Kamala Harris and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris knows Mexico — in some aspects quite well. She has led research commissions on security and immigration issues between the U.S. and Mexico, she has visited us on several occasions. But I have the impression, after reading her autobiography, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey,” that she knows us like a specialist we consult about a disease knows us: She fully understands the nature of the infection, she has a view of the laboratory results and she knows things about corners of our body that even we ignore; but in essence, and as human beings, we stand out as perfect strangers to her. Something similar happens with the vice president and Mexico. It isn’t her responsibility, of course. However, her visit next June is an opportunity to make up for part of this ignorance — something that could be key to facing the future.

With Harris’ visit, I only hope that what happened to Enrique Jackson with Felipe Calderon doesn’t happen again. Back then, in 2005, we held a presentation on “Los Suspirantes,” a book that profiled more than a dozen presidential candidates. For the program, we invited the potential candidates to comment on their own profiles and half of them accepted, among them Calderon. On the night in question, everyone arrived on time except Calderon, although one of his assistants asked to bear with them for a few minutes because her boss was stuck in traffic a few blocks from the place. After 15 minutes, the public grew impatient, especially the candidates themselves, who did not like waiting for a future rival. Jackson, one of the more promising candidates for the PRI (Roberto Madrazo would win his party’s candidacy), could not bear the delay and urged me to start the event: “Let’s not wait for the short man, who has less of a chance of being a candidate for PAN than myself for PRI.” And indeed, at that moment all the odds were in Santiago Creel’s favor, the heir apparent to Vicente Fox, to make the nomination for the blue and white. We decided to start the presentation, although we left a seat for Calderon at the edge of the podium. At some point, the future president joined the presidium, having learned about Jackson’s words. Needless to say, the PRI politician spent the rest of the six-year presidential term in a wasteland.

I’m reminded of this anecdote in view of Harris’ visit to Mexico because I have the impression that the importance of the interview that she will have, among others, with Andrés Manuel López Obrador has not been fully assessed. She is assumed to be a top-tier Joe Biden government emissary, which is true, but she is much more than that, plainly and simply, because she could become president. At least, it is more likely than it was for Calderon in the spring of 2005.

For starters, Biden is 78, and wants to lead for the next eight years, which would mean finishing at age 86. As is known, if Biden could not complete his first or second term (assuming Harris continues to serve as vice president), she would take his place, as did Lyndon B. Johnson, who ended up serving for six years. Second, even if Biden completes his term, the mere fact of being vice president automatically places her in line for the part when Biden leaves office. In American history, 15 vice presidents have risen to the next level, including Biden himself, the most recent among this group were RichRD Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush.

That makes Harris something much more than just Biden’s emissary. The understanding that she acquires about our realities from visits like this one could be decisive in the attitude and in the definition of policies of the White House with respect to Mexico in the coming years.

Of course, the relationship between the two countries, even if it is unequal, does not begin and end with the personal moods of whoever is in the White House. There is enormous inertia in the complex interdependence between the two countries. But the impacts that decisions up north have on exports, remittances, migration, tourism and investment are such that the fate of many compatriots, businessmen and regions ends up depending on the acting executive’s personal style of governing.

It is not, of course, an exhortation to court Harris or offer her the pearls of the virgin to ensure she thinks well of our country. It is essentially about taking advantage of the opportunity to make her more sensitive to the true depth of our problems. The greatest damage usually arises not from bad temper, but from ignorance or prejudice. Harris knows that boycotts on Mexico’s tomato and avocado cops, and on auto parts produce unemployment and people who will sooner or later haunt the American border. But it is one thing to read it in a briefing and quite another to fully understand it. It is very easy, from a White House desk, to give in to the pressure of a group of American farmers or workers who demand the hardening of borders, but the decision becomes more difficult when the person in charge is aware of all the consequences.

As the daughter of immigrants, having grown up as a minority, and with a career as a lawyer and prosecutor for social causes, Harris is sensitive to many of the red flags and concerns of the Q4 government. But her emphasis on issues of climate change, human rights and the agenda of the feminist movement could cause disagreement and mutual mistrust. Beyond the personal biases and connections may develop between herself and Obrador, the stakes are high. We can only hope that the visit and its outcome will be approached with the greatest care, responsibility and intelligence. Will it?

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