Mexico Needs to
Stop Accommodating Trump
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto needs an overhaul
of his foreign policy towards the US.
By Miguel Guevara
January 30, 2017 "Information
On January 26,
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto faced off with US
President Donald Trump on Twitter. They both took credit
canceling a meeting they were scheduled to have in
Washington DC on January 31.
commentators and the Mexican public had been asking for
a cancellation of the meeting after Trump decided to
stick to his position that Mexico
will have to pay for a wall along the US-Mexico
border. The online standoff was seen an embarrassment
for President Pena, who has advocated for dialogue with
It is time that
the Mexican government switches gears and moves forward
with tougher policies on the US, seeking to break its
economic dependence on US markets. Not doing so will
bring great perils to Mexico and set a bad precedent for
For much of the
20th century, the Mexican state encouraged nationalism
based on the idea that Mexico was at its core a Latin
American country (not a North American one), sharing a
common revolutionary heritage with its southern
In a radical
departure from this ideology that gave birth to Mexico
on the eve of the 20th century, the Mexican government
started improving relations with the US in the 1990s.
This change was led by a group of US-educated
technocrats who populated the Mexican government and
pushed the idea that Mexico's future lay north,
neglecting relations with other Latin American
One of their
main arguments was that looking north benefited Mexico
as the US economy was bigger and thus held better
prospects for Mexico.
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Mexico, the
US and Canada signed in 1994, was the cornerstone of
that political consensus, paving the way for significant
As a result,
Mexico's economy developed to cater overwhelmingly to US
import needs; almost
80 percent of Mexican exports now go north across
industries were dedicated to US consumer needs. For
example, Mexico became the world's seventh biggest car
manufacturer with support from the US and a steady
supply of US-made car parts; the vehicles it produces
are almost exclusively exported to the US.
dependence led to political acquiescence to US
domination of Mexico's foreign policy. In 2002, Mexico
hosted the International Conference on Financing for
Development which a number of Latin American leaders
attended, including the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
from the US, then Mexican President Vicente Fox called
the Cuban leader and asked him to only attend the
leaders' lunch and then leave in order to please US
President George W Bush, who was also in attendance.
This sparked popular outrage in Mexico.
In more recent
years, the US has played an important role in Mexico's
internal security decisions. As the number of Central
Americans attempting to get into the US surged, the US
government provided financial support to Mexico to help
it detain and deport migrants en route to the US. As a
result, in 2016 the number of migrants detained in
Mexico increased threefold compared to 2012.
True to the
tradition of his predecessors accommodating the US at
any cost, Pena tried to have a dialogue with Trump,
despite his anti-Mexican posturing.
In August 2016,
while Trump was struggling in the polls, he invited him
to his office. The visit was widely criticised within
Mexico and prompted the organiser of the meeting, then
Finance Minister Luis Videgaray, to resign.
election, Videgaray came back to the cabinet as foreign
minister. It was rumoured that he has close ties with
Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and adviser, and was
tasked to manage the relationship with the new US
not happy with Pena's approach. They are very proud of
their heritage, their culture and its effect on the
world, and see Pena's weakness in front of Trump as
imperative that Pena listen to his people and stand up
to Trump. It is time for the Mexican government to
change its foreign policy towards the US and be bolder
in its approach.
Pena must be
clear that Mexico will not tolerate Trump's tantrums. If
Trump decides to pursue his populistic policies, then
Mexico must be ready to seek alternatives and a future
of its own. In doing so, Mexico can lead with an example
of how developing countries can break free from the
chains that tie them to industrialised powers.
Twitter embarrassment, just like the August one, was the
result of Videgaray's actions. He should resign and Pena
should appoint an experienced diplomat who can introduce
tough new policies to stand up to Trump.
Mexico needs to
be serious about leaving NAFTA. Mexico shouldn't be
willing to tolerate any embarrassment for the sake of
staying within NAFTA. The free trade agreement has
brought positive results mainly to the north of Mexico,
but many swaths of the agricultural south have deeply
suffered from US competition. Small Mexican producers
can't compete with the US' subsidised industrialised
interconnected world, there are vast markets that the
Mexican economy can tap into. China is one of them. Pena
should consider very seriously strengthening relations
with China. In recent years China has sought a closer
relationship with Latin America, but Mexico hasn't been
a major part of this endeavour because of its US focus.
also vow not to deport any foreign citizens in Mexico en
route to the US. Pena should immediately instruct all
federal agencies to stop detention and deportations of
the 120,000 Central Americans who cross Mexico annually
trying to reach the US. The government should provide
shelter and humanitarian aid to them and stop
set an example for the rest of the Latin American
countries to follow in facing an uncooperative US
president and looking for foreign policy alternatives.
If they don't
do so, Mexico and other Latin American countries risk
becoming Trump's backyard and being continually
humiliated. Relations with the US are not as valuable as
national sovereignty and that should never be
Miguel Guevara was
born and raised in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He holds a
Master's degree in public policy from Harvard
University's John F Kennedy School of Government. He
currently lives and works in California, where he
collaborates with Latino community organisations.
expressed in this article are solely those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
Information Clearing House.