This is a pretty disheartening time. In the US people are getting mowed down by hate-filled gunmen at schools and civic parades. In Mexico, priests are mowed down inside of a church. We watch the war in Ukraine, feel the sting (more like a punch) of higher gas prices and inflation. And we go to bed with thoughts of impending famine and climate change.
It is in this context that our presidents, Biden and López Obrador (AMLO), will meet. The relationship between our two countries is critically important for each, really is second to none. Yet, it is fraught with history, asymmetry, posturing and veiled political threats.
AMLO scored this meeting by threatening not to attend the Summit of the Americas, trying to get Biden to invite all the hemisphere’s leaders. In the end, Biden did not send the invitations; AMLO did not attend the Summit; but somehow AMLO came out of the process with an invitation to the White House.
In preparation for this meeting both countries’ diplomatic teams are jockeying for position. In my experience, diplomats at this level think about what is possible in the moment, identifying the immediate “deliverables.” Presidential advisors, outside of the foreign service, think about how the meeting will play to a domestic audience.
Notwithstanding this norm, desperate times call for desperate measures. We need our leaders to stop limiting themselves to what is politically advantageous and immediate. That approach will not produce solutions to the enormous problems we face. Our leaders need to think big and inspire change.
The great educator and social change leader Marian Wright Edelman said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Our leaders should seize this meeting to project a different vision for collaboration. In that spirit, here is how I think our presidents should, not how they will, approach their upcoming meeting.
Both leaders should recognize the current state of affairs with a sense of humility and an understanding of interdependence.
We both have violence problems that we are unable to solve and are desperate for new solutions. The availability of guns is part of the problem, but there is something more societal and institutional happening. Be it racist extremists in the US or criminal organizations controlling swaths of Mexican territory, non-state actors are perpetrating violence on those just trying to go about everyday life. The results are terrifying on both sides of the border. Both should propose ways that we could share learning and potential solutions.
We need to re-envision migration. We need to stop seeing migration as a threat and recognize it as a fact of life. Humans move. Our goal should be to make that movement organized and humane. In particular, out leaders should make it easy for the people of our nations to migrate, especially to areas where work is available, and workers are needed.
We are experiencing a global economic crisis that is derailing any progress made in recent years. Recent statistics tell us that Mexicans are migrating, undocumented, to the US in the largest number in many years. At the same time, many sectors of the US economy are desperate for workers. There is supply and demand. Migrants aren’t the enemy. People want to work. Our governments should collaborate to get workers to where they are needed.
Our presidents’ discussion shapes our future. The inability of our political leaders to address our common problems head-on, with humility and cooperation only adds to our collective feeling of despair. Let’s ask our leaders to project a new vision for problem solving and to model it in their upcoming meeting.
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson