Mexico’s new leader wants a reboot with the US: How long will the honeymoon last?

Updated 6:53 AM EDT, Sat July 7, 2018
Newly elected Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (C), running for "Juntos haremos historia" party, cheers his supporters at the Zocalo Square after winning general elections, in Mexico City, on July 1, 2018. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images
Newly elected Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (C), running for "Juntos haremos historia" party, cheers his supporters at the Zocalo Square after winning general elections, in Mexico City, on July 1, 2018. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO / AFP) (Photo credit should read PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:41
Mexico elects leftist politician as new president
TOPSHOT - Newly elected Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (C), running for "Juntos haremos historia" party, cheers his supporters at the Zocalo Square after winning general elections, in Mexico City, on July 1, 2018. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
PEDRO PARDO/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Newly elected Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (C), running for "Juntos haremos historia" party, cheers his supporters at the Zocalo Square after winning general elections, in Mexico City, on July 1, 2018. (Photo by PEDRO PARDO / AFP) (Photo credit should read PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:08
Leftist elected president of Mexico
Getty Images
Now playing
02:22
Violences looms over Mexico presidential election
Gran Acuifero Maya
Now playing
01:13
Human remains found in underwater cave
Now playing
01:59
CNN films migrants crossing Rio Grande
Braulio Guerra/Twitter
Now playing
01:18
Mexican lawmaker says he scaled border fence
An F1 fan waves a Mexican flag while wearing a lucha libre mask
Clive Mason/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
An F1 fan waves a Mexican flag while wearing a lucha libre mask
Now playing
01:23
Supercharged's guide to Mexico City
Brian Wiederspan/Jeanna Edgerton @proyectogam
Now playing
01:14
Divers: World's biggest underwater cave found
Rescuers work survivors amid the rubble of a collapsed building after a powerful quake in Mexico City on September 19, 2017.
A powerful earthquake shook Mexico City on Tuesday, causing panic among the megalopolis' 20 million inhabitants on the 32nd anniversary of a devastating 1985 quake. The US Geological Survey put the quake's magnitude at 7.1 while Mexico's Seismological Institute said it measured 6.8 on its scale. The institute said the quake's epicenter was seven kilometers west of Chiautla de Tapia, in the neighboring state of Puebla.
 / AFP PHOTO / Alfredo ESTRELLA        (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers work survivors amid the rubble of a collapsed building after a powerful quake in Mexico City on September 19, 2017. A powerful earthquake shook Mexico City on Tuesday, causing panic among the megalopolis' 20 million inhabitants on the 32nd anniversary of a devastating 1985 quake. The US Geological Survey put the quake's magnitude at 7.1 while Mexico's Seismological Institute said it measured 6.8 on its scale. The institute said the quake's epicenter was seven kilometers west of Chiautla de Tapia, in the neighboring state of Puebla. / AFP PHOTO / Alfredo ESTRELLA (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:05
Violent earthquake rocks Mexico
Now playing
01:06
Mexican volcano erupts multiple times in a day
In Eagle Pass, Texas, where poverty and dirt roads outnumber jobs and opportunities, Mexico's drug cartels prey on kids --- offering them thousands of dollars to smuggle hundreds of pounds of drugs each week.
Evelio Contreras/CNN
In Eagle Pass, Texas, where poverty and dirt roads outnumber jobs and opportunities, Mexico's drug cartels prey on kids --- offering them thousands of dollars to smuggle hundreds of pounds of drugs each week.
Now playing
03:59
No way out: Drug cartels recruit kids for life
Mexico City will host its first ever Day of the Dead street parade in 2016
Courtesy VisitMexico.com
Mexico City will host its first ever Day of the Dead street parade in 2016
Now playing
00:51
007 inspired Day of the Dead parade
Journalists from the state of Nuevo Leon and members of civil organizations protest against the murder of Mexican journalist Javier Valdez occured in Culiacan, Sinaloa on May 15, 2017, in Monterrey, Mexico, on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Julio Cesar AGUILAR        (Photo credit should read JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP/Getty Images)
JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Journalists from the state of Nuevo Leon and members of civil organizations protest against the murder of Mexican journalist Javier Valdez occured in Culiacan, Sinaloa on May 15, 2017, in Monterrey, Mexico, on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Julio Cesar AGUILAR (Photo credit should read JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:13
Are journalists safe in Mexico? (2015)
Rubi Ibarra, in an elaborate fuchsia dress and gleaming tiara, sits for a Mass part of her down-home 15th birthday celebration in a field at her hometown of La Joya, San Luis Potosi State, Mexico, Monday Dec. 26, 2016. Thousands of people responded to an invitation to a coming of age party for the girl in rural northern Mexico after her parent's video innocently asking "everybody" to attend ended up going viral.(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
Marco Ugarte/AP
Rubi Ibarra, in an elaborate fuchsia dress and gleaming tiara, sits for a Mass part of her down-home 15th birthday celebration in a field at her hometown of La Joya, San Luis Potosi State, Mexico, Monday Dec. 26, 2016. Thousands of people responded to an invitation to a coming of age party for the girl in rural northern Mexico after her parent's video innocently asking "everybody" to attend ended up going viral.(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)
Now playing
00:54
Thousands turn up at girl's party
Researchers in Mexico have uncovered a new species of horned face dinosaur that lived 73 million years ago
Sergio de la Rosa
Researchers in Mexico have uncovered a new species of horned face dinosaur that lived 73 million years ago
Now playing
01:02
New horned-face dinosaur species found
mexico missing students investigator romo pkg_00011026.jpg
mexico missing students investigator romo pkg_00011026.jpg
Now playing
01:28
Families of missing students refuse to trust Mexican government (2016)
(CNN) —  

