We go to Mexico City for an update on the North American Leaders’ Summit, where the presidents of Mexico, the United States and Canada are discussing migration, the economy, trade and security. The summit comes just days after Biden announced that the United States will start to block migrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba from applying for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. We speak with Elías Camhaji, Mexican journalist and reporter with the Spanish newspaper El País, and Erika Guevara-Rosas, human rights lawyer and Americas director for Amnesty International.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to begin today in Mexico. President Biden is meeting with the presidents of Mexico and Canada today for the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City. Key issues on the table include migration, the economy, trade and security. On Monday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador welcomed Biden to the National Palace in Mexico City. AMLO called on Biden to invest more in Latin America and to end what he describes as decades of, quote, “disdain” by the U.S. towards the region.
PRESIDENT ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR: [translated] Therefore, I hold that this is the moment for us to determine to do away with this abandonment, this disdain and this forgetfulness for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is opposed to the policy of a “good neighborhood” of the titan of freedom and liberty — FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt — and starting with you, because there would be no other leader that could implement this enterprise, beginning with you, to start a new stage with you, Mr. President, of the nations and the peoples of the continent as of respect and mutual aid and help and assistance. President Biden, you hold the key in your hand to open and to substantially improve the relationship among all the countries of the American continent.
AMY GOODMAN: During his meeting with the Mexican president, President Biden vowed to discuss ways to strengthen U.S. relations with Mexico.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: So, today, we’re going to discuss how we can further deepen that relationship, not only in Mexico but the Western Hemisphere. This includes strengthening our supply chains to make the hemisphere even more competitive. And we’re also going to discuss our shared security, including our joint action to address the plague of fentanyl, which has killed 100,000 Americans so far, and how we can tackle irregular migration, which I think we’re well on our way to doing. Above all, we both committed to pursuing a better future, one grounded on peace and prosperity for all of our people.
AMY GOODMAN: The North American Leaders’ Summit comes just days after Biden announced the United States will start to block migrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba from applying for asylum if they’re apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The move is an expansion of the contested Trump-era Title 42 pandemic policy.
The summit is also taking place less than a week after Mexico carried out a major military operation to arrest Ovidio Guzmán, the son of the imprisoned Mexican drug lord El Chapo, Joaquín Guzmán. The operation involved over 3,500 troops, led to the deaths of 29 people, including 10 Mexican soldiers and 19 suspected drug cartel members.
To talk about U.S.-Mexico relations and the North American Leaders’ Summit, we’re joined by two guests in Mexico City. Elías Camhaji is a Mexican journalist and reporter with the Spanish newspaper El País. He won Mexico’s National Journalism Award in 2021. And Erika Guevara-Rosas is a human rights lawyer and Americas director for Amnesty International.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Erika, let’s begin with you. Can you talk about the significance of this summit, and particularly the Amnesty report that you just put out? President Biden came from the border, El Paso, first visit he has made as president to the border, and made his way to Mexico City. Talk about what has happened along the border and what Amnesty International feels needs to happen.
ERIKA GUEVARA-ROSAS: Amy, this summit is extremely important, particularly given the current state in the Americas, when the continent is experiencing some of the most complex refugee and migrant crisis, in comparison even with other regions of the world that are experiencing conflict. The Americas, unfortunately, is the home of many countries that are experiencing human rights violations and of many people that are seeking asylum precisely of the conditions of the countries of origin. Unfortunately, these three governments, the North American governments, have implemented shared immigration policies aiming at deterring migration, that are violating the rights of people, particularly of those who are seeking asylum.
President Biden has visited for the first time the border, a couple of days after he implemented or he expanded some of the policies that have been criticized from many human rights organizations, some of these policies that were implemented by the Trump administration, including what it’s called a “stay in Mexico” policy. That is this Migrant Protection Protocol, that is a shared policy with the Mexican government, that is preventing people from seeking asylum, that is expulsing people, that is forcing Mexico to militarize its borders, to violate the human rights of the people who are trying to cross the Mexico-U.S. border, by, like, forcing them to stay in very dangerous communities at the border on the Mexico side, putting them at risk and at the hands of the organized crime, that, unfortunately, continues to abuse the human rights of those people who are seeking asylum.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Erika Guevara, I wanted to ask you — President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, when he came into office, promised a different treatment for migrants crossing through Mexico, yet Mexico has continued to militarize and to not be as hospitable as he would — as his rhetoric would suggest. Could you talk about how the situation in Mexico in terms of migrants has developed since AMLO came to office?
