President Trump, Mexico’s Worst Nightmare

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0


Mexico’s proximity to the United States has always been a big headache for Mexico. Popular proverbs such as “When the U.S. sneezes, Mexico gets pneumonia” and “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States” speak to the downside of being next-door neighbors to the world’s superpower. Now, with the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States, that headache has developed into a brain tumor.

Trump used Mexico as what’s called a “wedge issue” in U.S. political nomenclature. This is a subject that divides the population, but consolidates and mobilizes a core nucleus of support. At a time when even the Republican Party believed that direct insults to Mexicans (referred to as “thieves”, “rapists” and “bad men”, in various Trump speeches) would lead to the loss of the critical Latino vote, Trump took advantage of it, proving that U.S. society is a lot more racist than we thought.

Skillfully, and with the widespread use of lies, he blamed Mexico for unemployment (“Mexico robs us of jobs”), the loss of purchasing power among working families, and the trade deficit. And he won the election, in the anti-democratic Electoral College.

For Mexico, his victory puts us up against the wall. We’re looking at the prospect of imminent political, social and economic crisis.

What are the implications of Trump’s triumph and his policy agenda for the U.S.’s third largest trade partner?

Trump’s own documents reveal a number of proposals that would have a devastating impact on Mexico. The first is the deportation of 11 million undocumented workers, including more than 5 million Mexicans. Shortly after becoming president-elect, Trump announced that, far from abandoning his threat of deportation, he will begin with the deportation of between two and three million migrants in the early days of his administration, and would cancel the program to allow children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the country (DACA).

The deportation of this many migrants in a short period of time would be a severe blow to the Mexican economy. Peña Nieto and his cabinet, along with the private sector, recently announced an employment program for returned migrants. According to press reports, they stated, “Many [migrants] work in industry, services and trade so we will strengthen Mexico’s industrial development.”

Hasn’t this been the national development objective since the formation of the Republic? So far the only concrete plan they have announced is a maquila program to create 60,000 jobs in the border region, without saying how. Even if those jobs were suddenly created, it’s a fraction of the number who might return, as deportees or because of the atmosphere of fear and hate growing in the United States. Taking into account Trump’s promise to slap a 35% fee on companies that send production and jobs to Mexico, it’s hard to imagine where the new investment will come from.

In addition to generating an instant employment crisis, the cost of massive deportation in human suffering–the wrenching apart of families and communities, the constant fear, and the cessation of labor relations established for decades–is immeasurable.

Perhaps the proposal that could have the most dramatic impact is to freeze or fine remittances sent by Mexicans in the U.S. to family back in Mexico. This measure does not require congressional approval and could affect thousands of the poorest families in the country, cutting off what is the most effective poverty-reduction tool the nation has.

Then there’s Trump promise to renegotiate or leave the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Although NAFTA has had overall negative consequences for Mexico, it is the mainstay of the economy’s current architecture of dependency. If this pillar is pulled out, the building falls. Rebuilding could create a far more stable economy, but the immediate fallout would cause massive dislocation.

The Center for Economic Research in the Private Sector (CEESP) estimates a loss of 10 million direct jobs if Trump pulls the U.S. out of NAFTA. The Peña Nieto government has not said anything about how to face this possibility, or talk openly about needed measures such as diversifying markets, building greater South-South ties like Southern Cone countries did over the past decades, reactivating the domestic market, or providing government support programs. Some peasant and consumer organizations are already promoting alternatives, such as buy local and agriculture-without-NAFTA models.

In the security realm, we can probably expect an escalation of Mexico’s horrific war on drugs. Most recently, Trump named General John Kelly, former chief of Southern Command, as head of Homeland Security. Together with Gen. Michael Flynn, appointed National Security Adviser, and Gen. James Mattis as Defense Secretary, we’re looking at the militarization of not just the cabinet, but U.S. foreign policy. These moves effectively deliver diplomacy to the Pentagon.

This is a major problem – the Pentagon doesn’t do diplomacy; it does war. This has been the mortally mistaken approach to counternarcotics that turned Mexico into a killing field. Three years ago, the Pentagon initiated a Special Operations Command out of NorthCom that reflects a vision of the fight against drug trafficking as a territorial war. Kelly has been a strong proponent of the “narcoterrorism” framework, a hybrid that interprets the production, transport and sale of prohibited substances a national security threat and posits ties with terrorist networks. However, Kelly himself has publicly admitted that there is no evidence whatsoever of an international  terrorist threat coming from south of the border. The 160,000 dead and 27,000 plus disappeared in Mexico as a result of this war strategy could potentially swell, with thousands more victims under the Trump administration.

In Homeland Security, Kelly takes his militarist orientation to the border. Despite the enormous build-up in border security—mostly aimed at undocumented workers who pose no national security threat—Kelly would intensify it. Trump immediately received congratulations from anti-migrant organizations on the appointment. “General Kelly has spent his life defending our nation and fully understands the critical role border security plays in protecting the country from the threats of terrorism, uncontrolled illegal migration and drugs,” the president of FAIR, a prominent anti-immigrant organization, stated.

The macho, militarist perspective permeates the new cabinet. You can smell it in “Mad Dog” Mattis’ open celebration of killing, Gen. Flynn’s anti-Islam Twitter obsession and Rex Tillerson, the Exxon executive apppointed as Secretary of State, and his I-win “swagger”. This is a bad sign not just for women, but for all human beings. This attitude converts the entire world into either a battlefield or a business investment. That’s very bad for peace.

Meanwhile, the only contingency plan the Mexican government has presented to confront these threats seems to be to beg Trump not to be mean to us. Peña Nieto administration announced extended consulate services, without protesting the policies that would lead to massive violation of the rights of Mexican citizens who sustain a huge part of the US economy.

Mexican civil society is stepping into the void, rapidly getting together to develop proposals to affirm respect for their rights and dignity, reject policies of hate and restore national sovereignty. A broad resistance network is in the works to confront the nightmare-turned-reality of the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

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Laura Carlsen is the director of the Americas Program in Mexico City and advisor to Just Associates (JASS) .

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