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Mexico Elects Leftist Manuel López Obrador


Voters in Mexico have elected a new president. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is a populist and a leftist. He ran on a promise to fight corruption and bring down violence. So what does this say about Mexico's current political state and about the future of relations with the United States? Joining us now Mexico's ambassador to the U.S., Geronimo Gutierrez Fernandez. Ambassador, welcome.

GERONIMO GUTIERREZ FERNANDEZ: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here with you this morning.

KING: Pleasure to have you. This is the first victory for a leftist in Mexico in decades, and it was a landslide win. What does that tell us about Mexico right now?

GUTIERREZ FERNANDEZ: Well, first, I think last evening's results attest, above all, the fact that Mexico is a mature democracy with strong democratic institutions. I think that in spite of a very spirited and I would even say feisty campaign, there is a clear and overwhelming result in favor of Mr. Lopez Obrador and his party, Morena. This was very early recognized by all of the other candidates which, by the fact, shown great statesmanship and patriotism. And I think that it also reflects that Mexicans want to continue to move forward in a path of sustained development.

KING: In addition to pledging to fight corruption, to bring down violence, Mr. Lopez Obrador said he's ready to work with President Trump, that he wants a good relationship with President Trump. What do you think he means by that, specifically?

GUTIERREZ FERNANDEZ: Well, both President Trump and Mr. Lopez Obrador have expressed, first of all, their interest in building a good relationship. And I think that's good. We can expect the initial contacts to take place very soon, which is also good. I think both Mexico and the U.S. have much at stake in their relationship, and it is important to acknowledge this. I think that this means that very soon, both the U.S. government and the Mexican (unintelligible) and Mexican government will be working on the three more important things of our bilateral agenda, which is basically trade, security and immigration.

KING: Let's talk about the combination of security and immigration. President Trump has over the past months had some harsh words for Mexico. He said Mexico is not doing enough to stop illegal border crossings or drug trafficking. How do you think the new president will approach those issues?

GUTIERREZ FERNANDEZ: Well, the new president has expressed that it wants to approach Mr. Trump and his administration constructively, but he has also made it very clear that he will do everything in favor of Mexicans right here in the United States. Migration and security are certainly one of the areas that are more challenging in our bilateral relationship. I beg to differ from the fact that Mexico does not do anything in terms of migration of security cooperation. I think just that the facts show a different result. But I do recognize that there is a lot of concern here in the United States about illegal immigration, and I think that if we do take a step forward and have a serious and fact-based conversation about immigration, I think we can certainly have a much better management of migration between the United States and Mexico.

KING: Mr. Lopez Obrador told a Mexican TV network today that he supports reaching a deal to renegotiate the NAFTA free trade agreement. He campaigned mostly on domestic issues. And, I wonder, how do you expect him to handle these big disputes over things like international trade?

GUTIERREZ FERNANDEZ: Well, NAFTA is certainly very important for Mexico and also for the United States. And what Mr. Lopez Obrador has expressed even during campaign is that he will try to do as much as possible to get to a deal within this transition period working with our government. I think that everybody understands that the sooner we wrap up and reach an agreement on NAFTA, that that works for the three sides. It'll be in the benefit of the three countries. And I expect that we do have a fair chance to accomplish that.

KING: Geronimo Gutierrez Fernandez is Mexico's ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much.

GUTIERREZ FERNANDEZ: On the contrary, thank you very much, and have a very good day.

KING: You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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