Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1330, (2 - 8 February 2017)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1330, (2 - 8 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Trump’s quarrel with Mexico

Mexicans have been unimpressed by US plans to build a wall between Mexico and the US and by US President Donald Trump’s tweets on Mexico

Trump’s quarrel with Mexico
Trump’s quarrel with Mexico

US President Donald Trump’s unsettling narrative about the construction of a wall between the US and Mexico, ostensibly to stop illegal Mexican immigrants from reaching the US, has proven to be horribly portentous. Today’s uneasy political climate is very much on the minds of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who make up 11.1 per cent of the US population, or an estimated 35.8 million people.

“The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems,” Trump declared in a speech in New York City on 16 June last year, announcing that he was running for the Republican Party presidential nomination. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” he extrapolated.  

Trump vowed to build a wall along the length of the 3,201 km border stretching from California and the Pacific Ocean to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. A chilly, stripped down chorus could be heard both north and south of the Rio Grande, the river that separates the two nations. Signalling a new political direction, the wrath of the Mexicans reached a crescendo, and Donald Trump models, the Donald Trump piñata complete with his signature orange coiffure, became an instant hate emblem in Mexico.

The misery of millions of Mexicans in the US was partly predictable, for Mexicans see themselves as a “middle people” between Latin America and North America with no middle ground. Spanish-born chef José Andrés has abandoned plans for a restaurant in the Trump Hotel in Washington. Next week’s Miss Universe pageant, a brand part-owned by Trump, will take place in another of the countries he has offended, the Philippines, the only predominantly Roman Catholic nation in Asia.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte recently delivered a speech in which he clearly expressed his admiration for Trump. Both men have mercurial and often capricious temperaments. Duterte has been leading a campaign against narcotics trafficking and drug abuse in which he has encouraged the police and ordinary citizens to murder people they suspect of using or selling drugs. Since he took office in June, more than 2,000 people have been killed by the police in what officers describe as “drug raids,” and the police say several hundred more have been killed by vigilantes.

Unlike Mexico, the Philippines is not a member of the vaunted Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but the Philippines has indicated its intention to join the TPP. Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the TPP in January sent shockwaves across Asia and Latin America. US Republican Senator John McCain said that Trump’s decision would “send a troubling signal of American disengagement in the Asia-Pacific region at a time we can least afford it.”

Trump has also criticised the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an economic grouping that entered into force in 1994 and includes Canada, Mexico and the US. Maquiladoras, or Mexican assembly plants that take in imported components and produce goods for export, have become the landmark of trade in Mexico. Indeed, industrial plants that moved to Mexican maquiladoras from the US, Trump claims, have led to the loss of American jobs. Incomes in Mexico’s maquiladora sector have increased by 15.5 per cent.

Mexican grievances over the wall that may now be built along the Mexican-US border, NATFA and the TPP have led to the souring of relations between the two countries. The Donald Trump piñata has come to symbolise the hatred many Mexicans harbour towards Trump.

According to local records, the Mexican piñata tradition began in the town where piñatas were introduced for catechism purposes as well as to co-opt a former Aztec ceremony honouring the birthday of the god Huitzilopochtli, the deity of war, the sun and human sacrifice, and patron of the former Aztec Empire’s capital city Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City. The largest city in the pre-Colombian Americas, Mexico-Tenochtitlan fascinated the Spanish Conquistadors who conquered Mexico and the Aztec Empire.

There have been contacts between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, however. Trump had a “productive and constructive” call with Peña Nieto this week, according to a statement released by the White House. “I will say that we had a very good call,” Trump said in a news conference. “I’ve been very strong on Mexico. I have great respect for Mexico. I love the Mexican people.”

The two presidents discussed America’s trade deficit with Mexico, “the importance of the friendship between the two nations,” and the need to work together to stop drug trafficking and illegal guns and arms sales, the statement said. “I love Mexico,” Trump said, but few take him at his word. Mexicans focus on the venom spewed by Trump instead. “[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and they’re rapists,” Trump has said.

“The secretary of homeland security, working with myself and my staff, will begin immediate construction of a border wall,” the US president said this week. “So badly needed. You folks know how badly needed it is as a help.”

Former president of Mexico Vicente Fox said “Mexico is not going to pay for that wall.” Former president Felipe Calderone called Trump a “hypocrite.” “If you look up imbecile in the dictionary, you’ll see it’s a synonym of Trump,” said Mexican news anchor Joaquin Lopez-Doriz of Televisa, a key shareholder of Univision, which announced last week that it would not broadcast the Miss Universe pageant which Trump co-owns.

To add fuel to the fire, Israel then jumped into the fray, with a tweet from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday seemingly supporting Trump’s decision to build a wall on the US-Mexico border. Netanyahu tweeted that “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.” At the end of the tweet were pictures of an Israeli and an American flag.

The Mexicans were outraged. “The Foreign Ministry expressed to the government of Israel, via its ambassador in Mexico, its profound astonishment, rejection and disappointment over prime minister Netanyahu’s message,” according to a statement.

Mexico, an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation, has an economically influential Jewish minority, with the Jewish presence in Mexico beginning in 1519 with the arrival of the “Marranos,” or Crypto-Jews, who had been forcibly converted to Catholicism. The first Jewish presence in Mexico came with the arrival of the “Conversos,” members of Jewish families which had been forcibly converted in order to avoid expulsion from Spain after Muslims and Jews were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, the year the Americas were discovered by the Europeans.

Today, most Jews in Mexico are descendants of this immigration and are still divided by Diaspora origin, principally Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim and Ladino-speaking Sephardim who mostly migrated to Mexico from what is today Syria. There are between 40,000 and 50,000 Jews in Mexico. Those from Syria are further subdivided into Halebis or Maguen David from Aleppo and Shamis or Monte Sinai from Damascus. They, like most Mexicans, were not amused by Netanyahu’s tweet.

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