Pena Nieto and Trump: Kindred Spirits?

Professor John Ackerman on Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto: ‘He’s Our Trump’

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KIM BROWN, TRNN REPORTER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump once again managed to surprise everyone when he announced that he is accepting an invitation to visit Mexico that he recently received from President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The announcement clearly disturbed many in Mexico who have seen Trump is a racist bully. This is what a conservative senator, Gabriela Cuevas, had to say about the visit.

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GABRIELA CUEVAS, MEXICAN SENATOR (VO TRANSLATION): Today is the worst political moment for Donald Trump, with this absurd meeting in Mexico with President Enrique Peña Nieto. It’s about rescuing someone who is starting to agonize about their poll numbers. It’s giving an event in Mexico, the country that he has insulted. He is the first leader to tend to the hand of xenophobia to a tyrant. That is inadmissible under any perspective. And secondly, a president is to meet with his peers, not candidates.

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BROWN: Some speculate that perhaps Peña Nieto issued the invitation to both Clinton and to Donald Trump in order to distract from his own problems, given that his approval rating is in the low 20 percent.

Joining us to discuss the Trump visit to Mexico is John Ackerman. John is a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He’s also editor-in-chief of the Mexican Law Review and a columnist with both La Jornada newspaper and Procesco magazine.

John, thank you so much for joining us again.

PROF. JOHN ACKERMAN, NATIONAL AUTONOMOUS UNIVERSITY OF MEXICO: Thank you. A pleasure, as always, to be on The Real News.

BROWN: John, let’s start with what could possibly have motivated President Peña Nieto to invite Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to Mexico. The official reason that the president gave was to, quote, dialog to promote the interests of Mexico in the world and to protect Mexicans wherever they are. However, many speculate that there are other reasons. What do you think, John?

ACKERMAN: Well, I think we can [incompr.] at least two reasons. One is that Enrique Peña Nieto is getting less intelligent than Donald Trump. Peña Nieto might think this would give him a sort of media attention on the international sphere, given the fact that he is so incredibly repudiated and delegitimized with Mexicans. He is the most hated, even despised president we’ve had in all of recent modern history. His approval ratings are now at 20 or below 20 percent. This is totally unprecedented in Mexican politics. Normally the president is revered, respected, even if he’s disagreed with. Peña Nieto has really reached the bottom of the barrel. And he stupidly thinks that this will help him politically.

The other part of the story is that Peña Nieto and Trump actually have a lot in common. I’m actually not particularly surprised by this meeting, precisely because of this. Peña Nieto has been applying Trump’s policies since the beginning. Peña Nieto, for instance, is now expelling from Mexico more migrants than the United States. Obama has come down in history as the deporter in chief. Well, Peña Nieto is now expelling thousands and thousands, particularly Central Americans, quote-unquote protecting Mexico’s southern border, doing the dirty work for the United States, for Obama, for the United States political establishment.

Peña Nieto has from day one constructed a neoliberal policy which is designed around giving over to the United States natural resources, for instance oil, labor reforms, investment treaties. He’s very much in favor of the TPP, for instance. All of these corporate global interests which Peña Nieto represents in the end are favored by Trump. It doesn’t really matter that Trump is a protectionist and Peña Nieto is a free trader, supposedly. Both of them are joined by the fact that they have a completely anti-Mexican point of view. Enrique Peña Nieto has not protected migrants in the United States, and he has ruled against the Mexican people and in favor of the United States from day one.

So they are really kindred spirits, Trump and Peña Nieto. So they should get along quite well today their meeting.

BROWN: Well, let’s stick with some of the scandals that are affecting President Peña Nieto. What is happening with the Mexican teachers strike? Like, how is the president dealing with that?

ACKERMAN: Well, terribly. He has provoked this teaching strike by trying to impose these neoliberal education reforms. And he has resorted to blatant acts of violence. Just a couple of months ago in Oaxaca, on June 19, there was a massacre of nine and injury of gunshot wounds for over 100 teachers and community members in Oaxaca. Like I said, Peña Nieto has really been pushing for this agenda of clearing out the southern part of Mexico particularly, the most resistant, conscious, active part of the teachers, not only teachers but of indigenous communities to the south. And this is just what Trump wants, for the Mexican government to protect U.S. interests and to attack activists and independent press, for instance.

So, once again, these guys get along great, Peña Nieto and Trump. Peña Nieto really is our Trump. I really hope that Trump doesn’t win in the United States. I hope that Clinton doesn’t, either, frankly. But if Trump wins, you guys in the United States will know exactly what we’ve been feeling over the last four years with just a dunce ruling our country.

BROWN: Oh my goodness. John, you know Donald Trump has been know to fabricate a fact or three or several on the campaign trail. He indicated that the NFL had sent him a letter regarding the proposed presidential debate schedule. The NFL denied that. He also claimed it to be in communications with Chicago Police Department on a couple of issues. The police department has also denied that as well. But President Enrique Peña Nieto, like, he is dealing with a plagiarism scandal himself. So apparently he may be exaggerating some things too.

