The four presidential candidates traded barbs and accusations in their second debate of the campaign last night in Tijuana, overshadowing the central themes of migration, security, international trade and the Mexico-United States relationship.
Front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador referred to second-place candidate Ricardo Anaya as both a “demagogue” and a “little swine” during the two-hour event, defying his often-repeated maxim to not succumb to provocation from his political opponents.
He also branded his closest rival “Ricky Rich” and held up a Proceso news magazine cover featuring a photo of Anaya and his wife accompanied by the headline: “The Shady Income of the Anayas.”
At one point, Anaya approached the former Mexico City mayor and charged that while López Obrador held that office investment in the capital dropped.
As Anaya — who has been accused of benefiting from a money laundering scheme — was speaking, the candidate for the coalition known as Together We Will Make History took out his wallet and remarked, “I’m going to take care of my wallet because he’s so close,” before hugging it closely to his chest.
The candidate, widely known as AMLO, labelled Anaya “a liar” and a “fraud” and retorted that direct foreign investment actually increased while he was mayor of the capital.
In response, the candidate for the right-left For Mexico in Front coalition accused López Obrador of being an “authoritarian” who is used to not being challenged on his record.
When the debate honed in more closely on foreign policy, Anaya also charged that AMLO lacks the knowledge required to be president of Mexico.
“The problem isn’t his age but López Obrador’s old ideas; you don’t understand that what happens outside Mexico affects the country . . . I don’t think it’s a problem that you don’t understand English but [it is a problem] that you don’t understand the world,” he said.
The candidate for the coalition led by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), José Antonio Meade, also took aim at the frontrunner, charging that he has endorsed a candidate for a Senate position who is a “kidnapper.”
“Nestora Salgado is going to be a plurinominal senator for [the] Morena [party], a kidnapper who’s free because of a police mistake. That’s on your conscience, Andrés Manuel,” he said.
Meade also called Anaya shameless, accusing him of failing to work for migrants when president of the lower house of Congress despite now attempting to portray himself as their champion.
“You have to be very cynical to have been president of the Chamber of Deputies . . . without having achieved a single result that benefits migrants, [only to] come here and pontificate,” he said.
The former finance secretary — and AMLO — also reproached Anaya because his family has lived in Atlanta, Georgia, rather than in Mexico.
In response, the former National Action Party (PAN) president hit back at the pair by accusing them of hypocrisy.
“There’s nothing worse than these tricks, than this hypocrisy. What Meade doesn’t say is that he went to the United States to study [which was] paid for by the Mexican government, while the other’s [López Obrador’s] son studied in Spain. That’s very nationalist, isn’t it? They’re both hypocrites,” Anaya said.
The fourth candidate, independent Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez, weighed in by observing that the major party candidates spend all their time fighting over who is “a bigger thief and more poisonous” and therefore, he charged, are not fit to be president.
While the candidates made repeated attempts to score points on their opponents, political analyst Sergio Aguayo said on Twitter that voters were unlikely to change their minds based on what they heard.
“They attacked each other but without doing irreparable damage. A technical draw. I don’t think this will change voting intentions,” he wrote.
Duncan Wood, the head of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, also said on Twitter that “this debate is unlikely to move the polls a great deal.”
A telephone survey conducted by polling company Massive Caller found that Anaya won the debate, according to 35% of respondents, closely followed by 33% who said that López Obrador had won. Just under 25% of respondents declared Meade the winner, while only 6% said Rodríguez came out on top.
Between the trading of insults, the candidates responded to questions from audience members — made up of Tijuana residents — and the two moderators, León Krauze and Yuriria Sierra.
Referring to the relationship with the United States, López Obrador said that “the best foreign policy is the domestic one.”
“If the U.S. is threatening us with a wall, and with the militarization of the border . . . what we have to do is strengthen the economy. We are going to support the migrants. We agree with NAFTA and we must take advantage of the relationship with the U.S.,” he said.
“I want a friendly relationship with the government of the United States, but not one of subordination. Mexico is a free country, it is a sovereign nation,” López Obrador said. “We will not be subject to any foreign government,” he added.
The Morena party leader also proposed an “alliance for progress” that included Mexico, the United States, Canada and Central American countries to stimulate employment generation, grow the economy and improve security in the region.
In addition, AMLO said that if he becomes president, Mexican consulates in the United States will work to defend immigrants in the face of abuse and arbitrary deportations.
In turn, Anaya charged that “Mexico does a lot for the U.S.” and that the country needs its northern neighbor but added that the “U.S. needs Mexico as well.”
“Why do we request visas to the countries that are antagonists of the U.S., just so they have better control. How many terrorists have entered the U.S. from Mexico, zero!”
Asked whether he would be prepared to suspend security cooperation with the United States government, Anaya said that it was necessary to rethink the relationship in order to gain more respect for Mexico.
He also said that he would defend the rights of migrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors — known as dreamers — by pressuring the Trump administration through multilateral organizations.
Coming under fire for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s decision to invite United States President Donald Trump to Mexico while still a presidential candidate, Meade said that judging by the results, the president . . . didn’t make a mistake.”
“President Trump already went out of the Iranian deal . . . he went out of the Paris accord. Today we are still debating NAFTA, and we are making a great effort,” he said.
The Everyone for Mexico coalition candidate also said that “to prevent weapons arriving [from the U.S.], we have to make our Customs impenetrable, and I promise to do that.”
With regard to migrants who return to Mexico, Meade said that a government he leads will work to reincorporate returnees into society by offering employment assistance and providing health services and loans.
The fourth candidate, El Bronco, said “we need to speak clearly to President Trump” and that if he wins on July 1, he will include oil in NAFTA negotiations.
Rodríguez also proposed diversifying Mexico’s trade partners, focusing particularly on Asian nations including India, Japan and South Korea.
With just under six weeks until the election, López Obrador maintains a commanding lead of 18 points over Anaya, according to the most recent Bloomberg poll tracker, while he is almost 27 points clear of Meade.
The third and final presidential debate will be held in Mérida, Yucatán, on June 12.