Why on earth would a left-leaning leader of the nation that has experienced the worst of Trump's white supremacist attacks decide to travel to Washington in the middle of a pandemic to pat him on the back? And mostly, four months before elections, why would he set himself up to be a ploy in Trump re-election campaign? Couldn't he stay home like he has for the past year and a half? After all, his country is roiled by a deadly disease and unnecessary travel over the border is banned (for the poor--if you can pay for a plane ticket, you can come and go as you like).
Trump doesn't do anything these days that isn't directly related to his bid for reelection, which is clearly flailing. He needs to woo the Latinx vote--a tough crowd given the reign of terror he has unleashed on them and their families since taking office.
Shortly after Trump's inauguration, we spent more than a month traveling the border with The Caravan Against Fear, organized by the SEIU, Global Exchange and others, to register the reaction of mostly Mexican-American border communities. We talked to Dreamers who had built careers and futures and were terrified that they would lose it all, to families who no longer went to the neighborhood park for fear of raids, to mothers who couldn't drive their kids to school anymore because the short drive could result in a one-way ticket to Mexico, to people whose towns were occupied by the border patrol, to common citizens who spent their weekends searching for bones or dying migrants in the desert.
Things didn't get any better after that. Although deportations didn't soar immediately, the fear continued. One after another, a hail of executive orders, rule changes and obsolete laws came down, steadily constructing Stephen Miller's vision of a white America and cutting away at migrants' already limited rights, pushing them into self-deportation, detention or forced removal. Families that harbored dreams of living together in safety were shattered and the open racism of the "thieves and rapists" and "bad hombres" comments led to a spike in hate crimes against people of Mexican and other Latino origins. Racial profiling went from bad to worse.
In Mexico, what happened stunned many of us who work in migrant rights. Lopez Obrador, the defender of Mexican sovereignty, bowed to Trump's every whim and Trump's whim was overtly anti-immigrant. Instead of rallying the international community to support Mexico when Trump used trade as a billy club to get Mexico to block migrants and refugees traveling north, AMLO sent his foreign minister to negotiate around it. What he negotiated, or rather accepted, was a program that is unprecedented in a sovereign nation--to warehouse third-country asylum seekers awaiting hearings in the United States. After first hiding it, Trump literally waved the agreement to the press bragging 'Look what I got out of Mexico!'
So this Washington meeting is, as a broad group of Mexican immigrant organizatons put it on a letter also signed by teh Americas Program "a slap in the face to Mexican families in the U.S. who have sufferd 4 years of constant attacks from Trump's anti-immigrant administration."
Going back to the Washington meeting... Amarela Varela, immigration export and arights activist, expressed what many of us on both sides of the border were feeling. Here's the translation:
[López Obrador] thanked him for the "respectful treatment of Mexico. Was he referring to the ICE detention of mothers and fathers of families with mixed immigration status outside their children's schools, the families who are torn apart? Or the 6,000 children in cages in teh 21st Century and separated from their families, forced to "declare" in courts alone? Or the squads of nativists who assassinate migrants in the desert? ...He said that the U.S. hasn't imposed anything on Mexico--does that mean that the 4T decided for itself to sign and put into practice the Remain in Mexico or MPP program that has left 65,000 asylum seekers surviving, exposed to the elements, on Mexico's northern border?Over the past week, I've given reasons for why this meeting should never have happened:
1) It wasn't necessary--the USMCA was already signed, ratified and in force and needed no ceremony, signing or statements. The ony purpose was to give Trump a stage to say he kept a campaign promise (to renegotiate NAFTA) and for Lopez Obrador to use the agreement to attract foreign companies, most of whom are already in Mexico because we have had essentially the same agreement for the past 26 years.
2) It insults and endangers the 36 million Mexicans and their families who live in the United States. Although small groups came out to welcome AMLO, all the statements from major migrant organizations opposed the visit. Strengthening Trump, especially in the context of re-election, endangers their lives, their livelihoods and their famlies.
3) It would be a direct endorsement of Trump's candidacy and a boon to his campaign. This was obvious. So obvious, that here in Mexico rumors that the AMLO government would actually prefer another Trump administration are rampant.
4) The least said by an "anti-neoliberal" president about the USMCA, the better. One could understand it being seen as a necessary evil after two decades, but the over-the-top acclaim was cringeworthy among anyone who is committed to national sovereignty, fair trade and social justice. A new study from the Global Development Policy Center found that free trade treaties including the USMCA actually inhibit the ability of developing countries to respond to the crisis.
5) A major increase in foreign investment is a non-starter as the central strategy to respond to the crisis. For one, it is unlikely to work, and more importantly, the ansolute reliance on export-oriented foreign investment is a major cause of Mexico's social and environmental crises today.
6) It ignores the largest movement in the history of the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice and equality. AMLO set aside his discourse on transformation and purposely fortified Trump who has repeaetedly attacked the movement and stands for everything this movement is against.
If any readers can find anything new about these promises that we didn't hear in 1994 with the first NAFTA, please tell me in the comments section below. Here is the statement: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/joint-declaration-united-states-mexico/
Same with the speeches. Many defenders of the AMLO-Trump show have called the Mexican President's speech an historic occasion of the defense of national sovereignty. I have read it over and over and I have no idea what they are talking about. Readers can read it here to weigh in: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-president-lopez-obrador-united-mexican-states-signing-joint-declaration/
LA NETA: All that is important, but not the most important.
The betrayal, the unfathomable part of it, is that Donald Trump is heinous. He not only has initiated open season on migrants in the United States and, with the full cooperation of Lopez Obrador, in Mexico, he also is a buffon who lies, cheats, bullies, denigrates and abuses women and leads the effort to roll back our rights, responds to demands for racial justice with repression and is confronting the largest and one of the most radical and hopeful movements in US history with hate. Days before the meeting, he tweeted a "White Power" video (and then removed it), and just two days before, on July 6, issued an order to revoke student visas for students attending schools where in-person classes have been suspended to protect lives during the pandemic.
On the world stage, he has withdrawn the wealthiest nation in the world from the World Health Organization when more than half a million people have been killed by COVID-19 and his own country has more fatalities than any other in the world, He also withdrew from the climate change accords as the planet faces the real possibility of not being able to sustain the lives of our great-grandchildren.
For Lopez Obrador to go out of his way to praise this man as a statesman in the middle of a re-election campaign is not even political pragmatism--it's simply immoral.
Success or failure? The debate rages on. Time will tell, just as we discovered decades later that the pundits who predicted the success of NAFTA were wrong when they promised the agreement would reduce migration, close the wage gap, create more equal economies, cut poverty, develop Mexico and raise the standard of living for the majority. None of that happened.
What's disturbing is that the AMLO administration, and especially Ebrard, seem to be banking on and actively apromoting what for most of the world is the worst-case scenario: another four years of Donald Trump.
FUTURE CHECKLIST: Here's the list of claims by the presidents for the USMCA so we can go back in a few years to assess whether the trip benefited Mexico and if the ugly alliance was worth it:
* "will bring countless jobs from overseas, back to North America, and our countries will be very big beneficiaries." AMLO reiterated this claim.
* "will bring enormous prosperity to both American and Mexican workers and Canada"
* "reverse North American trade deficit with the rest of the world
* "volumes of our country’s imports [to] the rest of the world may be produced in North America at a lower transportation cost with reliable suppliers"
* attract investments from other places of the hemisphere, bringing those investments to our countries"