US-Mexico relations are officially off-the-wall

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Last week, in the New York Times, renowned Mexican historian Enrique Krauze splendidly summed up the US conduct toward his country.

Composite photo shows smug-looking Trump peering over a brick wall'For Mexico, the United States has been a difficult neighbour, sometimes violent, almost always arrogant, almost never respectful, rarely cooperative,' Krauze wrote. Donald Trump is the embodiment of all these.

Trump has taken the US disrespect towards its Spanish-speaking neighbour to a level even Mexicans — a resigned bunch — won't put up with any longer.

Trump and Mexico's president Enrique Peña Nieto were due to meet on 31 January in Washington to re-negotiate the 1994 Free Trade Agreement. The meeting is now off after Trump told Peña Nieto not to bother coming if he was not willing to pay for what he called 'the much needed wall'.

Ironically the Free Trade Agreement — that Trump and Peña Nieto were to discuss — was signed the same year the original wall, an assortment of rusting metallic bars and dodgy fences, was erected. Rather than a wall, it is a patchy fence of approximately 1100km along the 3200km that separates Mexico and the US. Bill Clinton built it in 1994.

Clinton's fence didn't reduce the numbers of migrants. What really happened was rather tragic; the number of dead migrants increased. Mexicans, and many others trying to reach the US, were forced to seek new and more risky crossings through the mountains and desert. In the last 20 years 8000 have died in their attempts to enter the US.

The wall Trump promised to build — with a 20 per cent tax on all imports coming from Mexico — comes at a time when the level of migration from Mexico to the US is at an all time low. Currently there are more Mexicans leaving the US than entering it. Between 2009 and 2014 one million departed and 800,000 arrived.

In this context one could argue that the wall Trump wants to build is just a symbol, designed to humiliate Mexicans and construe them as a threat to the US social tissue. 'Trump has a tower and now he wants a wall to demonstrate how machito he is,' Lucia told me over the phone. She is an old Mexican friend who has lived in Los Angeles for more than two decades.

 

"The wall has not only unleashed the fury of the Mexican left, historically anti-US and nationalist; it has also angered the right."

 

Lucia is undocumented, and is concerned about the wall and what will happen to her under Trump. 'Los gringos want to expel us,' Lucia said. 'Perhaps it's time to pack up and head back.' She described herself as one of the 'survivors' of Barack Obama's mass deportation. Obama deported more people than any other US president; 2.5 million during his eight years in office. 'Perhaps under Trump my deportation orders are written on the wall,' Lucia said.

She is pleased, however, that since Trump began with his threatening talk, the 50 Mexican consulates in the US have become genuine legal and social sanctuaries to her and to those who fear deportation. Lucia is one of the approximately 55.2 million Latin Americans living in the US, 63 per cent of whom are Mexicans.

Mass deportation is high on Trump's agenda. This would be cataclysmic to a society that depends heavily on the remittances Mexicans working in the US send across the border. It is estimated that annually Mexicans send home US$2362 million.

In Mexico, Trump has outraged just about everyone. Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda said Trump's executive order to build a border wall was a 'slap in the face' and for Ángeles Mastretta, one of the country's best known writers, it was an 'affront'.

The wall has also united Mexicans. It has not only unleashed the fury of the Mexican left, historically anti-US and nationalist; it has also angered the right. One of its leading figures, the conservative and former President Vicente Fox, asked Peña Nieto to give 'zero concessions' to Washington. And he expressed rather clearly what he thought of Trump's demands for Mexico to pay for the construction of the wall: 'We're not paying for the fucking wall,' he tweeted.

The wall — which according to the Washington Post will cost US$25 billion and not the US$12 billion Trump has mentioned — has prompted Mexicans to come up with original ways to deal with it. At the moment, one of the most popular acts of response — or resistance — is to submit via twitter ideas for graffiti that can be scribbled on Trump's prospective wall.

'If the wall is made up of the same concrete that covers your heart it will be bloody hard to run through it,' was the rather starry-eyed suggestion from @Gabyyzgmalik.

'Look after this wall, neither write on it nor mistreat it, it is yours,' was the suggestion from @Lalitopoketrain. The suggestion from @el_carlosvilla was short and sharp: 'Made in Mexico.'

Krauze reminded us that despite the fact the US has not been a good neighbour to Mexico, these two countries have lived side by side for almost 200 years in a 'generally peaceful atmosphere'. This peaceful atmosphere is now at risk. An era of unknown hostility between Mexico and the US has just begun.

