Mexicans near border give Trump’s speech the cold shoulder

Few wanted to listen to the US leader but President López Obrador treaded carefully

A section of the US-Mexico border fence seen from Tijuana, Mexico, on Tuesday.  Photograph:  Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images

A section of the US-Mexico border fence seen from Tijuana, Mexico, on Tuesday. Photograph: Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images

 

With the bullhorn of a nationally televised address and the prestige of the White House around him, US president Donald Trump delivered a dark, if familiar, message to the American people on Tuesday night: the United States needs a border wall to stanch the flow of drugs and criminals, and it has no more room for migrants.

In Mexico – the supposed origin and pipeline of these menaces – leaders and citizens reacted with a weary shrug. In the Mexican border city of Tijuana, where thousands of migrants have gathered seeking entry to the United States, most of the televisions in a downtown restaurant showed soccer matches and basketball games. Trump’s voice, nearly drowned out by music, emerged faintly from a screen in the back.

Almost no one seemed to care or even listen to what the US president had to say. Luis Arce, a 32-year-old lawyer, was among the few who took a moment to reflect on Trump’s speech. He said he was not surprised by Trump’s insistence on building a wall, nor by anything else in the remarks.

“It’s a tantrum,” Arce said. “We all know he is temperamental and will never back down on this whim of his, especially since he promised it since his campaign and seems like he can’t take it back.”

“A wall will clearly not solve drug addiction, the drug trade, weapons smuggling or illegal immigration,” he added. “Those are problems that have to be addressed and solved by policymaking.”

The situation at Mexico’s northern border would seem to demand urgent policymaking, as the migrants gathering at cities like Tijuana have become a humanitarian and political crisis for Mexico. The demands of trying to shelter migrants and improve squalid, crowded conditions have overwhelmed local officials, and the arrival of the migrants has strained relations with the United States. Last week, Mexico called for an investigation into US officers’ repeated use of tear gas across the border.

Tredding carefully

Yet the reaction to Trump’s speech on Tuesday night was muted. Although only several weeks into his term, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has gone out of his way not to antagonise his US counterpart.

After Trump’s address, he appeared to weigh his words carefully. In a long interview with a Mexican news programme, López Obrador said Mexico would always pursue “a relationship of co-operation, of friendship”. His government, he said, will confront migration “with development, with employment”.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, watch Donald Trump’s speech at a shelter in Tijuana. Photograph: Jorge Duenes/Reuters
Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, watch Donald Trump’s speech at a shelter in Tijuana. Photograph: Jorge Duenes/Reuters

After the interview, reporters asked López Obrador about Trump’s speech and his insistence on the wall. “I don’t even want to mention the word,” he said. “It’s an issue that’s not even on our agenda. I don’t think about it.”

Instead, López Obrador said, he would try to bring Trump around to his way of thinking. “We will persuade him, convince him that we need co-operation for development,” he said. “This is the best way to face the phenomenon of migration.”

Vicente Fox, the vocal former president of Mexico, has berated Trump in the past, and on Tuesday he appeared to see no reason to let up, dismissing the US leader on Twitter: “L’enfant terrible. The enemy of all! Even himself.” Fox urged Trump, “Don’t be so stubborn”, saying that Mexico would never pay for the wall and that “as far as I understand the American people will not either.”

Trade deal

From the day he announced his candidacy for office in 2015, Trump has made the reduction of immigration – and the construction of a wall – a central issue of his campaign and presidency, sometimes promising that Mexico would pay for the wall. He has since claimed that a revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada would pay for the wall, an idea rejected on Tuesday by Kenneth Smith Ramos, the chief Mexican negotiator for the deal.

“That’s a chapter you will NOT find in the new Agreement, simply because it does NOT exist,” he wrote on Twitter. In a series of fact-checking tweets about the speech, Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s former ambassador to the United States, rejected many of Trump’s claims. “Saying there is a national security crisis on the border does a huge disservice to how the US and Mexico have worked together since 9/11 to ensure our border is not used by terrorists to undermine our common security,” he wrote.

On Monday, Mexico’s interior minister, Olga Sánchez Cordero, staked out a position that was in implicit contrast to Trump’s. “Migrants are not criminals, much less do they constitute a threat to the security of Mexico or the United States,” she said.

“They are human beings who seek to escape the reality of insecurity and poverty in their countries of origin, who seek the most elemental thing: the possibility of remaining alive and finding a job that will allow them to advance with dignity.” – New York Times

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