MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's president said Thursday he will hold a "unity" rally on the border in Tijuana two days before the U.S. is set to impose tariffs on all Mexican imports.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced that a demonstration will be held Saturday to defend Mexico's "dignity" amid a looming threat from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has pledged to impose 5% tariffs on Mexican products unless the country prevents Central American migrants from traveling through its territory.
López Obrador expressed confidence that an agreement could be reached as talks continued Thursday, but did not offer any specifics beyond rejecting the use of force against migrants.
"I am calling together the people of Mexico ... for a rally to defend the dignity of Mexico, and in favor of friendship with the people of the United States," said the president, who has held a multitude of demonstrations while in public office over the last 20 years.
López Obrador has said over and over again that his goal is to avoid any confrontation with Trump, and he stressed Thursday that "U.S. authorities have behaved very well, because they have not cut off the dialogue."
He also confirmed Mexican prosecutors had taken two immigration activists into custody but denied the arrests were carried out to please the U.S. government.
"We do not act against anybody to please any foreign government," he said.
Rights groups said one of those arrested is Irineo Mujica, who has coordinated logistics and strategies for some of the migrant caravans that have crossed Mexico in previous months. Mujica, of the migrant rights group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, appears to hold dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship and has had brushes in the past with Mexican police related to protests in favor of migrants.
The latest action by López Obrador comes amid growing anger on the part of Trump, who has railed against a huge increase in the number of migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who cross Mexico to reach the U.S. border. While Mexico has been discouraging the kind of large-scale caravans that it saw in 2018 and the first few months of 2019, Trump wants Mexico to do more.
On Thursday, Mexico's financial intelligence agency announced it had frozen the bank accounts of 26 people who it claimed "have presumably participated in migrant smuggling and the organization of illegal migrant caravans."
The agency said it had detected money transfers from central Mexico to six Mexican border cities presumably related to the caravans.
Mexicans know tariffs could seriously damage their economy, and they largely support López Obrador's conciliatory approach.
"This is a terrible thing this man (Trump) is doing," said Enrique Del Moral, who works at a restaurant in Mexico City. "He has no reason to mix immigration with the economy. He is playing with the economies of two countries, and that is not right."
Mexico has rejected any "third safe country" agreement with Washington that would require migrants to apply for asylum in Mexico rather than the U.S. However, the Mexican government has allowed the United States to return migrants from other countries and have them wait in Mexico while their U.S. asylum requests are processed.
"Getting into a conflict with the United States would cause upset, a lot of economic problems" Del Moral said. "What we have to do as Mexicans is to avoid conflict."
Still, Mexico may be willing to do more to secure its porous southern border with Guatemala. Interior Secretary Olga Sanchez Cordero hinted at that Thursday, referring to "a violent incursion" by migrants on the border bridge between Mexico and Guatemala.
"No one can violate our laws and our sovereignty in our country the way they are doing, coming in, in some cases, in an aggressive way," Sanchez Cordero said.
She also referred to the Tuesday killing of a Mexican immigration agent, who was shot to death in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz. While Veracruz is part of the migrants' most popular route, the government provided no evidence that migrants or migrant traffickers were involved in the killing.
On Wednesday, Mexican police and immigration agents blocked the advance of about 1,000 Central American migrants who were walking along a highway in southern Mexico.
The National Immigration Institute said about 420 migrants had agreed to be transported to a migrant detention center in the city of Tapachula. It said they would be processed there, and authorities would help some to return to their home countries if needed.
Other migrants fled authorities and hid in the brush. But an Associated Press journalist in the border city of Ciudad Hidalgo saw at least two dozen of those fugitive migrants returning to Guatemala Thursday, apparently discouraged by the stepped-up Mexican effort.