 


Antonio CastilloAntonio Castillo is a Latin American journalist and Director of the Centre for Communication, Politics and Culture, CPC, RMIT University, Melbourne-Australia.

Topic tags: Antonio Castillo, Mexico, Donald Trump


 

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Existing comments

The animus that leads many Americans to like the idea of making Mexico pay for the wall may be linked to the widespread feeling that the Mexico that is tough on illegal immigration into Mexico is, for economic reasons, hypocritical about illegal immigration out of Mexico. As for the Mexican-American war, the unpalatable truth is that the war migrated capital (land and people) to where it could more effectively or efficiently be used. Those who now live in what used to be New Spain, including the descendants of the original Hispanic inhabitants, enjoy living conditions immeasurably better under the jurisdiction of the US Congress than they would have under the jurisdiction of the Congress of Mexico --- just as living conditions today on the Australian continent are much better than they would have been had British occupation not occurred.
Roy Chen Yee | 30 January 2017


What do I know about walls? I've read about the walls of Jericho (a defense mechanism) and the writing on the wall (Book of Daniel) and this wonderful quote from Alan Bennett ("Forty Years On"): "Mark my words, when a society has to resort to the lavatory for its humour, the writing is on the wall." Maybe Trump needs to read "Forty Years On".
Pam | 31 January 2017


Roy, You have completely missed the point of Antonio's message. President Trump seems determined to make everyone else, including us, pay for his ignorant and ill conceived decisions. I would strongly dispute your assertion that the "American way" is the best way to use scarce natural resources. Having been to the US, I can assure you that the system is based on "dog eat dog". The "mega rich" are a very small enclave in a society which economically is going backwards at a great rate of knots. This may go someway to explain how Trump managed to 'win' the election. Voters ( about 60% of those eligible ) out of desperation, were looking for a 'saviour' to pull them out of the mess caused by the greed induced economic and social crash of a decade ago. While some of our Indigenous people have benefited from "British Occupation" economically , the social damage and loss of identity has been very severe for many others and continues to be so. East Germany used the famous Berlin Wall to stop its people fleeing to the West, Trump is using his proposed wall to keep out the "badies" from Mexico. How ironic!
Gavin | 31 January 2017


Roy, you've omitted two important items. First, there would be no supply if there no demand existed. The USA would have no illegal Mexican immigration problem were there not American employers willing, indeed eager, to hire illegal Mexican immigrants. That's been going on for decades, and the response of successive US governments has been, to put it mildly, ineffectual. Second, imagine we could somehow relocate Mexico and Russia; i.e, whack Mexico over to the Bering Strait and Russia over to the Rio Grande border. There's no way the USA would tackle the Russians the same way they're having a go at the Mexicans. This is a case of a militarily powerful country beating up on a militarily weak country. Australia, take note.
David Healy | 31 January 2017


Trump's America now has all the hall marks of the fascist states that arose around the world in the 1930's following the 1929 financial collapse. Just like Hitler scapegoated the Jews of Europe Trump now turns his eyes to Moslems, people from the Middle East and Latin American as scape goats for USA's ills. Trump's cavalier attitude with the truth and his attitude towards migrants is deplorable. His administration will go down as one of the most divisive in USA history. My heart goes out to the Mexican people who have suffered for so long at the hands of the USA for the past 200 years.
Godfrey Gilmour | 31 January 2017


“Roy, you've omitted two important items. First, there would be no supply if there no demand existed…. Second, imagine we could somehow relocate Mexico and Russia….” David, you can thank Gavin for conveniently providing the illustration of the Berlin Wall. Do you think it might have had something to do with the reason why East Germans did not flood West Germany in large numbers to drive wages down? I guess if Mexico was really concerned about the effect upon the US of illegal immigration of both Mexicans and transiting others into the US, they could have blocked supply, like East Germany, so there could have been no demand. But why do so? When poor Mexicans go to the US, they stop putting pressure on Mexican society and they remit billions of dollars home. As for relocating Russia, Communist Russia would have built its own wall, saving the US the effort. As for post-Communist Russia, hasn’t Trump just shown a penchant for banning entry from some foreign nations. For most of world history, borders are where nations suspicious of each other were joined. ‘Happy’ borders like the US-Canadian border are historical rarities.
Roy Chen Yee | 31 January 2017


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