Mexico in the Shadow of Trump

Many have criticized the policy of the Mexican government of Peña Nieto against Donald Trump as being benign, demanding a harder position against the continuous attack of the now president of the United States. But can or should a country like Mexico, like any other country of Latin America, face a world power? Beyond what a lunatic on the other side of the border can do, what would be the consequences of assuming a confrontational role with respect to the United States? Foreign policy is not just about being good or tough, it is about being intelligent for the sake of satisfying your country’s interests, although many times it implies taking difficult positions that are misunderstood in the public’s opinion.

A good example is Canada. What makes a progressive government like that of Justin Trudeau leave NAFTA for dead or accept reactivation of the construction of two pipelines that Trump wants to develop and which President Obama vetoed after considering the affect on the environment?

Trudeau is conscious that, despite the fact that trade agreements are of great importance, trade interdependence between the two countries will continue. So in case a new treaty is not resolved and the Trump’s isolationist wave passes, the next president, be it Democrat or Republican, will have to solve the problem, with Canada in a better position to negotiate after the dire consequences that protectionism will have on the U.S. economy.

In the same way, regarding the subject of pipelines, Trudeau must know that what is coming in the U.S. is a major judicial battle and huge protests that are going to cause the country to fracture more than it already has. It is impossible to think about the construction of those pipelines in the short or medium term without thinking that American society is going to shed some blood. In the four years that Trump will probably only be in power, Canada is not going to have any problem with it.

However, what has Mexico done so far regarding Trump? From the beginning, and until very recently, it has taken on the idea that is it possible to talk to someone like him, promoting a visit from then candidate Trump to Mexico City without any clarity about what it wanted to gain from such a meeting, and even naming the former Secretary of Finance Luis Videgaray, someone apparently close to Trump, as the new foreign minister. Considering the business philosophy of Trump – the important of not stopping to achieve its objectives and having the need to respond strongly against losers – and his campaign promise, Mexico not only represents a rival to be defeated, but also a country that shows weakness in trying to approach its aggressor.

Hence, when dealing with the wall, to cite a case, the Mexican government may well have pointed out that it cannot prevent what another sovereign country wants to do in its territory, even if this goes against globalization, destroys a bilateral relationship, and doesn’t solve any problems, since the wall already exists on a large part of the common border and has not halted illegal immigration or drug trafficking. To believe that problems of a transnational nature are going to be solved unilaterally, without the help of Mexico is to know little about world dynamics. In other words, the Trump government is going to be affected if it does not approach and cooperate with Mexico.

What’s more, in light of the invitation Peña Nieto received to go to Washington, if Mexico already knows what Trump is going to say in the days leading up to the meeting, why would the Mexican government accept? Peña Nieto continues to fall for Trump’s game. If he accepts the invitation, Trump will cancel it and be responsible for bilateral separation and not Peña Nieto. And if Nieto doesn’t cancel it, he will face Trump in the U.S. and show him the mistake of his approach and the dire consequences his approach will have in working against his own interests. The problem is whether Peña Nieto has the capacity to do this. But that is another story.

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