MEXICO CITY — As the leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada met this week to discuss trade, drugs and migration, a first lady used a quieter form of diplomacy to defend democracy and individual rights.

A recurring theme of Jill Biden’s appearances in Mexico City this week was that democracy and political freedoms are worth saving, at a time when Mexico and nations around the world are seeing some democratic traditions begin to fade. fade off. erode.

“Freedom of faith, of expression, of the press, is the foundation of democracy and that the voice of the people can never really be silenced,” he told a group of high school students at a literacy event on Monday, highlighting the “ Share Understanding» in the United States and Mexico.

Her husband, President Joe Biden, often warns that democracy is more fragile than Americans might believe, giving speeches warning of extremist forces bent on crumbling the country’s democratic foundations.

But democratic norms are also under attack in Mexico. Foreign policy analysts warn that the populist leadership style of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is taking on an authoritarian tinge. They cite his attempts to reform a respected national institute whose job it is to ensure free and competitive elections.

Jill Biden’s schedule He made his intentions clear. He sought out forums that would celebrate acts of individual self-expression, the kind of freedoms that authoritarian governments seek to trample on.

On Monday, she spent an hour with a group of entrepreneurs at a women’s empowerment event at the residence of the United States ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, in Mexico City. Curled up on sofas, he admired paintings that a woman showed him on a cell phone. “We have never been silent; but the women have been silenced,” he told guests in opening remarks.

At the literacy event, he sat and listened as poets read their work and musicians sang the Beatles’ «Strawberry Fields Forever» in a mix of English and Spanish.

He promoted the deep cultural ties between the United States and Mexico, noting that neighboring countries share more than what separates them.

At an event sponsored by the National Football League, he watched a group of school children perform flag football drills, taking high steps through a collection of tires. He singled out a 9-year-old girl who plays runner and called her to the lectern.

“This really empowers the girls and teaches all children the values ​​of respect and integrity,” she said. (When asked after her by a reporter about injuries and health crises in NFL football, she said, «Well…» and she kept walking.)

“She is just a unique asset and a unique resource,” said David L. Cohen, the US ambassador to Canada who was in Mexico City for the summit. «She moves the needle on everything she gets involved with, every time she’s there.»

Biden’s appearance at the two-day summit reflects her complementary role as first lady. She amplifies her husband’s message and delivers it, perhaps, at times when it is uncomfortable for him to do so.

Leading up to the summit, some analysts expected Joe Biden to call attention to the decline in democracy in Mexico. A registry number of journalists have been assassinated in Mexico. A index of the world’s democracies had downgraded Mexico from a «flawed democracy» to a «hybrid regime.»

The country’s democracy is not dead, but yes «gravely ill,» wrote Denise Dresser in Foreign Affairs magazine last year.

“We have to find a way to clean up the brutal campaign against journalists in Mexico,” Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society told reporters ahead of the North American leaders’ summit. “This has to be a high priority. It has to change.»

“We look at these things through a security lens, an immigration lens and an economic lens,” he continued. “But we also have to remember that we are three strong and important democratic neighbors and that has to be ultimately what underpins our relationship.”

Cajoling López Obrador into defending democratic institutions was not Joe Biden’s priority. Instead, he took the opposite tact. In brief public comments before a joint meeting with López Obrador on Monday, Biden said he wanted to «congratulate him» on building «democratic institutions in this hemisphere.»

Diplomacy always involves trade-offs. Biden may not have wanted to offend López Obrador when the US needs him to dismantle drug cartels and ease the immigration crisis at the border.

Jill Biden has a different role. She talks about issues that are important to the Biden administration, but also about issues that mean something to her personally. Democracy is one. In a speech in Ecuador last year, she said that “we are connected, especially in the Americas. If a nation is vulnerable to authoritarianism or a health crisis or poverty, it won’t be long before those same problems hit us all. But when nations here in South America embrace democracy, you become living proof that government can deliver for the people they represent.»

His comments in Mexico City were not directed at the Mexican leadership, according to his office.

“The first lady continues to be a trusted messenger for the administration’s priorities and values ​​at home and abroad,” said Vanessa Valdivia, Jill Biden’s press secretary. «During her visit to Mexico, she highlighted our strong partnership and shared values ​​with Mexico and Canada.»

It’s not that the diplomacy practiced by Jill Biden can’t also be fun.

As he waited behind the lectern to give a speech at the ambassador’s home, Salazar’s 5-year-old granddaughter approached him and asked him a question. The first lady then revealed to the guests what it was about: «Where is Joe Biden?»

«I get it a lot!» she said, laughing.