Peña Nieto and Donald Trump met last Thursday in Mexico City as part of the Republican candidate’s inexplicable and untimely visit to this country, which he has gone out of his way to insult. Among other topics, they discussed each nation’s role in tackling the current humanitarian crisis: The thousands of Central American migrants and refugees who are crossing Mexico to get to the United States. The issue is that neither Trump, from whom nobody expects much empathy, nor Peña, from whom nobody expects much sovereignty, seems to realize that this “humanitarian crisis” will not be resolved by stepping up border controls, which will only prevent those people who are seeking political asylum from crossing.
They spoke about the crisis within the same context of arms and illegal drugs trafficking across the Mexico-U.S. border. In this way, they seemed to classify Central American migrants in the category of arms and illegal drugs. The recent wave of migration from Central America to the U.S. is not a wave of “illegal people” — who in fact do not exist — but rather undocumented people who report to the immigration police at the border in order to seek political asylum in the United States.
At their meeting in Mexico, Trump and Peña Nieto both portrayed themselves as allies in the task of tackling this “humanitarian crisis.” The cynicism with which they both repeated this phrase, “humanitarian crisis,” while referring to tackling the wave of emigration rather than the systematic violation of the Central American refugees’ human rights, seemed to go unnoticed. The media, which did have good reasons, concentrated on the offense caused by Trump’s visit. But being preoccupied with our own damaged nationalism, it didn’t occur to us to look further south across the border and think of the message that Mexico is sending to Central America.
The Achilles heel of Mexican governments has always been believing that they are closer to the U.S. and further away from Central America. Intoxicated by the (fleeting) illusion of a “bilateral relationship” with the U.S., they don’t realize that our historic role has always been as a mercenary or the “backyard.” Peña Nieto seemed to indicate last week that our role is to guard the borders so that the Central Americans do not reach Rio Bravo. In Trump’s speech in Arizona a few hours following his visit, he said, “Mexico is going to pay for the wall,” and continued, “They still don’t know it but they are going to pay.” Perhaps he was right, in the same way that sometimes madmen’s words become prophetic. We are going to pay for the wall because we already are the wall.