MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s president called on politicians and angry farmers in northern Mexico Friday to allow the country to pay its water debt to the United States, noting he does not want Mexico to become an issue in the U.S. elections.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that unlike 2016, candidates in the November presidential race have been “respectful” of Mexico and he wants to keep it that way.
“We are not ruling out that we can comply,” said López Obrador. “We do not want this to become a campaign issue.”
“The (U.S.) candidates have been respectful of Mexico,” he said. “Mexico is not an issue in the political or electoral debate.”
As a candidate in 2016, Donald Trump accused Mexico of sending rapists across the border. But the rhetoric this year has been softer.
Time is running out; farmers have seized a northern Mexico dam needed to pay the debt, with less than a month left to meet the Oct. 24 deadline for releasing water to communities along the Rio Grande.
López Obrador, who has established apparently friendly relations with the U.S. president, has said he would appeal for "understanding" from Trump if necessary. But it is unclear how much Trump can help in an election, with Texas farmers angry that Mexico has fallen so far behind in cross-border water sharing agreed to under a 1944 treaty.
With less than a month to go, Mexico still has to transfer 244,663 acre-feet (301 million cubic meters) of water by Oct. 24. An acre-foot is the quantity needed to flood an acre of land with a foot of water. The U.S. says it is still feasible for Mexico to meet the deadline.
The United States gives Mexico four times more water from the Colorado River farther west under the treaty, and Mexico is worried about the possibility of losing that.
“There is a risk,” said Roberto Velasco, the head of North American affairs for Mexico's Foreign Relations Department, adding “there is also (the risk) of a renegotiation of the treaty.”
The conflict has become a cause for the conservative opposition party National Action. López Obrador accused protesters of ignoring the interests of the nation, saying the treaty is very advantageous for Mexico.