How Should Mexico Respond to Donald Trump?
The Mexican government “has maintained an unjustifiable distance” from the debate over the candidate’s immigration policy, one journalist says.
On Friday, Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto, made news by commenting on a matter he’d until then remained silent about: Donald Trump.
“Some have hoped for the president to take a position on what Trump has said. The government … fully discredits and condemns any expression of a discriminatory character and [any expression] that specifically hurts Mexicans,”he told the Mexican website SDPnoticias, echoing his foreign minister, who days earlier had denounced the Republican presidential candidate’s “ignorance and disdain” toward Mexico and Mexicans.
But Pena Nieto was also hesitant to get involved in the early stages of a U.S. election campaign. Trump’s comments are “very unfortunate, but I don’t want to contribute to or make the fat broth for [a delightful idiom meaning ‘make things easy for’] someone who is just vying to become a candidate,” he said.
The remarks captured the struggle among Mexican officials in recent months to respond to a formidable contender for the U.S. presidency who has accused the Mexican government of flooding the United States with rapists, criminals, and drug traffickers; declared that Mexico, at the behest of a President Trump, would fund the completion of a 2,000-mile-long wall along the U.S. border, at a cost of billions of dollars; proposed mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, includingmillions of Mexicans, from the U.S.; claimed that the Mexican government “is much smarter, much sharper, much more cunning” than the U.S. government on immigration policy, and that “Mexico is taking our business. Mexico is the new China”; and generally made immigration and Mexico the centerpiece of his campaign.
In a column for the Mexican paper El Universal—titled “Who Defends Mexicans?” and published shortly before Pena Nieto commented on Trump—Leon Krauze, a Mexican journalist and anchor for Univision in Los Angeles, criticized this very ambivalence in Mexican officialdom. Krauze lamented the “absolute lack of figures, in the political sphere, who are taking responsibility for defending with hard data the virtuoso role of immigrants in the United States,” and argued that “the Mexican government has maintained an unjustifiable distance” from the debate over Trump’s immigration policies. He continued:
Someone sold [Mexican officials] the idea that they should not get involved in U.S. politics because it is a matter of internal politics and risks hurting feelings (as if Trump or other racist Republicans give a damn about our feelings … anyway). Moreover, the Mexican government should know that in U.S. history there are admirable antecedents of countries that have publicly defended their immigrants in the United States. Italy did it in the late 19th century.
(In 1891, in an extreme example of the kind of defense Krauze is referring to, the Italian government broke off diplomatic relations with the United States for a year after a mob in New Orleans murdered 11 ethnic Italians at a prison, in retaliation for the killing of a police chief; a New York Times editorial at the time observed that “orderly and law-abiding persons will not pretend that the butchery of the Italians was either ‘justifiable or proper,’” only to add that the victims, “[t]hese sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, cut-throat practices, and the oath-bound societies of their native country, are to us a pest without mitigations.”)
In his column, Krauze praised Miguel Basanez, Mexico’s new ambassador to the United States, for stating during an appearance before the Mexican Senate in late August that Trump should apologize to Mexicans for his comments. That appearance in itself was a case study in how Mexican officials are grappling with the Republican frontrunner. Basanez reportedly challenged the idea that “the president, the foreign minister, and the ambassador should climb into the ring, and begin to punch [fittingly, trompear in Spanish] with Trump,” asserting that doing so might elevate Trump to a level of political seriousness he hasn’t yet attained. But during the same session, Senator Gabriela Cuevas argued for the opposite approach:
To think that a campaign of hate, of xenophobia, of misogyny, of intolerance, is the one that today has the loudest voice in the United States is surprising. …
Mexico too has to speak out, because you do not want to build a reputation based on lies and based on discrediting a country that is the third-largest trading partner of the United States.
As a journalist who covers U.S. politics and speaks to audiences in Mexico and the United States, Krauze has a unique perspective on Trump and his positions on immigration. I asked him whether he sees differences between how Mexicans and Mexican Americans are assessing the businessman’s candidacy.