Beneath the Friendly Veneer Lurks a Deep Mexican Dislike of the Bully to the North
Relations between the U.S. and our southern neighbor are poised to descend into a trough of mutual hostility that could last a generation thanks to Donald Trump’s demonstrated ignorance about the Republic of Mexico.
For Americans whose perceptions of Mexico have been formed in the era of NAFTA, a rude awakening is coming.
There are distinct signs that this ingrained anti-American attitude in Mexico is in resurgence – and may be poised to be institutionalized in its next president. To understand this requires a little history.
History of dislike, distrust
Mexicans have a long memory of mistreatment by the United States. In the Mexican War (1846-1848), U.S. troops captured Mexico City in September 1847, and stayed until mid-1848. By the end of the war, the U.S. stole something like half of the country.
The land grab was huge. All of California, Nevada and Utah, most of Arizona, a large swath of New Mexico, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming were ceded to the U.S. under the treaty that ended the war. To the victors belong the spoils….
Pancho Villa briefly returned the favor, sacking Columbus, N.M. just over 101 years ago on March 9, 1916. The U.S., in response, sent the Punitive Expedition under Gen. John Pershing on an almost year-long chase through Mexico. Though it almost triggered a full-blown war, we never caught Villa.
These weren’t border skirmishes. Over the years, there were big, shooting confrontations between the U.S. and Mexico. When there wasn’t gunfire, there have been innumerable lesser economic and cultural affronts to feed Mexican attitudes.
Mexico’s Donald Trump
So, what of today?
No need to regurgitate the repugnant generalizations of Mexicans and Mexico propagated by our president. Most Americans still remember them – and they are a hot source of building resentment in Mexico. Most recently, the popularity of the current Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, enjoyed a boost from his historic low approval ratings when he finally talked back to Trump.
Peña Nieto’s term expires in 2018 – meaning presidential politics in Mexico are heating up.
Re-entering center stage of Mexican politics is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, 63, a politician who might be viewed as a Mexican Donald Trump populist – but with judgment and knowledge. He is the early front runner as he tools up for his third try at the presidency. Terms in Mexico are six years, one term only.
López Obrador has been critical of NAFTA, asserting it favors U.S. energy and agriculture interests. He would seek to change NAFTA to enable Mexico to consume its own gasoline and food instead of importing it from the U.S.
Another Hugo Chavez?
Jose Cardenas, a former senior official in the U.S. State Department, was quoted in National Review as saying that López Obrador is a “Hugo Chavez Wannabe” – a reference to the late Venezuelan leader who was virulently anti-American.
Cardenas warned of likely disputes “on everything from border security, counter-terrorism, and drug war cooperation, to deportations and restricting Central American migration.”
López Obrador lost the 2006 election to Felipe Calderón by about one-half of one percent. In 2012, he ran second to Peña Nieto by a more substantial margin. Thanks to Donald Trump, this may be his time.
What it means for N.M.
New Mexico was stolen fair and square by force of arms. We were the site of the 1916 Pancho Villa raid that led to an armed U.S. incursion into Mexico – and more recently we are the state with one of the largest percentage gains in cross-border trade thanks to NAFTA. The massive trade complex at the Port of Santa Teresa, near Las Cruces, owes its existence to the free trade movement created by NAFTA.
If Trump’s Mexico policies continue to harden anti-U.S. sentiment in Mexico and López Obrador rides that to the presidency, U.S.-Mexico relations will chill to a depth not experienced for many decades.
And, it will likely persist in Mexico long after Trump and López Obrador have faded from the scene. It is a consequence of Trump’s Mexico policies that will cast a pall on this state for at least a generation.