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Donald Trump's disastrous handling of the dispute with Mexico over who should pay for the wall has brought the expected consequences south of the border, experts say. (Photo: White House)
Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mexico & US: Will Relations Worsen?

Will U.S.-Mexico relations continue deteriorating?

Inter-American Dialogue

Tensions boiled over between the United States and Mexico recently, amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s advancement of a plan to build a multi-billion-dollar wall along the countries’ shared border and his continued insistence that he will force Mexico to pay for it. The situation led Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel a planned meeting with Trump in Washington and reiterate that his country would not pay for the wall. Are U.S.-Mexico relations likely to deteriorate further, or will Trump and Peña Nieto find common ground? What actions does Mexico need to take in its relations with the United States in order to preserve its interests? How is the feud affecting domestic politics in Mexico, such as the following of populist politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador?

Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico: The victory of Donald Trump has shaken the world. Trump’s provocations have opened fronts for the United States everywhere. In his first week, those attacks and provocations were directed at Mexico. However, despite the threats, Mexico’s society and government remained firm in defending their sovereignty and dignity. The message was clear: Mexican resources will not go to the construction of a wall. Despite Trump’s constant harassment, demands for respect—by businessmen, investors and officials—prevailed in the end, and today, the proposal for the wall has come to a halt and has begun to collapse. This small victory was the first of another, perhaps more important, objective: unity. Mexico, in all its diverse voices, manifested its rejection and found a patriotic sense in this difficult moment. In fact, it was not only Mexico that found unity and strength under the same identity; other Latin Americans also raised their voices from within the United States and outside of it. This union has the same message: migrants matter, too. Immigrant labor represents an important part of the American economy. Kicking out undocumented immigrants in an untimely manner would have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. Seeking security and legality in a country is totally fair; provoking, offending and denigrating the valuable work of immigrants is not. In a survey I conducted from my personal Twitter account, more than 300,000 people participated to answer how they would prefer to invest the $25 billion that a wall would cost. The most common answer was to improve health care. The second was cost-effective education. That amount of money could boost development in Latin America, which, along with employment, would be a much more effective way to stop illegal migration.

James Jay Carafano, vice president at the Heritage Foundation: I am quite hopeful about the partnership between Mexico and the United States of America. Modernizing NAFTA will benefit both economies. Border security will combat transnational criminal threats and stem illegal migration, scourges that bedevil both countries. The Mexican government, too, has been optimistic and has sought to constructively engage with its U.S. counterparts. That initiative was appreciated in Washington. What has slowed the partnership is public sentiment on both sides. In part, the anger in Mexico is fueled less by the policies of the new U.S. president than by an irresponsible and vitriolic media and by America’s divisive domestic politics. These have spilled over the border, fueling concern and distrust among Mexicans. But leadership and sound policies can win out in the end. On the American side, there has never been a foreign policy and national security team more qualified to guide the United States in service as a constructive force in the Western Hemisphere. The three most critical departments—State, Defense and Homeland Security—are helmed by men who well understand the challenges and know how to lead. Moreover, their careers and past successes demonstrate that they understand the importance of working together as a team. Most importantly, they understand that the best way to keep America free, safe and prosperous is to partner with our friends from the tip of the cape to the rim of the Arctic.

Arturo Sarukhan, board member of the Inter-American Dialogue and former Mexican ambassador to the United States: President Peña Nieto’s cancellation of his trip to initiate talks with President Trump was unavoidable and the right move. There was no upside to traveling now to Washington, either substantively or politically. First, the Mexican government has indicated that it wants to link all issues of the bilateral agenda and put them on the table as the Trump administration seeks to renegotiate NAFTA, build a wall and initiate deportations of unauthorized immigrants. But the United States, which currently has only a handful of cabinet officials so far confirmed and still has weeks, if not months, to go before it can field the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries across the whole range of departments and agencies that manage the day-to-day of the relationship with Mexico, would not have been able to engage with Peña Nieto on a whole-of-government approach, rather than just the issues President Trump would like to address. But second, an ambush of Mexican cabinet officials in Washington for initial conversations with senior White House staff and a zero-sum approach by President Trump toward a partner and ally, have jeopardized a mutually beneficial relationship and opened a grave diplomatic rift. Mexico is not the enemy, and it should not be taken for granted or simply be an afterthought for U.S. national security and foreign policymaking. President Trump cannot press control-alt-delete and dispense with a nation on his border. If you use a chainsaw to approach a relationship as complex as ours, with so many moving parts that profoundly affect so many facets of U.S. interests, as Donald Trump has done, you’re bound to cut off your own foot.

Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: The disastrous handling of the dispute with Mexico over who should pay for the wall has brought the expected consequences south of the border. As the Peña Nieto government was pushed into a corner, it reacted with the only response possible, that of refusal to compromise its national interest. Mexican society has rallied around its president, with rising support for the Peña Nieto administration, which is seeing rising poll numbers for the first time in several years. Mexican nationalism is surging, with boycotts of American goods and of shopping trips to the United States. Lasting damage has been done to the relationship, with years of effort to overcome anti-yanquismo undone in the space of a few days. Many have already commented on the potential upside that this presents for left-wing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). However, AMLO was already far ahead in the polls, which has more to do with Mexican disaffection for the PRI and PAN than with the Trump administration. However, the prospect of an AMLO government in Mexico, combined with an antagonistic bilateral relationship, a weakened institutional architecture for diplomatic relations and possibly a defunct NAFTA, would present the next Mexican president with an ideal platform for seeking new partnerships and destabilizing the bilateral economic relationship even further. This is surely the most important issue at stake in the next 16 months or so of U.S.-Mexico relations: to preserve the overarching institutional structures governing economic and security relations for the good of both nations. And yet, the recent brinkmanship shows little concern for this or for the impressive results of the past two decades of increased collaboration. Unless cooler heads prevail, we all stand to pay a heavy price in terms of reduced economic opportunities and increased security threats.


Republished with permission from the Inter-American Dialogue's daily Latin America Advisor


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