“President AMLO, here are your people!” shouted a group of Mexican immigrants. “We love you, AMLO,” a poster stated.
Mexico’s populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, had and will not set foot in Los Angeles this week. He is boycotting the Summit of the Americas, a reason that annoys the Biden administration in the run-up to the five-day meeting of Latin American heads of state that concludes Friday.
But that didn’t stop a number of AMLO supporters, the majority of them Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants, from coming to downtown LA to show their commitment.
“The love for AMLO is international for its principles and its humanism,” said Jorge Magallanes, 46, who carried seven colored placards with different messages to express his support for López Obrador.
The demonstration, which started at noon in Pershing Square, was staged by AMLO enthusiasts and organizations who urged President Biden to put the issue of immigration reform at the heart of his administration’s agenda.
Biden flew to Los Angeles on Wednesday to formally open the summit by praising democracy across the hemisphere as he addressed tensions over the White House’s decision to exclude leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the event. weakened. That diplomatic stupidity created a backlash that led AMLO and other leaders to boycott the event itself.
During the march, which gradually made its way to the Convention Center, flags of the United States, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela fluttered, mingled with posters in English and Spanish urging Biden to break the immigration barriers. to lower. During his presidential campaign, Biden had promised to introduce an immigration reform package targeting the country’s 12 million immigrants without legal status during his first 100 days in the Oval Office.
But that promise quickly got bogged down, largely fell victim to partisan politics, and has stalled in Congress.
“Our main demand is an immigration reform with a path to citizenship,” said Juan José Gutiérrez, president of Vamos Unidos USA. Without such reform, Gutiérrez emphasizes, it would be impossible to combat the so-called root causes of migration in the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
But other protesters expressed their dismay that AMLO had chosen to skip the summit out of sympathy with excluded autocrats such as Nayib Bukele of El Salvador and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.
“The president’s decision to support authoritarian governments is unacceptable. It makes us look bad as Mexicans living in the United States,” lamented Francisco Moreno, president of the Council of Mexican Federations. “López Obrador wanted to overshadow the summit by feeling like the patron saint of authoritarian governments.”
More than 40 million immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua live in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2020, even amid a global pandemic, these countries together received $65.4 billion in remittances from U.S. relatives. In 2021, the total was $83.9 billion.
Those financial ties make some Latin immigrants wish their homeland leaders hadn’t defied the United States to show solidarity with neighboring countries.
“I was hoping President Xiomara Castro wouldn’t sweat someone else’s fever,” said Cecilia Rodríguez, president of the Honduran Alliance of Los Angeles. “It’s an opportunity she missed.”
In recent years, diplomatic relations between Washington and Central American countries have soured, as China has asserted its growing economic influence in the region.
Ricardo Valencia, a professor at Cal State Fullerton, said El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have given up lobbying the Biden administration on the issue of immigration reform.
“The three countries have refrained from defending their citizens in the United States. They have left them completely alone, relying on what the US Congressmen are doing on this matter,” Valencia said.
But the absence of Guatemalan heads of state, including Bukele, Castro, Ortega and Alejandro Giammattei, is worrying organizations pushing for human rights, freedom of information, transparency and accountability, in part because the authoritarian tendencies of these governments have fueled migration.
“Bukele doesn’t like to be accountable to the public or the media. The least he would want to do is expose himself to the cameras,” said Wilson Sandoval, coordinator of the Center for Legal Anti-Corruption Advice at El Salvador’s National Foundation for Development.
Elizabeth Kennedy, a specialist on Central America at the Washington Office on Latin America, said: “If you really want to tackle migration, you have to address extreme poverty, inequality, violence, lack of social opportunities, lack of services like education. , health, clean water and electricity.”
One participant at the summit, Claudia Ortiz, a Salvadoran federal lawmaker with the opposition party VAMOS, said it was important for representatives of the Northern Triangle to participate in conclaves like the summit — even their heads of state failed to show.
“Losing people by having rulers who irresponsibly fail to pay attention to a space where they can influence decisions made in the hemisphere,” said Ortiz, who participated in forums with Costa Rica’s former president during the summit. , Laura Chinchilla , and with former Guatemalan vice president, Eduardo Stein.
“On the diplomatic level, it’s considered rude to be invited to a summit and simply have no compelling reason not to attend, and you’re sending someone else who’s not on the same hierarchical level, who doesn’t have decision-making power,” Ortiz said. .
Back on the street at the Convention Center, the protesters, for their part, did their best to get the message across that was a compelling reason not to attend.
“No more embargo!” they cried over and over. “No more blockage!”