ERIKA GUEVARA-ROSAS: Juan, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been continuing with this narrative about humane policies towards migrants and refugees. Unfortunately, in practice, we are seeing totally a distance from that narrative, from that discourse — the militarization of the border, the continuation of these shared policies that are violating the rights of people, the treatment that many of these people are receiving at the border, including the border between Mexico and Guatemala. Amnesty International has been documenting massive deportation of people in need of international protection, including Haitians, Central Americans, Venezuelans, Cubans. People have been detained in immigration detention facilities that don’t have the conditions, including during the pandemic of COVID-19, people that are not accessing the right to seek asylum in Mexico because information is not available or simply because the state, the institution that is created to provide international protection, doesn’t have the capacity, because doesn’t have the funding to be able to respond to the demands from people that are seeking asylum. So, unfortunately, we are seeing a continuation of policies of former governments, but also a continuation of policies that are violating the rights of people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to bring Elías Camhaji into the conversation, as well. Could you talk — you’ve been covering this summit as it’s developing. Talk to us about what you think are the main issues that will be discussed by the three presidents.
ELÍAS CAMHAJI: Well, the main topics of the summit are the migrant crisis, of course, the war on drugs, and economic integration. And it’s been a very highly anticipated summit, but we are still waiting for concrete agreements on these issues, like this announcement of beckoning 30,000 people to the U.S. from Haiti, from Nicaragua, from Cuba, from Venezuela. This has had direct impact on the other side of the border. And we need to come out with concrete actions on the field to avoid this humanitarian crisis to be bigger, right?
So, this day, this Tuesday, seems to be a crucial day for the summit in order to have a more concrete panorama of what can be expected in our shared border, which is 2,000 miles long. No? This is a geographical marriage, but sometimes the priorities and the impacts are very different on each side of the border. So, for us, as Mexicans, we’re expecting to see what’s going to be the impact of receiving all the people who are not accepted to enter the U.S., and to see what are we going to do, because they are going to be staying in some of the most dangerous parts of the country, right? So, we need to have more concrete outcomes and outputs of this summit, especially in the upcoming hours.
AMY GOODMAN: Elías, you’re a journalist, an award-winning journalist in Mexico. Mexico is one of the deadliest places to practice journalism in the world. Can you talk about why you think that is, what these leaders can do, and also, included in that, of course, the context of the so-called war on drugs and how it’s fueled drug lords in Mexico?
ELÍAS CAMHAJI: Of course. The situation here in Mexico is very problematic for journalism. President Biden should have a more intense role than denouncing the situation the journalists are living here in Mexico.
In this summit, on the state level, the national level, the priorities are very important, right? And these factors also come into place. But also there’s an individual component, right? There need to be a chemistry between López Obrador and President Biden to translate these actions, to translate these agreements to concrete actions on the field, right? We see how the White House’s policies have a direct impact, for example, on the other side of the border, but other national authorities at the city level or at the state level have to be taken into account, as well, because there need to be a conjunction of interests and conditions for these people to have a more humane stay in Mexico.
So, what we saw, for example, last week, regarding security, with the capture of El Chapo’s son, was complete mayhem. We saw blockades. We saw gunshots. Twenty-nine people died, as you said. And there needs to be a discourse that justifies why these actions were taken and how this is going to benefit the communities living in the areas of the country that are mostly controlled by the drug cartels, right?
So, in the U.S., for example, the opioid crisis is mainly a public health issue, right? But here on the other side of the border, where the consumption of fentanyl, for example, is very low, we need to have also a justification to be carrying the heaviest burden in this war against drugs, no? So, that’s what I could tell you right now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I’d like to go back to Erika Guevara-Rosas. What do you say to those people in the United States who would say that the more that the United States opens its doors to asylum seekers and refugees and those crossing the border, the more people will come from Latin America, given the enormous disparities in economic standard of living, as well as the political problems in Latin America? What would you say to those folks?
ERIKA GUEVARA-ROSAS: Well, Juan, we have migration levels that are breaking record currently, not only in the U.S.-Mexico border but across the continent. All these immigration policies aimed at deterring migration are not working. We are seeing it. People are simply taking more dangerous routes. They are putting themselves at risk, precisely because these immigration policies are preventing them for accessing to the right to seek asylum in a secure way.
