Darkness at noon (Eastern Standard Time, 20 January 2017)
Laura Carlsen, writing in yesterday (19 January) in Counterpunch says “Bringing Mexico to its knees will not ‘make American great again´.”
Trump’s punish-Mexico proposals are unprecedented: build a wall the entire length of the U.S. southern border; prevent or tax remittances to force Mexico to pay for the wall; deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, among them some 5 million Mexicans; slap a 35% tariff on products made in Mexico and sold in the U.S.; increase aerial surveillance and triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers on the southern border; imprison immigrants through the use of private detention centers; eliminate President Obama’s DACA program that allows students brought to the country as children to remain with renewable visas; end birthright citizenship for children of undocumented workers; expand e-verify and employer sanctions; and renegotiate NAFTA with the threat of withdrawing altogether.
These measures, even if only partially implemented, would have a devastating and almost immediate effect on Mexico. Since the election, far from backing off, Trump has knuckled down on his extreme anti-Mexico campaign promises.
Posted today, Carlsen is skeptical that the Mexican government’s responses will be adequate to the very real threat of (by design or incompetence) setting off an ” economic crisis and social instability in a nation already wracked by poverty and drug war violence” next door to the United States.
The Mexican government has responded to these dire scenarios with empty promises to expand U.S. consulate services, offer limited private-sector jobs for returnees and seek to cozy up to Trump. Instead of challenging Trump on proposals that violate international human rights and trade laws, Peña Nieto vows to engage in a friendly dialogue with Trump while battening down the hatches at home. Anticipating a hole in the 2017 budget due to lower investment, interruptions in remittances and loss of US markets, the Peña administration has announced austerity programs that affect the average Mexicans but ignore the vast resources lost in corruption, waste and propping up Peña’s image. In this context, the nearly 20% hike in gas prices this January that sparked massive protests is a hedge against Trump effects.
Mexicans want to see a much stronger reaction—that doesn’t involve making the people pay.
It does seem, though, that the government is being forced to respond, both to Trump’s proposals and to internal demands for immediate reform. Making Mexico “Great Again” is less on the agenda, than surviving … and perhaps a painful transition from a satrapy of the United States to an independent state within the larger community of nations.
The surprise extradition of Chapo Guzmán… the last full day of the Obama Administration seems suspiciously timed. Some are claiming it was meant to curry favor with the incoming Trump administration and others to prevent Trump from taking credit for it (and both US spinsters ignoring that the courts had turned down Chapo’s amparo [request for an injunction] against extradition earlier in the day, and — while more a political decision than one based in absolute justice — the immediate extradition was timed to prevent Chapo’s lawyers from filing another amparo.
My sense is that if the spinners that see this as kowtowing to Trump “win”, the Peña Nieto administration will look weaker than ever. I doubt the few Chapo supporters have much clout politically, but given the absolute contempt for the Trump Administration in Mexico, any sign that Mexico is not defending its citizens against the U.S. “justice” system will be ripe for exploitation. The gangster bands called “cartels” to make them sound scarier than they are, are probably too stupid to re-brand themselves as patriotic exporters exploiting a foreign market, but Chapo’s extradition does bring back into the news the “drug war” and the high price Mexicans are paying for the US sponsored war on their own consumption habits. The push in Congress here to legalize the use of military forces in domestic law enforcement might be slowed, especially given the likely response to anti-Mexican moves by the Trump Administration, in favor of the older “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude towards drug lords that existed before “Plan Merida” and the Calderón Administration’s genocidal attempt to legitimize itself.
On the other hand, a renewed focus on “cartels” might be seen by the present government as a means of deflecting criticism from other unpopular measures like the “gasolinazo” and associated price jumps in commodities.
Trump is rather peripheral to this… the 20% jump in gasoline prices, but coming as it does, just as concern over the future of US-Mexican relations has led to a YUUUUUGE drop in the value of the Peso, has angered Mexicans like I have never seen before. Naturally, the left… which has had its proposals for reforming PEMEX and reducing dependence on foreign refineries for several years… is the beneficiary. Never mind if their proposals are good, bad, or indifferent: they’re the only one’s out there. Maybe it makes sense that gasoline prices reflect world prices, but try telling a farmer in Chihuahua who can’t get enough gasoline to get his tractor running that some day, some how, this is for his own good.
The incredible shrinking peso
THAT, Trump does get blamed for. But despite the best efforts of the money gurus to make it all-Trump, all-the-time, the economy has been … ah… less robust than hoped… and major budget cuts are in the offing. With the whole country already pissed off about the gasolinazo, and even the government’s usual apologists unable to justify huge overheads in various departments and state governments for salaries and perks, people are falling all over themselves to protect their parties and maybe avoid a lynching by cutting their own salaries (the Governor of Sinaloa took a 50% salary cut) and that of their top officials. Chihuahua’s governor is selling the Governor’s mansion, along with state owned aircraft and autos. How economically valuable that is, I can’t say, but it looks good and might help keep his state in his party’s column.
