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Mexico's President Is Not Sending Biden Congrats — Just Yet

Mexico's president says he's not ready to send felicitaciones to President-elect Joe Biden, saying he wants to wait for U.S. authorities to certify Biden formally as the victor.

"We cannot meddle in the politics of other countries. ... We have to be respectful," President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday at his regular morning news conference.

His sitting-on-the-sidelines approach puts him in the company of a shrinking group of foreign leaders who have also chosen to stay silent so far: Vladimir Putin of Russia, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

López Obrador's diplomatic snub left many Mexicans wondering if his close relationship with President Trump was the reason for his reluctance to acknowledge Biden's victory.

The two men forged friendly ties despite Trump's anti-Mexican rhetoric, tariff threats and the pressure he put on Mexico to enact tough migration policies.

"It is actually evidence of his lack of courage. Truth is, unlike the immense majority of governments in Latin America, Mexico's president has been consistently afraid of Trump, choosing subservience and appeasement over dignity. This is just the natural progression of that shameful policy," León Krauze, a Univision anchor and analyst, told NPR.

López Obrador has partly justified the holdup by referring back to his failed 2006 presidential run, a loss he protested for weeks and still disputes.

Whatever the reason for his hesitation now, the approach appears to set the stage for a bumpier path with a Democratic administration.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat from Texas who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, summed up his displeasure in a tweet. "This represents a stunning diplomatic failure by Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at a time when the incoming Biden Administration is looking to usher in a new era of friendship and cooperation with Mexico."

Carlos Bravo Regidor of the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City said that López Obrador is acting on his own behalf.

"This is the portrayal of a leader who lacks the capacity to understand that a country's position in international affairs needs to be based on the country's national interests and not in his political preferences. It is mind-boggling but, unfortunately, it is not that surprising," Bravo said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.