After One Week, Donald Trump Has Soured Relations With Mexico
Nice work, Mr. President.
Yesterday, President Trump signed an Executive Order on immigration that, among other things, ordered planning to proceed for construction of the border wall that was a central part of his campaign for President. Trump’s promise, of course, wasn’t just that he would build a border wall but that Mexico would pay for it, something that he repeated in an interview with ABC News even as Mexico’s President reaffirmed his pledge that his nation will not pay for the wall at all and House Speaker Paul Ryan admitted that, at least initially, Congress would allocate money for construction of the wall which Mexico would later reimburse to the United States notwithstanding the promise of the Mexican President and pretty much every other national politician in Mexico City. Now, as Michael Bailey has noted, Mexico’s President has canceled a planned meeting in Washington:
The president of Mexico said on Thursday that he was canceling his scheduled meeting with President Donald J. Trump in Washington next week, rejecting the visit after the new American leader ordered a border wall between the two nations.
The move by Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, brings to a head the simmering tensions that have been building for months between the two nations. After calling for dialogue in the face of Mr. Trump’s vows to build a wall, Mr. Peña Nieto ultimately bowed to public pressure in Mexico to respond more forcefully to his northern neighbor.
The decision to cancel the meeting was the result of a remarkable back-and-forth between the two sparring leaders, much of it delivered on Twitter.
On Wednesday, the new American president signed an executive order to beef up the nation’s deportation force and start construction on a new wall along the border.
Adding to the perceived insult was the timing of the order: It came on the first day of talks between top Mexican officials and their counterparts in Washington, and just days before the meeting between the two presidents.
Mr. Trump’s action was enough to prompt Mr. Peña Nieto to start discussing whether to scrap his plans to visit the White House, according to Mexican officials. In a video message delivered over Twitter on Wednesday night, Mr. Peña Nieto reiterated his commitment to protect the interests of Mexico and the Mexican people, and chided the move in Washington to continue with the wall.
“I regret and condemn the United States’ decision to continue with the construction of a wall that, for years now, far from uniting us, divides us,” he said.
Then on Thursday morning, Mr. Trump fired back, warning that he might cancel the meeting himself if Mexico did not agree to pay for the wall.
Historians said that not since President Calvin Coolidge threatened to invade a “Soviet Mexico” had the United States so deeply antagonized the Mexican populace.
“It is an unprecedented moment for the bilateral relationship,” said Genaro Lozano, a professor at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City. “In the 19th century, we fought a war with the U.S.; now we find ourselves in a low-intensity war, a commercial one over Nafta and an immigration war due to the measures he just announced.”
The cancellation of President Nieto’s trip comes as no surprise, really. Trump has been an exceedingly unpopular figure in Mexico ever since he compared Mexican immigrants to criminals and rapists and accused the Mexican Government of deliberately sending its criminal population to the United States in the speech that kicked off his campaign in June 2015. Trump’s reputation only got worse as he began to campaign on the idea of constructing a border wall on the southern border which, he claimed, he would get Mexico to pay for, a promise that prompted Nieto and other Mexican politicians to immediately denounce him. After Trump became the Republican nominee for President, he took a trip to Mexico City and met with President Nieto at a meeting that both described publicly a cordial but which later reports indicated became tense when Nieto made clear to Trump face-to-face that his country would never pay for the border wall. Nieto faced quite a bit of blowback at home for meeting with Trump at all, and that was only amplified when it was announced that he would be among the first foreign leaders to meet with Trump after Inauguration Day. Once Trump signed the Executive Order yesterday, the pressure on Nieto to cancel the meeting apparently grew to the point where he felt he had no other choice but to cancel the meeting. No doubt, the fact that Nieto’s own popularity in Mexico is quite low at the moment, apparently partially in response to his initial meeting with Trump during the campaign in the United States, also played a role in this decision.
In all likelihood, this meeting will be rescheduled for some date in the future after the controversy over the border wall has died down. The relationship between the United States and Mexico is simply too important for both countries for it not to take place at some point. At the same time, though, it’s difficult to see right now how that meeting is going to be pulled off in a way that allows Nieto to save face with his people and not appear to be caving to Trump in any way. As for Trump’s wall, it now appears that the promise that Mexico will pay for the wall is about as flexible as Trump’s critics assumed it would be. Originally, Trump led his supporters to believe that Mexico “paying” for the wall meant that we’d see a transfer of funds from Mexico to the United States for the cost of the wall, as absurd as that sounds. Since then, he has dialed back in his claims saying in interviews that paying for the wall might be accomplished via tariff increases or intercepting money transfers between Mexico and the United States. As I’ve noted before, though, both of those ideas are fundamentally flawed. Tariff increases, for example, would be specifically barred by the North American Free Trade Agreement and would end up primarily being paid by consumers in the United States who buy goods made or produce grown in Mexico. Money transfers, on the other hand, generally involve the transfer of funds between private individuals in the United States and Mexico. Any effort to intercept those would no doubt be the subject of numerous legal actions both here and in Mexico. Now, the plan seems to be to engage in some accounting trick involving aid to Mexico that redirects money toward the wall, but that would still mean that the American taxpayer is paying for the wall. What is clear, though, is that Mexico will not be paying for the wall, and that the real cost of the wall could end up being the souring of a relationship with our neighbor to the south that has been beneficial for both nations.
Nice work for the first week in office, Donald.