Trump stirs new political debates in Mexico

Trump stirs new political debates in Mexico
© Mexican Senate of the Republic

President Trump's focus on Mexico as an economic and security threat to the United States has had tangible consequences on the country's economy and political system.

While Trump's effect on Mexico’s economy has been decidedly negative — JPMorgan cut its 2017 GDP growth estimate on Friday from 1.8 percent to 1.3 percent — the country has rallied around opposition to Trump and the defense of its migrants in the United States.

President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose 12 percent approval rating in January cast him as a lame duck two years before his six-year term is due to end, has taken a more combative stance to Trump's policies, hoping to bank on the American president's massive unpopularity in Mexico.

“I never thought that in my life I would ever see what I’m seeing,” said Rafael Fernandez de Castro, a foreign policy advisor to former President Felipe Calderón.

“Trump has been perfect. He’s built a perfect consensus in Mexico.”

But Senator Armando Ríos Píter, of the center-left opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) said Mexico’s unity against Trump is independent of Peña Nieto.

“I think it's wrong, as the administration has tried to divulge, that this unity is taking place around the president,” he said.

Ríos Piter represents southern Guerrero state, which hosts the port of Acapulco and was once the country's most popular tourist destination. It is also one of Mexico’s poorest states and a main exporter of migrants to the United States.

In January, Ríos Piter offered a bill to replace imports of American corn with Brazilian and Argentine imports.

He said he wanted Midwestern voters to understand that it's not true that “the only winner in [the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)] is Mexico.”

Trump has called NAFTA the “worst trade deal ever,” and vowed to renegotiate or repeal it, a pledge that sent the Mexican peso in a tailspin following his election in November.

After the initial shock, Mexicans have grown increasingly confident that the deal's own legal structure, and in its absence, the rules of the World Trade Organization, will protect its economy.

Rios Piter rebuffed the idea of negotiating with the Trump administration on NAFTA.

“Do we negotiate or renegotiate NAFTA? At this moment I don't think the conditions are there to do so. With Trump's belligerent attitude there is no expectation for a win-win situation. We're better off staying with the WTO,” he said.

The Mexican Senate, constitutionally modeled after its American counterpart, is the legislative body in charge of foreign relations.

Rios Piter said the Senate is taking the lead in issues like the demographic shift brought on by cross-border immigration in both directions, and the large populations of Mexican, American and dual citizens living in either country.

“The involvement of the Senate is pertinent at this juncture, and it has to be taken advantage of so that it isn't just a temporary situation, but allows [the body] to define key topics,” he said.

He added that dual-nationality voters are quickly becoming a key demographic in both countries.

“I think it's impossible in an immediate future, talking about the next two elections thinking of four-year terms, that American candidates won't start campaigning in Mexico, or that Mexicans won't start campaigning in the United States,” he said.

Despite election laws that disallow campaigning on foreign soil, Rios Piter said digital campaigns would necessarily have to reach out to binational communities, which have shared interests.

“The presence of migrants, and the demographic space they create, makes it so that if someone wants to be mayor of Chicago or Los Angeles, they will have to attend to the community from [the western Mexican state of] Jalisco.”

Conversely, he added, “You want to be the governor of Michoacan? You know the people of Michoacan, the 400,000 Michoacanos that live in Chicago, will have an influence on [an election] in Michoacan.”

Rios Piter predicted Trump would be the last stand of divisive politics in a demographically united continent. 

“The relationship between Mexico and the United States is the most important relationship that exists between any two countries in the world,” he said. 

“Whoever doesn't understand the relationship between Mexico and the United States, whether they're Mexican or American, doesn't understand the country they live in.”