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador made his way to Mexico City’s National Palace as a passenger in a Volkswagon sedan, as photographers riding on the back seats of a swarm of motorcycles tried to capture an image of Mexico’s next president.

Before the car could come to a full stop at the palace a stampede – part media, part fans – rushed toward it.

Cameras flashed and reporters talked over images streaming live on social media and broadcast on television before Lopez Obrador’s meeting with current President Enrique Pena Nieto. Fans shoved their way through the crowd in hopes of a handshake or a selfie with the man known as AMLO.

The former Mexico City mayor and three-time presidential candidate attracts attention like a magnet. Some of that interest is no doubt due to comments he has made that seem to suggest a brighter future for Mexico and its relationship with the United States.

In the week after Mexico’s historic election, in which a new political party founded by AMLO, the National Regeneration Movement or MORENA, triumphed over two parties that have governed Mexico in the past, the leftist politician has struck a polite tone toward President Donald Trump. In speeches and interviews he has declared his desire for friendship and mutual respect.

There certainly are similarities between Trump and AMLO. Both are headstrong nationalists who tout being an outsider and feed off the adoration of massive crowds. “We are going to change the relationship, and Trump is going to learn to respect us. I can guarantee you that,” Lopez Obrador said during a presidential debate in May.

Trump and Lopez Obrador had a 30-minute phone conversation after AMLO’s victory. Trump described the conversation as “excellent.” Lopez Obrador called it “respectful.”

How long the apparent honeymoon period will last is anyone’s guess. “They have to have a face-to-face fairly soon so they can size each other up,” said James Jones, who met AMLO in Mexico while serving as US Ambassador during the Clinton administration.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit Mexico on Friday to meet Lopez Obrador and discuss immigration, commerce, security and development. AMLO is expected to take the presidential oath of office in December and officially begin the task of tackling a raft of volatile issues that have become ever more contentious and soured US-Mexico relations since Trump won the presidency.

Immigration and the wall

AMLO is known for his blunt delivery, and pragmatic approach to politics. “He is not anti-American, but he is very much a defender of Mexico,” said Jones. Like Trump, Lopez Obrador, 64, campaigned on a populist platform, vowing to tackle violence and the “mafia of power” at the root of corruption in Mexico.

While voters say it was his take on domestic policies that resonated and led to his landslide victory, AMLO did not shy away from criticizing Trump and his policies.

As Trump continued at rallies to tout plans to build a wall that Mexico will pay for, AMLO used his own campaign rallies to criticize the idea.

