Mexico’s president says he has to pay a water owed to the U.S. or Trump might retaliate

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Friday that Mexico has to pay its water debt to the U.S., or it would risk retaliation that could include new tariffs from the Trump administration.

He spoke even as clashes continued over plans to release more of the precious liquid.

The populist López Obrador is in the tricky position of having to meet Mexico’s water treaty obligations under the shadow of the Trump administration while farmers, many of whom voted for López Obrador, worry that that would leave them without enough water for their crops.

“Unilateral measures could be taken that affect Mexico with the excuse that we are not meeting the treaty’s agreement,” López Obrador said Friday. “Like the creation of tariffs — taxes — on the products we sell and export to the U.S.”

The drought-stricken northern state of Chihuahua, across from Texas, has seen violent protests over the government’s decision to pipe water it owes to the U.S. One protest led to a shootout on Sept. 8, leaving one dead and one wounded.

As a result of the nations’ treaty over waters from the shared Rio Grande basin, Mexico is expected to deliver about 1.75 million acre-feet of water every five years to the U.S. Texas officials say Mexico owes about a year’s worth of water, which needs to be delivered by Oct. 24.

“If we do not deliver what we are supposed to, we can give them footing to breach the treaty and revise it, which could harm us,” López Obrador said Friday while in Ciudad Juárez to inaugurate new infrastructure projects.

In a Sept. 16 letter, Gov. Greg Abbott urged U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to push for enforcement of Mexico’s treaty obligations.

“The Mexican-controlled waters of the international Rio Grande Basin are vital to ensuring that Texas’ water right holders can irrigate crops, supply water to municipalities, and conduct industrial operations along the Rio Grande,” Abbott wrote, adding that if Mexico did not deliver the water, Texas farmers would be forced to “secure alternate sources of water, change crops and reduce operations.”

People wait in line to cross the border to El Paso, Texas through the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, on Friday, June, 26, 2020.