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Arizona and Texas have answered the president’s call to send National Guard troops to the Mexico border. The order came as a response to the caravan of Central Americans that hoped to either receive visas in Mexico or head to the U.S., which prompted President Trump to urge Republicans via Twitter to curb illegal immigration and “go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW.”
Trump accused Mexico of “doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the U.S.,” and threatened to block NAFTA if Mexican officials don’t do more to stem the flow of illegal migrants. Far from being cowed, however, Trump’s abrasive language has aggravated Mexicans to threaten a halt of cross-border cooperation and may boost the chances of a new style of Mexican president – with unpredictable results.
Mexico’s Senate has urged its own president Enrique Peña Nieto to cease cooperation with the U.S. over immigration enforcement and cross-border organized crime. The Senate unanimously voted in favor of a resolution to suspend bilateral operations “as long as President Donald Trump does not conduct himself with the civility and respect that the people of Mexico deserve.” The resolution also “categorically rejects the intention of President Donald Trump to militarize the border with Mexico and considers such action as another grievance.”
Initial anger at a militarized border has been allayed somewhat by discussions between the Mexican Foreign Secretary and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen. According to a Mexican Foreign Ministry press release, Nielsen has assured them that troops will not carry weapons nor have duties related to immigration or customs and will be assigned only support roles similar to those in 2006 and 2010, during border operations under Presidents Bush and Obama. The Department of Defense has also stated that the troops will be tasked with “aviation, engineer, surveillance, communications, vehicle maintenance and logistics support” of existing Border Patrol forces, and not law enforcement duties.
Mexican officials seem more bothered by Trump’s rude language and name-calling than a military presence; the tone of the resolution is emotionally charged and does not say how it would determine that Trump has demonstrated sufficient “respect” in order to resume cooperation. As a non-binding decree, it comes across as a face-saving gesture in response to perceived insult, but will not necessarily be adopted as policy. Their president and Foreign Ministry have hesitated to take action before learning the full extent of Trump’s intentions, and have submitted a formal request for clarification to the White House.
President Nieto has spoken rather loftily, seemingly to appear the ‘bigger man’ by saying that:
“If you wish to reach agreements with Mexico, we stand ready, as we have proved until now, always willing to engage in a dialogue, acting in earnestness, in good faith and in a constructive spirit …We will not allow negative rhetoric to define our actions. We will act only in the best interest of Mexicans.”
These are Nieto’s last months in office however; elections are coming up in July and he isn’t permitted to stand. The change could have a real impact on Mexico’s relations with the U.S.; not only will the public choose a new president, but completely replace both houses of their bicameral legislature, as well as local officials. Four candidates are campaigning to become President, though the stand-out candidate is Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, who tweeted “no to the militarization of the border, nor to the wall; yes to mutual respect and cooperation for development.”
A Trump-Sanders Hybrid for Mexican President?
Obrador is the frontrunner in the polls to take the presidency, although this was also the case in 2006 when he lost at the last minute; nevertheless, he declared himself the “legitimate president” in a “parallel government” that seemingly went nowhere.
While Obrador has run a generally anti-Trump campaign, his ‘populist’ and ‘nationalist’ persona isn’t actually that different from the U.S. President’s, with a strong focus on eliminating internal corruption and censorship. He openly decries public intellectuals, the media and government institutions; has been accused of having a messiah complex; campaigned on job creation and appeals to the everyman with his anti-establishment tone. Sound familiar?
While the men may be similar, their rhetoric couldn’t be more different; Obrador has rejected Trump’s confrontational style, favoring the language of progressivism and comparing Mexicans in the present day U.S. to Jews in Germany during the rise of Hitler. “We must counteract Trump’s strategy with a commitment to fundamental principles…To the discourse of hate we must respond with the spiritual principle of love for others.” he said during a 2017 speech in California.
According to the media, the White House is terrified of an Obrador victory, but perhaps a dose of national pride is something Mexicans need; in a country ravaged by corruption and drug violence, a “swamp draining” of their own may just give the people a sense of hope and investment in their own local communities that could stem the flow of northwards migration. On the other hand, Obrador’s soft stance on security could encourage further immigration from other South American countries. His political rivals have also suggested that he would turn the country into “another Venezuela,” with socialist policies that could ultimately prove a disaster.
Even as Mexico cooperates with the U.S. by extraditing criminals and capturing potential security threats, successive governments have propped up illegal immigration into the U.S. as a huge source of economic support in the form of American dollars sent back to migrants’ family members. With Obrador vowing to cut financial and law enforcement ties with the U.S., Americans may soon find out what it’s like to lose Mexico’s cooperation. But, no offense intended to Mexican police, would that actually make much of a difference?