This 2-year-old has become the face of ‘zero tolerance’

When Lopez Obrador officially launched his campaign in April, he told a crowd of supporters, “It is not with walls or with the use of force that social problems and security issues are solved. These problems are solved with development and better quality of life.”

Last year, AMLO also published a book, “Oye, Trump” or “Listen, Trump.” In it, he also pushes back against Trump’s wall proposal.

As Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy sparks controversy over family separation, Lopez Obrador has vowed to protect the human right of immigrants, and suggested tackling economic development in Central America to create jobs and minimize the need for migration.

During a presidential debate, AMLO indicated his administration would stop doing the “dirty work” for the United States by detaining Central American migrants. Last year, Mexico detained 80,599 Central Americans and deported 78,309, according to Mexico’s Ministry of Interior.

Still Trump has expressed frustration over Mexico’s immigration enforcement efforts, tweeting in April: “Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the U.S. They laugh at our dumb immigration laws. They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!”

Trade and the economy

Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs last month. Mexico, the third-largest trading partner to the United States, fired back, slapping tariffs on US exports including pork, apples, cheese and bourbon.

“They know how to create some pain, if the United States isn’t fair to Mexico,” Jones said.

Mexico imposes tariffs on $3 billion worth of US exports

The back-and-forth comes as Canada, Mexico and the United States continue to renegotiate the 24-year-old free trade deal that Trump has threatened to tear up, if a new deal does not protect US interests.

According to the US Chamber of Commerce, more than 1.7 million US jobs depend on trade with Mexico through the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Lopez Obrador has pushed for more support for Mexican small-scale farmers and has been critical of NAFTA. But after much pressure from Mexican business leaders, AMLO has not only agreed to support its renegotiation, he’s even found some common ground with Trump.

During a debate in Tijuana, he indicated he was in favor of an increase in wages for Mexican workers.

“If Mexican factory wages are increased and have a formula to increase, then less jobs are going to go south just looking for cheap labor,” Jones explained.

Duncan Wood, director for the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute believes Lopez Obrador will not sacrifice everything for the deal, but will make an effort to move forward with the renegotiation. “Andres Manuel wants to come to an agreement. He’d like to see it sooner rather than later,” Wood said.

AMLO doesn’t believe there will be a trade war with the US, and has already tapped a transition team to be part of the renegotiation.

If an agreement on NAFTA can’t be made and the deal is scrapped, Mexico could turn to other markets for trading goods currently imported from the United States, like corn grown by Midwest farmers. “The government AMLO brings in is going to plan for alternative strategies,” Jones said. “They’re going to explore new relationships with Europe, Asia, Latin America.”

In the week after his election, AMLO met with the Consejo Coordinador Empresarial, a business chamber in Mexico and supporter of NAFTA, to shake hands and indicate respect for the private sector.

Border security and shared intelligence

For the sake of security, Mexico and the United States have shared intelligence and law enforcement cooperation for decades.

“There are strong indications that the (AMLO) administration is willing to continue cooperating with the US,” Wood said.

Homicides have surged in Mexico, as has illegal drug production. The United States needs Mexico’s cooperation to crack down on drug trafficking, especially in the heroine and fentanyl fueling an opioid epidemic currently claiming an average of 115 opioid overdose deaths in the United States each day.

The US has to date delivered $1.6 billion in equipment and training Mexico to support security efforts through a bilateral partnership called the Merida Initiative, launched in 2007 by the Bush administration.

Mexico often highlights the need to reduce drug consumption in the US, and reduce illegal firearms trafficking into Mexico.

Lopez Obrador believes the best way to tackle violence and insecurity is to combat poverty. “I proposed (to Trump) to explore a comprehensive agreement for development projects that generate jobs in Mexico, and in turn, reduce migration and improve security,” he tweeted the day after his election.

Lopez Obrador will have a 5-month transition period to fine-tune his plan to run the government of Mexico, and his approach to a relationship with his powerful neighbor to the north.

“Both Trump and Lopez Obrador need to give a lot of creative political thought to what it would take to help each other with their constituencies,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, between now and December, a tweet or rally could change the tone and extinguish the optimism in a moment.

“I think there is some reason to hope there could be a new start,” said Wood.