Whatever Mexicans think of Donald Trump, they should say it louder
It may not be obvious in his speeches, but Donald Trump has a lot to thank Mexicans for.
Among his many targets for insults, it's probably the one that's given him the best run for his money: describing Mexicans as "murderers and rapists" early on in his campaign has earned him headlines from Tijuana to Tokyo. It's also Mexico that's provided The Donald with one of his flagship policies: without a plan to build a 3,200km wall along America's southern border - paid for by Mexico - his manifesto would certainly lack a bit of piquante.
Not everybody seems so hot on the idea, however. "I'm not paying for that fucking wall," said Vicente Fox, a former Mexican president, earlier this year. He went on to call Trump "ignorant... crazy... egocentric... nasty... [a] false prophet." Having long identified with the Republican party, Fox now confesses he is becoming "a fan" of Hillary Clinton.
His change of heart may be linked to Trump's recent clarifications on how he intends to make Mexico pay for the wall. freeze remittances from Mexicans living in the US. "It's an easy decision for Mexico: make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year", he says on his campaign website.
What Mexicans at large think of all this is not hard to guess. It's also quite visible: papier-mâché figures made in Trump's image are routinely beaten with sticks throughout the country; three-meter-high effigies of the man were burnt all over the capital city over Easter. Unsurprisingly, Trump's programme doesn't go down better among US Latinos, 80 percent of whom view him negatively.
More puzzling is the attitude of the Mexican government. After comparing Donald Trump to Hitler and Mussolini, Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico's president, has remained largely silent on the subject. His cabinet hasn’t been more vocal, but Trump's near-certain nomination did prompt a comment last Wednesday from Humberto Roque, deputy interior minister for migration.
"The Mexican government is in deep analysis over how to face what we could call the Trump emergency.” He had a dim view on the wall's proposed funding plan. "I believe Mr. Trump speaks off the top of his head, and doesn't have a clear idea about financial matters or international accords”, he added. "The US would have to go back to the Middle Ages to prohibit remittances."
His exclamation was welcome. But for some even he didn’t go far enough: silence at first, followed by a lack of details over contingency plans, give the impression that the government simply doesn't know how to handle this. Peña Nieto "doesn't have a clue about what they should do", a former minister was quoted as saying last week.
It matters that the government makes its displeasure more obvious: a muted response would embolden harsher, less constructive critics while giving Trump leeway for further outrage.
But it also matters for reasons beyond immigration and decency issues. The Mexico-US relationship of the last 20 years, in economic terms at least, has largely been one of success. That’s in no small part thanks to NAFTA, a free trade agreement credited for integrating Mexico in global supply chains and making large swathes of US industry more competitive. At a time when ambitious trade deals are being negotiated on both sides of the Atlantic, the Mexican example should be celebrated - with caveats if necessary - rather than denounced in calumnious terms.
For an alternative view on trade, just go back to Trump’s roadmap for financing the wall: "Mexico needs access to our markets much more than the reverse, so we have all the leverage and will win the negotiation". Such assertions are not just absurd, they're also deeply harmful. Mexican officials need to speak louder against Trump's abuses, or the red line will just keep on moving closer and closer to them.