ACKERMAN: Well, there you go. Another similarity. They’re both liars. Yes. About a week and a half ago, Carmen Aristegui, who should have a national television radio show but has been centered by the Peña Nieto administration so now works through her website at Aristegui Noticias, has, yeah, let loose a bombshell, which revealed that Peña Nieto plagiarized almost half, 30 percent of his undergraduate thesis. In Mexico it’s an absolute requirement, especially when Peña Nieto studied, to present a thesis in order to get your undergraduate degree, and there are just blatant cases of dozens of paragraphs just copied directly from scholars about–presidentialism was his thesis. And this has come to confirm his ignorance. When he was on the campaign trail four years ago, he became well-known famous for not being able to name even three books, not even one book correctly, that has marked as his life.

So, yes, Peña Nieto’s in a desperate situation. Mexicans are starting to realize this. If he thinks that his meeting with Trump will somehow distract things or help him in international or national public opinion, he is definitely committing a big mistake. This is really just going to sink his presidency even more.

BROWN: I mean, it’s pretty clear from what prominent Mexicans have said about the invitation to Trump that very few Mexicans are welcoming Trump. Will this visit undermine Peña Nieto’s even more than it will help him?

ACKERMAN: Well, that’s what I think. We’ll see what happens. It seems to me very hard to imagine that he’ll somehow come out with this on the winning side of the table. Trump is obviously using the Mexican president to try to pretend as if he is in favor of Mexicans in general, trying to perhaps backpedal from his racist comments. But in the end he’s not fooling anybody on either side of the border on that one. And Peña Nieto’s trying to use Trump to demonstrate his international plurality and statesmanship, but that’s going to fall flat on its face. So this looks like it’s going to help Trump, perhaps, and it helps Mexicans in the United States, and Mexicans in Mexico also, to open up their eyes and realize what a limited and problematic president we have today in Mexico and really get out on the streets and to protest and to construct a new electoral coalition. We have a new presidential election in 2018, and that opens a window of opportunity for political change in Mexico which we desperately need.

BROWN: Trump has also questioned the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which Peña Nieto supports. Is there any chance that they will agree on anything? And could a discussion with both Trump and Clinton improve relations with the U.S. and Mexico?

ACKERMAN: I don’t think so. I mean, it’s funny. So these two different positions are actually on the same side of the court, because–so Trump is against free trade with Mexico ’cause he wants to defend U.S. jobs, and Peña Nieto is in favor of NAFTA because he wants to also protect the United States economy and put Mexico at the service of the U.S. economy.

The other position which is also very strong here in Mexico, more similar to a Bernie Sanders kind of position, which is in favor of more equal economic relationships between two sides of the border. So actually Peña Nieto and Trump do agree on the essentials. And so, hey, maybe they will make progress. But would that actually mean improved relations between Mexico and the United States? No. This would mean increased corporate dominance over North America. And that’s not heading in the right direction.

BROWN: Well, speak about the relations between our two countries, if you could for a moment. I mean, at the moment things seem to be fairly good. Could the outcome of the election this fall possibly alter that?

ACKERMAN: The relations between the oligarchy in Mexico and with the political and economic establishment in the United States is very good, but the relations between the peoples is not very good. The politics being followed by Obama over the last eight years towards expelling over 2 million people from the United States, a large majority of those Mexicans, has been disastrous for the Mexican people, the Mexican economy, Mexican human rights. The forcing on of Mexico of a militarized drug war has led it to over 150, almost 200,000 deaths over the last few years. The neoliberalization and corporate takeover of the Mexican economy and now particularly the oil sector, pushed by Obama, and by Hillary Clinton as well, has led to a destruction of any kind of national sovereignty or the ability to give good jobs to the Mexican people. The minimum wage in Mexico is the lowest in all of Latin America, only comparable to Haiti and some Caribbean countries. And so the relationships at the top are good, but the relationships at the bottom are terrible.

We need a real sea change in relationships between Mexico and the United States. We need the people of the United States to help and support the people of Mexico and vice versa. One optimistic note here is the incredible participation of Mexican and Latin American youth in the Bernie Sanders campaign. That was real hope in terms of actually resetting North American relationships. We need a North America of the people, of the workers, of peasants, of youth, of students. We need to get rid of this North America, this corporate North America, which is really destroying the economy and popular politics on both sides of the border.

BROWN: It should be noted that Donald Trump is traveling to Mexico to meet with President Peña Nieto. He is not coming with his press corps, who will be waiting for him in Arizona, where he is expected to give his immigration policy speech, or I should say a revised immigration policy speech. So that’s something that’s pretty interesting as well.

We’ve been speaking with John Ackerman. John is a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He’s also editor-in-chief of the Mexican Law Review and a columnist with both La Jornada and Procesco magazine.

John, we certainly appreciate your time today. Thank you again.

ACKERMAN: Thank you very much. A pleasure, and an honor as well.

BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.

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