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Mexican leader under fire after migrant drowning

MEXICO CITY: Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came under fire Wednesday after haunting photos emerged of a Salvadoran man and his two-year-old daughter who drowned trying to reach the United States.

Lopez Obrador, an anti-establishment leftist, came to power in December vowing to safeguard migrants’ rights. But under pressure from US President Donald Trump, who threatened to impose tariffs on Mexico, he agreed this month to crack down on undocumented Central Americans trekking toward the United States.

Critics — including some prominent ones within his own party — accused Lopez Obrador of pushing vulnerable migrants into situations of extreme danger by making it hard for them to cross the country to request asylum in the US.

“What is happening in this country is unacceptable. We are treating (migrants) like human meat, because of pressure from the great power (the United States),” said the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Porfirio Munoz Ledo, a leading figure in Lopez Obrador’s party, Morena.

The president responded that he has a “clear conscience.”

“We believe it is necessary to maintain good relations with the United States government, to avoid confrontation. We are going to prove the value of our proposal to promote economic development in Central America,” he told a press conference.

Criticism from other quarters was even sharper.

Prominent TV news anchor Ciro Gomez Leyva said the deaths of the migrants — Salvadoran cook Oscar Alberto Martinez, 25, and his not-yet-two-year-old daughter, Valeria — was the byproduct of Lopez Obrador’s deployment of thousands of troops to reinforce the country’s borders.

“Now we are paying the price. Lopez Obrador’s government avoided Donald Trump’s costly economic sanctions. In exchange, we’re left with these extremely sad images,” he tweeted.

Other social media users were even blunter.

“These (images) are the result of Lopez Obrador’s damned government, which opened the door to migrants then chased, lynched and detained them,” said Twitter user Antonio Ocampo.

Mexico was preparing to repatriate Martinez and his daughter’s bodies to El Salvador later Wednesday.

They were to be taken to a funeral home in the northern city of Monterrey — about 300 kilometers (190 miles) from Matamoros, where they died — then flown back to El Salvador, authorities said.

Martinez’s widow, 21-year-old Tania Vanessa Avalos, watched her husband and daughter drown as she waited helplessly on the bank of the Rio Grande river, which separates Matamoros from the city of Brownsville, Texas.

She was also due to fly back to El Salvador later Wednesday, with a cousin who was traveling with them.

“She’s in a state of shock. She’s very young for that much suffering. Her nerves are on edge. It’s understandable,” the head of the Tamaulipas state migration authority, Enrique Maciel, told AFP.

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