's party, says his critics are missing the point.
MARTI BATRES: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: He says the president's full message to Trump was to highlight Mexico's great contributions in the U.S. and to the region and a celebration of the binational trade which will be critical to Mexico and the U.S.'s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.