Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (L) applauds prior to delivering a speech during his visit to a public hospital in Cuernavaca, Mexico, June 19, 2020. (Photo: AP)
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador heads to Washington on Wednesday for trade talks with U.S. President Donald Trump, against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and the U.S. leader's bid for reelection.
It will be Lopez Obrador's first foreign visit after 18 months in office and will see him meet a president known for his anti-Mexico rhetoric.
It is a pragmatic move to visit Trump, a man who described Mexicans as "rapists" and bringing "drugs" and "crime" during his 2016 election campaign and who has vowed to build a wall along the southern U.S. border to keep such people out.
"I want to maintain good relations with the United States, that's what suits us," said Lopez Obrador, who has faced criticism over the visit, on Tuesday.
Having previously refused to wear a face mask, Lopez Obrador was seen with his mouth and nose covered by a blue surgical mask aboard the airplane in images diffused by the Grupo Formula TV station – wearing a face mask is an obligation on airplanes.
He also took a COVID-19 test for the first time, another requirement to leave the country.
A demonstrator holds up a sign reading in Spanish "AMLO, you are a traitor, Leave already, Traitors are not patriots" in Mexico City, Mexico, June 28, 2020. (Photo: AP)
Lopez Obrador, widely known by his initials AMLO, previously said the main purpose of the visit was to kick-start the new North American trade deal that came into force on July 1, as well as to thank Trump for supplying equipment to fight the coronavirus.
"It's not surprising that AMLO's first foreign travel as president is to the White House," Michael Shifter, director of think tank Inter-American Dialogue, told reporters.
"His policy towards the U.S. under Trump has been... to avoid any conflict."
The Mexican president is banking on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) helping to drag his country's economy out of the 8.8 percent contraction expected this year due to the pandemic, which has left more than 30,000 dead in Mexico.