A few months ago, we all were laughing (cynically) at the Senate for announcing with great pride that they were giving up the free cookies and other snacks provided by the taxpayers. Morena’s Senate faction upped the ante, by donating half their “dieta” (per diem allowances) to Morena’s own (non-accredited) universities. Not that it hurt them much (the per diem is beyond generous) but that it started a bidding war, one that the major parties couldn’t win. A few hold-outs, trying to justify their benefits, come off looking like out-of-touch, clueless elitists, and their party is going to pay for it.
And… when it comes to misspent public funds, there’s the always popular rabble-rousing cause of …
Again, nothing specifically related to Trump, and no way once can deflect blame to Trump for the millions in missing pesos that various now-former governors made off with. Parties making a show of purging a “few bad apples” raises the question of how far they fell from the tree. The new parties — not having been around long enough to have any particularly juicy scandals — benefit. Those parties (Morena, Social Encounter, Citizen Movement) are leftist or nationalist. The old parties, seen as willing to cooperate with the US, and with their more flamboyant “corruptos” turning out to have invested large amounts of their ill-got gains in US real estate, it’s going to have some effect.
Possibly, as damage control, the parties might crack down on US investments, and they could make it a “patriotic” move by saying it was a way of repudiating Trump-ism, but that would be a stretch. A more practical (and, I have to admit, smart) more by the Peña Nieto administration is to announce a tax break for investments repatriated from the United States. Crooked governors and over-paid civil servants buying properties at home instead of abroad might not look good, but less bad than buying a condo or four in Miami.
Speaking of repatriation, where Trumpism is an existential problem, is when we talk about…
Even if Trump and Co. don’t carry through on their “promises” to deport millions of people (and I don’t see more than cosmetic action here, at least in the very near future), the toxic waste coming out of Trump’s mouth during his campaign has had an immediate effect. The present Mexican stance seems to be that the negative effects on the US economy, with the loss of workers in agriculture, hospitality, and health care is likely to stay the Trump Administration from its more radical promises. But there is no guarantee and Mexicans in the United States aren’t going to count on the new US administration acting in a logical way, and … depending on how threatened they feel as individuals, may be joining the relatively modest number of Mexicans who have been returning in recent years, overwhelming what limited services there are now, just as the budgets are being cut.
I read in Thursday’s papers that ten (US) million pesos was being transferred from the elections commission budget to immigration services… a drop in the bucket, but a start. A very good bill was rammed through Congress in anticipation of a repatriation flood. Passed Thursday, changes to the general education law will allow students to that will allow students to be enrolled in school, even if they lack the documentation (old school records and certifications, as well as things like their birth certificates) that are likely to be missing among deportees. For families with US citizen children, this should make the transition not easier, but at least a tiny bit less stressful.
How Mexico is going to react to its own “immigrant crisis” (Haitians, Central Americans, Africans, and now Cubans who were trying to beat the end of the “wet foot-dry foot” policies the US had in place until last week) depends on how Trump’s Administration proceeds on Mexican migration. Should the US start pushing people out, Mexico is quite prepared to push “our migrants” north. That is, stop cooperating with the US on controlling our own southern border, and assisting (overtly or otherwise), the migrant’s pass-through to the United States.
… are getting the most attention however, and, depending on how they are handled, the most likely to either save, or sink the present political system.
There are those within Mexico who, while not supporting Trump, sense that his threats to tear up NAFTA is not a bad thing at all. Farmers especially have been hurt by the accords, and would like to see changes that protect them from cheap food imports. With the present budget calling for cuts in foreign commodities (especially yellow corn), it probably hasn’t sunk in yet in the US corn belt, but Trump’s election has already cost them a sizable part of their state’s GNP.
Renegotiating NAFTA… even if Trump backs off.. isn’t an unpopular stand in either Mexico or Canada. Just making noises in that direction might be enough to prevent outright rejection of the government, but it would pit the “winners” (the export manufacturers, the mining sector, and foreign chain owners) against the “losers”. The farmers, the indigenous communities affected by mining operations, the factory workers, and consumer groups are either going to be at each others’ throats, or… what will damage the US more than them… demand a treaty more favorable to their own needs, not to that of the foreign investors.
Which could mean outright cancellation, and Mexico turning to other markets, China in particular. How likely that is, I can’t say, given Mexico’s traditional distrust of China and the Chinese.
With Trump just entering the White House, what will happen is anyone’s guess. He may surprise us, and only screw up the United States, maybe making car parts more expensive and trying to get a wall built (which still leaves an opportunity for Mexican nationalists to attack the government for not doing enough to counter the gringos), and not much else. Or, he may, as the joke going around has it, just make Peña Nieto only the second stupidest head of state on the planet.
If necessary, Mexico could even turn back to “product substitution”… using the existing plant capabilities to manufacture those goods that it now depends on US imports to fill. It’s probably a small number, and even then, there are Canadian, Brazilian, or European substitutes for high-tech products like MRI machines or robotics.
Or… as I strongly suspect… whatever happens… Mexico in a bind, where it has to chose between the status quo, and the three major parties, or opt for radical change. I’m expecting radical change: a new dawn after the darkeness? That, we’ll have to wait and see.