Unfortunately, all these policies are violating the rights of people, not only because they are not able to access the right to seek asylum, but some of these people have been returned to their countries of origin, when they are also experiencing massive human rights violations, and this is against the international law, the international human rights law, that the United States and many other governments, of course, are obliged to follow.
It is important for people in the United States to understand the implications of U.S. policy in many of these countries, that in certain way are exacerbating the conditions that are forcing these people to leave their communities, to leave their countries, to cross the borders and to seek safety for themselves and for their families. Humane policies, policies that put in the center the human rights of these people, are going to benefit not only people accessing the right to seek asylum, but also the communities of reception. We have seen it all over the world. We are seeing it in the continent. I have just been in Colombia, where I have seen that accepting, welcoming Venezuelan refugees, for instance, legalizing their condition, providing them with the conditions to exercise rights, including education, health, work, is improving not only their lives, but also improving the conditions of living on the communities of reception. So it is important for people to understand that respecting the rights of people are also benefiting the communities that are welcoming these people, but also, and more important, to understand that these immigration policies are violating the human rights of people and are violating the obligations of the United States toward its commitments on human rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Erika, I wanted to ask you about the context in which this meeting of the three leaders is taking place: further south, of course, Brazil. There, January 8th, perhaps worse than what happened in the United States January 6th, the insurrection in Brasília that attacked three houses of government — the presidential palace, the Congress, the Supreme Court. President Biden spoke with President Lula of Brazil on Monday after the violence. He invited him to the United States, which — for early next month. Can you talk about what you want to see both Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, President Biden and AMLO, the Mexican president, say about authoritarianism and this far-right domestic violence, from Brazil to the United States? What do you want them to say?
ERIKA GUEVARA-ROSAS: Amy, what happened in Brazil is very symptomatic of the state of the world and the state of our region, the increasing radicalization of anti-rights, anti-democratic groups, movements that have been encouraged by political leaders to, you know, have this violent expression. So, the images that came from Brasília were very, very shocking and concerning, because these are images that remind us of the assault on the Capitol in the U.S. They are reminding us of many other incidents that are happening in many other countries across the continent. It is important that North American leaders commit themselves to democratic values, to commit themselves to put human rights at the center of their policies, that really welcome, you know, the decision of people through the election process, and to really support democratic values in those countries where, unfortunately, are struggling because people don’t have options.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Elías Camhaji, in a couple of minutes we have left, I wanted to ask you about the third topic of the summit, the one that hasn’t gotten very much attention, which is trade policy and economic integration. President López Obrador has really made it a point of his administration to reestablish national sovereignty by Mexico over its oil industry. This has the American business upset. And also, the second version of NAFTA, which was approved under President Trump, had all kinds of new regulations about production of automobiles, a portion of which had to be in the United States. That’s also been a bone of contention since then. Could you talk about these two issues and what you expect might come out of this summit?
ELÍAS CAMHAJI: Sure, Juan. President López Obrador has faced a lot of criticism because of his energy policies. And he defends these policies by saying they are necessary to have economic growth, economic development. So, what they are trying to do is to combine the transition to clean energies with economic integration. There’s a plan between Arizona and Sonora, on the other side of the border, to increase the supply chain of semiconductors, for example. So, the minerals key to this exploitation will be extracted from Mexico and taken to Arizona to have more jobs, to have substantial benefits, concrete benefits, on the economic side. And here in Mexico, it is expected that president — Prime Minister Trudeau, sorry, will pressure on that, because climate change and climate worries are a priority for U.S. and Canada, but not as much for Mexican government. So, they are trying to combine these two factors under NAFTA, under this umbrella of NAFTA, to have a positive output — no? — and to have more concrete benefits for the vast majority of the population. That’s how President López Obrador has justified his unwillingness to bet on clean energy, for example.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Elías Camhaji, we want to thank you for being with us, Mexican journalist for El País, and Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director for Amnesty international, both speaking to us from Mexico City.
Next up, a hundred years ago this weekend, the Rosewood massacre in Florida took place. An armed white mob attacked the predominantly Black town in central Florida. We’ll talk with the grandchild of a survivor. And then, afterwards, Ben Jealous has a new memoir, and we’ll speak with him. Stay with us.