Mexican President Faces Crisis of Legitimacy Following Trump Feud
The end of NAFTA and the building of a wall along with a resurgent left movement in Mexico gives an opportunity for the nation to turn away from the neoliberal fantasy of North American integration, says Professor John Ackerman
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
In a Twitter spat Thursday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said he’s scrapped plans to meet U.S. President Donald Trump next week. The Mexican President tweeted this morning, “We inform the White House that I will not attend a work meeting planned for next Tuesday with the President of the United States.” This comes just hours after Trump told the Mexican President that if his country doesn’t pay for the border wall, then Peña Nieto should cancel next week’s trip to the White House.
On Wednesday, Trump signed an Executive Order to beef up border control and start construction on a new wall between the two countries. Many in Mexico are furious over the timing of Trump’s actions with top Mexican officials currently meeting with the Trump Administration. Peña Nieto reacted to the Wednesday night posting by posting a video to Twitter saying, “Mexico does not believe in walls. I’ve said time and again. Mexico will not pay for any wall.” Trump’s verbal attacks on Mexico have put Peña Nieto under increasing domestic pressure to act. His poll ratings are at the lowest level of any Mexican President in years.
Joining us now to talk about the U.S.-Mexico relations is John Ackerman. John is a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He’s also the Editor-in-Chief of The Mexican Law Review and a columnist with La Jornada newspaper and Proceso magazine. John, good to have you with us.
JOHN ACKERMAN: How you doing, Sharmini? A pleasure as always to talk with you on The Real News.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, John, tumultuous relations between the U.S. and Mexico and recently you wrote a very good article in Atlantic Monthly where you said Trump would not be able to do what he’s planning to without complicity of the Mexican government. What makes you say that and in what way is the Mexican government acting in complicity here?
JOHN ACKERMAN: Yeah, well, it’s really kind of tragic, Sharmini, because you know, one thing is to have this big bully Trump on your border saying that he’s going to sink your economy, kick out all your citizens, build a huge wall. But it’s quite another thing to have that happening and also to be completely missing any kind of protection from your government. Enrique Peña Nieto and his new Foreign Secretary are much closer to Donald Trump than to the Mexican people.
SHARMINI PERIES: Here you mean politically?
JOHN ACKERMAN: I mean politically and I mean intimately, as well. So, you know, Videgaray, the new Foreign Secretary, was the guy who brought down Trump to Mexico for a campaign event in the Presidential Palace of Los Pinos with Peña Nieto, August 31st. That was just what Trump needed in his campaign. You know, people talk about Russia getting involved in the U.S. presidential election, but it was really Mexico which, you know, publicly, as a foreign government, participated directly in his campaign, supporting Trump. What Trump needed was precisely that kind of boost to demonstrate that he was supposedly a statesman who can get along with foreign dignitaries and that he’s not a racist. Supposedly he could show that he’s a friend of Mexicans, or Peña Nieto at least, without needing to actually change his policies… anti-Mexican policies.
So, you know, this is really kind of sad and very worrisome from down here south of the border. We feel in a state of total lack of protection, total vulnerability and, you know, so Peña Nieto has now cancelled the meeting. Yeah, right. Well, he waited until the last possible minute. He had already been humiliated by Trump on Wednesday with these Executive actions. He should have immediately cancelled the meeting. But he, you know, held on and held on until Trump himself basically cancelled the meeting. He said, you know, “Well if you’re not going to pay for the wall, then why are you going to come up here to Washington?” And Peña Nieto said, “Oh well, I guess I won’t go then.” You know, I mean that’s not a… that’s not a serious leader, right?
SHARMINI PERIES: Yeah. So, as I said in the intro, John, Peña Nieto is in the lowest levels possible when it comes to opinion polls. So, how are these recent developments in the relationship between Trump and Peña Nieto panning out in terms of the Mexican mood out there?
