The Mexican people and government are worried and angry but Trump is playing a risky game

"Right now, Rex, who, as you know, he’s in Mexico -- I said, that’s going to be a tough trip, because we have to be treated fairly by Mexico.  That’s going to be a tough trip.  But he’s over there with General Kelly, who’s been unbelievable at the border."

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with police officers and security personnel as he boards a plane to depart Benito Juarez international Airport in Mexico City, Mexico February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with police officers and security personnel as he boards a plane to depart Benito Juarez international Airport in Mexico City, Mexico February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

These are some of President Donald Trump's statements on Wednesday 23 February at the White House, while the Secretary of State  Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly where arriving in Mexico for a first tense meeting.

The upside of the US president's elementary use of words is that his cabinet leaders can say the opposite when they "translate" his words in official language. In the case of the visit to Mexico City, however, the differing official  diplomatic line  did not go unnoticed.

While Trump in Washington had said: "We’re getting really bad dudes out of this country" (…) "And it’s a military operation…", in Mexico City Kelly stated clearly before the cameras:  “There will be no use of military forces in immigration. There will be no — repeat, no — mass deportations.”  

Kelly and Tillerson were extinguishing the fire set by Trump in the 36 hours before the meeting with new statements on immediate deportations, which no  longer would apply just to undocumented immigrants who have committed violent crimes, but also to those guilty of minor offenses, such as traffic offenses, regardless of their nationality, and to parents or family members who have facilitated the illegal entry of minors. To that end, Trump recalled that he would strengthened the Border Patrol and ICE (Customs and Border security)  with 15,000 additional staff. He also mentioned the government's review of "all sources of direct and indirect Federal aid or assistance" to Mexico over the past five years.

This was not the first time Trump used the trick of making hostile statements just before a critical meeting, perhaps to enervate and weaken the other party. He did it in January before Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's visit, cancelled after that.

There is "concern and anger among Mexicans," said  the Foreign minister Luis Videgaray. He stated also that Mexico would consider turning to the UN "Because, to be clear,  the government of Mexico and the Mexican people do not have to accept measures that one government wants to unilaterally impose on another.”

Immigration is crucial point because any measures could affect as many as 11 million people, around 5  of which are Mexican and perhaps 4 of other Latin American nationalities. Trump seems not to be aware that the bulk of illegal immigrantion  in recent years was not Mexican but Honduran, Guatemalan and Salvadoran.

According to Ice, of the more than 400,000 people arrested in 12 months in 2016 upon illegally entering the country, about 220,000 were non-Mexicans. Tillerson and Kelly presumably know that, in recent years, it was demonized Mexico which prevented the arrival in the US of the 400,000 refugees that every year enter Mexico at its southern border and move across it towards the US.

Mexico "did the dirty work," Erika Guevara-Rosas, director  Amnesty International (AI) Americas told Efe. "In 2016, deportations [from Mexico] to El Salvador increased by 200%, and by 150% to Guatemala and Honduras."

People are fleeing violence and poverty from the northern triangle of Central America — children and teenagers trying to avoid being recruited by gangs (they were 60,000 in 2014), women threatened to be forced to prostitution and men and families who were victims of extortion. Since technically they are not fleeing a government, obtaining refugee status is as hard in Mexico as in the US.

Asylum applications, however, said director of the Mexican Agency for Refugees Cinthia Perez,  are increasing to the tune of 9% every month. In 2017 they could total 22,500, and despite the number of official and voluntary organizations supporting migrants, the flow is such that thousands end up in the nets of organized crime.

Some small cities such as Atar, Sonora, flourished by providing lodging and whatever migrants needed to cross the desert, but then the gangs took over the "business". Hiring a smuggler to travel from the Guatemalan border to the United States on a truck — the other option travelling on the freight train migrants call "The Beast", cost $ 8,000 before Trump's threats. These days that can  cost $ 10,000.

Aliens deported to Mexico would just add to the serious security, political and social problems the nation is facing. Drug cartels control entire territories., and homicides increased to 36,056 in 2016. Violence against women and girls is endemic, and the government is not providing data to help fight it. There is a high number  of cases of detainees who were victims of torture and violence, or even died or disappeared. The government's plan to punish torture and executions is awaiting to be approved since 2014.

Political and civil liberties are in bad shape. Last year 12 journalists were killed, with the involvement in some cases of government officials, a record number since Peña Nieto took office in 2012. The protests often end in bloodshed and is a long list of student leaders, opposition or arrested natives.

To avoid a security catastrophe with the arrival of thousands of displaced Mexicans and Central Americans without means, Enrique Berruga Filloy, a former Ambassador and Representative of Mexico to the UN, suggests that the government takes action to help Mexicans liable to deportation to immediately repatriate their savings before Trump implement's the threatened requisition of remittances, those 25 billion dollars a year that are a mainstay of the economy.

If the immigration and economic threats materialized on top of the peso collapse, growth would suffer a blow with serious employment and social fallouts. This is feeding to the temptation of "an eye for an eye" not only within the government but also among the public opinion.

And here is where Mexico has some weapons, aside from being the filter blocking hundreds of thousands of potential illegal immigrants, and from keeping dormant a humanitarian and criminal tinderbox. Videgaray said that if the US imposed tariffs on Mexican goods, Mexico would follow suit — that is, on the $ 267.2 billion dollars US products it imports. Mexico is also the main buyer of US corn, and is importing record volumes of oil, so much that it is playing "a significant part in sustaining Gulf Coast refining margins,". It also guarantees at least 5 million jobs in the US. LAst but not least, south of the Rio Bravo it fights drug trafficking for which the market is precisely the US. It so cracks partly on the kind of aliens whose aircrafts and ships not even Trump's "beautiful wall" would stop.

The #AdiosProductosGringos and #AdiosStarbucks campaigns will not do great damage now, but show a sentiment that the government cannot ignore. The government's strategy of choice will be thus not to negotiate isolated issues, but to put them all on the table: NAFTA, immigration and Mexicans in the US, drug trafficking and weapons trafficking from the US into Mexico.

If, as Trump said, never mind if the US does not broker a good relationship with Mexico, negotiations between the two countries will just follow the principles stated by Videgaray: "To overcome the insults, to overcome the negative feelings that undoubtedly prevail today, more than words will count facts."

@GuiomarParada 

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