President Peña Nieto’s speech to the nation, along with the cabinet meeting to reevaluate cooperation with the United States, are evidence of an unusual misunderstanding between the two countries. Nothing like this has happened since at least 1969 when the U.S. “Operation Intercept” sought to seal the land borders, a decision the Nixon administration had to reverse.
The shift in rhetoric, as well as the decision to go further and reevaluate other aspects of the relationship, comes more than a year after Donald Trump took office. The reason, it has been made clear, is that the renegotiation of NAFTA is so solidly on track that it is hard to imagine it will be derailed, unless the president puts his phobias above the interests of important economic sectors and also above the interests of the Republican Party.
During 2017, the party most interested in speeding up the NAFTA negotiations was Mexico, so that they would not be going on at the same time as the election there. But now it is the United States that is in a hurry because it is very probable that the Republicans will suffer a reversal in the midterm elections in November, which would change the makeup of Congress. Also, on the other side, there are some worries about the changes that may come in the next Mexican legislature.
The Mexican government is making the renegotiation of the trade agreement a strategic condition, above all other considerations, for the maintenance of the model that has given Mexico macroeconomic stability. The attitude of the government has always been that the possibility of the agreement unraveling would be a disaster, despite the reassuring words of some negotiators that it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
This has meant stoically putting up with constant aggression and disrespect from the U.S. Tweeter-in-Chief. It has also meant falling approval ratings for the Mexican government and president, whose ratings were undeniably already low before Trump’s ill-fated visit to Mexico.
It is clear to everyone that a big part of Trump’s rhetorical fury is driven by domestic politics. It’s about a president plagued by his scandals and mistakes, who is trying to stay true to his electoral base through ideological vitriol and lies. But it is also certain that this rhetoric translates into more difficult conditions for Mexicans on the other side of the border, who are citizens just as much as those on this side, and into various hostile actions, the most notable of which is sending the National Guard to the border area.
In that sense, it was impossible to keep up the pretense of not meddling in the domestic affairs of other countries, because that U.S. domestic policy directly affects our fellow Mexican nationals, and it also tarnishes the image of Mexico and the world. In the end, that is what President Peña accomplished with his message to the nation.
Peña Nieto’s speech was well received, which shows that the country is indeed willing to listen and not blindly dismiss the president’s message. It was something desired for a long time, and the government’s ominous silence was, to many, an insult to our dignity, which has been trampled by the occupant of the White House. Thus, a sigh of relief: Mexico is finally raising its voice.
It is should be expected that something similar might happen with whatever review of the binational cooperation framework takes place. This is the most important thing, although the truth is that we are still a country that loves rhetoric and fine words more than the facts.
But that is a kind of passive support. Unfortunately, by putting the trade negotiations above everything else, it avoided getting started on drafting a national strategy in which all the political stakeholders, including civil society, could participate. It avoided developing a united front on the issue of the relationship with the United States. The unanimous reaction of the presidential candidates shows that, from the start, it has been about a strategy that is realistic and feasible. It is possible that the government has not done a good job of taking the measure of Mexican society, which has always valued its dignity and sovereignty, preferring a prudent approach.
Trump did not respond to Peña Nieto’s message − probably because a crook thinks everyone is a crook, so he considered it something related to domestic politics. But no; it was so it could also be heard in the United States. The next step comes from there.
The reevaluation of the bilateral cooperation framework will have to be done intelligently. While there are areas where this is essential for countries that are partners and neighbors, there are many more areas where this amounts to unwarranted interference. These areas are governed more by U.S. than by Mexican interests. It is important to know where it hurts them. At the same time, it is necessary to nurture the close relationship between the two countries.
It would also have to remain clear that that reevaluation is not linked only to the dispute about the border, the wall and the National Guard. There is a more serious problem, namely the harassment and criminalization of Mexicans living in the United States. So it is not about domestic politics: It is about democratic values and respect for the individual, independently of their status, an issue that affects citizens of our country.
Mexico is capable of maintaining a position of openness and respect. But realistically, it can only do this if at the same time it maintains a principled, firm stand, with appropriate actions.