JOHN ACKERMAN: Well, the Mexican mood is souring by the day. We were already in the middle of a pretty crisis-laden situation both politically and economically because, you know, on January 1st there was incredible gasoline price hikes, as well as electricity price hikes — 20% just on January 1st. Inflation is starting to kick in. The peso has devaluated 50% over the last four years during the Peña Nieto administration. And politically there are mass protests, originally motivated by these gasoline price hikes, but they’ve gone way beyond that very quickly and become a protest against Peña Nieto himself. You know, “Resign Peña Nieto,” is the most important. You know, “Concede nada,” everybody is yelling at the marches.
And so things are getting very complicated for Peña Nieto and for Mexico in general. The hope is that we are getting close to election season in 2017, very important state level elections and Mexico State in Coahuila. In Nayarit, next year there will be Presidential elections. López Obrador is getting beefed up by this, the opposition, you know, leftist candidate is getting beefed up by all this whole situation. We talked about that at the last segment we did with you a couple weeks ago.
So, you know it’s not all desperation. The Mexican people are mobilized. I just checked Twitter. You know, Evo Morales has officially on his Twitter feed invited Mexicans to return to Latin America and to turn their sights towards the South. I agree with that. This is an opportunity, you know, the end of NAFTA, the building of a wall. This is the end of the Carlos Salinas neoliberal fantasy that somehow integrating Mexico into North America and forgetting about our Latin American roots and history and culture — and everything about Mexico is Latin American of course — that we would somehow reach the First World. This has just failed. The Mexican economy is totally destroyed and the countryside particularly, but the entire economy is fragmented and dependent on the United States. This is a crisis, but there is opportunity toward the future.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right, but at the same time for the President of Mexico to be taking on the leader of the free world, as they say, or the, you know, American empire here, might be favorable in terms of the election year coming up and in terms of opinion polls. What’s your opinion on that?
JOHN ACKERMAN: Yeah, well, you know, he’ll try to use it. There’s this kind of patriotic streak that he’s going to try to use to beef up support for him but it’s going to be really hard. Really, the guy’s who’s being benefitted politically is not the President but is López Obrador because he’s the guy who’s always been, you know, stubbornly talking about national sovereignty and the question of independence from the United states. While Peña Nieto has been from day one, talking about, you know, North American integration, and about how wonderful it is for Mexico to be totally dependent on the United States and for us to give over our oil and privatize our oil. So, you know, it’s going to be really hard for Peña Nieto to do this kind of about-face and suddenly become a great patriot.
SHARMINI PERIES: And speaking of López Obrador what is going on in terms of the social movements and this massive resistance that’s been mounting and swelling in Mexico? We’ve talked about it many times in relation to the students that have disappeared and the resistance against a government that was rising up and the student movement itself, and others. But where are those social movements at this time?
JOHN ACKERMAN: We’re in a crucial moment. We’re going to have to be very observant on how this develops. And from one perspective, this is just another social explosion — we have these every six months to a year in Mexico. Massive marches about one or another issue, you’ll remember the … case, the neoliberal teaching education reform, now the gas hikes. You know, the Mexican population, they get out in the streets and they protest. We don’t have a problem with that. It’s passivity. The problem is that these movements often don’t congeal into solid national networks for mobilization and they’ve had difficulties constructing alliances with political parties. Specifically, you know, the only party they could really align with is Morena, the left-wing party. And the problem’s on the other side, too — you know, Morena is a new party trying to get close to the social movements. But there are a lot of people in Morena itself who have this sort of more old guard, more bureaucratic vision of what a party is all about.
So, the question here is whether we’re going to be able to create that leverage between, you know, the movement side of Morena and the more politicized part of the movement to really construct a coalition which can achieve a transition towards the left in Mexico, which we desperately need. You know, Mexico is the only country which has not had a transition to the left over the last 20, 30 years in Latin America. Every other country has moved in that direction, except for Colombia. But Colombia, you know, is a special situation with half the country under the control of the guerillas and new peace talks. So, I mean, you know really Mexico is the exception and we hope it won’t be for much longer.
SHARMINI PERIES: Alright, John, I thank you so much for joining us with such short notice but we look forward to hearing from you again next week.
JOHN ACKERMAN: Thank you very much, Sharmini. A pleasure, as always.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.