Will U.S.-Mexico Relations Continue Deteriorating?

dialogueOriginally published in the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor

Question: Tensions boiled over between the United States and Mexico recently, amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s advancement of a plan to build a multi-billion-dollar wall along the countries’ shared border and his continued insistence that he will force Mexico to pay for it. The situation led Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel a planned meeting with Trump in Washington and reiterate that his country would not pay for the wall. Are U.S.-Mexico relations likely to deteriorate further, or will Trump and Peña Nieto find common ground? What actions does Mexico need to take in its relations with the United States in order to preserve its interests? How is the feud affecting domestic politics in Mexico, such as the following of populist politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador?

Answer: Felipe Trigos, associate director at Vision Americas LLC: “The rhetoric during the U.S. presidential campaign, the threat and now the official policy of building a border wall (which Mexico would have to pay for), and talks about repealing NAFTA, have created profound schisms in the diplomatic relationship. Indeed, the bilateral relationship is at risk of deteriorating even further if both countries cannot find common ground. President Peña Nieto and his team must underscore the tangible benefits of the relation:

Mexico is the United States’ second-largest export market and third-largest trading partner with a two-way trade amounting to $580 billion. Mexico has also become a crucial ally in the fight against narcotrafficking, terrorism and illegal immigration, particularly from Central America. These contributions need to be at the forefront of Mexico’s strategy to preserve its interests. Proving its willingness to fight corruption, impunity and criminality should also be among Mexico’s top priorities. Mexico is not the enemy, but that does not mean that antagonizing its government and its people could not open the door for an anti-American president to win the election in 2018 and alter the alliance to the detriment of both countries. American politics are indeed affecting Mexico’s domestic politics, particularly the dynamic of the election. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a populist from the left, is exploiting the anti-Trump sentiment to his benefit, and his numbers keep rising. López Obrador shares the late Hugo Chávez’s brazen disregard for democracy and its institutions, as well as an anti-free enterprise mantra and admiration for dictatorial regional leaders. López Obrador’s possible rise to power should not be overlooked, but neither should the rhetoric that continues to feed his base. Both administrations must leave rhetoric behind and strengthen a relationship that is pivotal to the well-being and prosperity of both nations.”

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