The presidential elections in the United States have turned into a challenge for Mexico and Mexicans, but they have also served to highlight the extent to which we are dependent on them: not just in the pathetic shows of support for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in exchange for nothing, but also in the paralysis in the government while waiting for the results.
Hillary’s defeat was taken personally, or nationally, in Mexico, in spite of the fact that she didn’t make any formal promises about Mexican immigrants, in spite of the fact that the first stage of the wall that Trump was threatening to build had been constructed by Bill Clinton in 1994, in spite of the fact that the administration of Barack Obama – when Clinton was secretary of state – deported 2.7 million Hispanics during its eight years.
As always, the issue of dependency dominates the bilateral relationship. At first, the discussion was about Mexico faced with Trump, but the exercise of sovereignty should have focused it on the opposite: Trump faced with Mexico. Despite having an agenda, interests and ongoing relationships, Mexico assumed a passive stance toward Trump, and a submissive stance toward Hillary.
A Trump presidency for the next four years demands rethinking Mexico’s foreign policy, its bilateral strategy and the focus of its national security. For the first time, a U.S. president will view Mexico as a subordinate, not as an ally. And the changes that Trump may make to NAFTA would be in the interests of the U.S.
This is why it is urgent that Mexico make at the very least three decisions:
1. To redefine its foreign policy vis-à-vis the White House, spelling out the principles of independence and sovereignty.
2. To redefine its policy on national interest in the geopolitical environment, as a way of delineating its national security area in a time of shifting international alliances.
3. To rethink its development mode with a view to stopping the export of undocumented workers to the United States, driven out of Mexico by the [economic] crisis.
Trump’s statements during the campaign and the main aspects of his foreign policy keep returning to the idea of Mexico as an inconvenient subordinate with more problems than solutions. As a result, there is an opportunity for Mexico to shake off the heavy burden of always waiting for solutions to its crises to come from the U.S.
The worst-case scenario would be to hope that Trump won’t be able to follow through, or that other problems will blow up on him and Mexicans will become less of a priority; but in the long run, it will be like buying insurance against damages to third parties. It might be a long-term problem if the predictions turn out to be correct that Trump won’t be a one-term president, but will be re-elected for a second four years.
In contrast to other Republican administrations, Trump’s will be more aggressive than Nixon’s and Reagan’s, and more arrogant than Obama’s. To avoid excesses and humiliations, Mexico will have to return to the days when its foreign policy toward the U.S. was the product of a national consensus on the defense of sovereignty and respectful dialogue. Trump has already made clear the disdain with which he regards Mexico.
Trump could be the chance for Mexico to rebuild its sovereignty as a nation and bring its dependency to an end.