By Gema Santamaría*
The Mexican government hasn’t yet figured out how to react to U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed policies toward Mexico, which have already eroded trust and potential cooperation, but one thing is clear: Mexican nationalism alone will not help. In terms of security cooperation, Trump has proposed a “great wall” and increased police and military presence to keep “bad hombres” outside U.S. territory without the consent or cooperation of his southern neighbor. The notion of shared responsibility, which shaped the Mérida Initiative and informed most cooperation under past administrations, has been virtually abandoned. Instead, Mexico has been presented to the U.S. public only as the source of security challenges – illegal migration, drugs, and common crime – and not part of the solution.
The Mexican government’s response has been, so far, equivocal at best. President Peña Nieto and his administration have proven incapable of articulating a coherent message towards Trump’s provocations. Responding to an erratic, Twitter-driven foreign policy poses challenges for any country accustomed to traditional diplomatic interaction, but Peña Nieto has an additional force to manage: surging nationalism from the left, center, and right. This revival includes disjointed appeals on social media for citizens to boycott “gringo” companies – notably Starbucks – and to consume “only national” products. Many campaigns express solidarity with the Mexican government as well as repudiation of Trump. The cover of Letras Libres, for example, carries an image that emulates Mexico’s national coat of arms – an eagle attacking a snake – but the snake being devoured by the Mexican eagle wears a blond Trump-style hairdo.
Nationalism, however, is not the answer. Beyond its potentially chauvinistic nature, it can too easily translate into a call for political loyalty and suppress necessary criticism of the current government. In moments of crisis, Mexican elites have long used anti-American sentiment to create consensus, overcome divisions, and even conceal a government’s lack of legitimacy – unhelpful in a moment that, like now, citizens need to hold their government accountable for its impunity, corruption, and human rights abuses.
- Instead of making themselves feel good with nationalist slogans, Mexicans should assert their commitment to multilateralism and international cooperation, not only in trade (which at times seems to be the only issue on the agenda) but also on matters of security, human rights, and the rule of law. A critique of Trump’s militaristic understanding of immigration should include a critique of Mexico’s own failure to adopt a more integral migration policy south of its border – one protecting Central American migrants from the rampage of organized crime and capable of addressing the institutional and structural challenges behind the surge of Central American migration. Mexican citizens should call into question their government’s resort to militarized border control on the southern border, a strategy that in many ways mirrors the U.S.’ short-sighted and unilateral response to migration. By the same token, criticism of Trump’s reactive and militarized vision of security should also involve a close look at Mexico’s own militarized, short-term, and repressive response to insecurity and violence.
- Some Mexican intellectuals have insinuated that an effective critique of Trump and his policies calls for a revival of national pride and honor. Letras Libres director Enrique Krauze, for example, tweeted that not attending protests to denounce Trump’s actions is a sign of “passivity, indifference, and even cowardice.” Yet if Mexico proves incapable of articulating a sound critique and resistance vis-à-vis Trump the real cause will not be a lack of nationalist ardor, but rather citizens’ incapacity to move beyond nationalism and uncritical support for their government. Mexico does not need nationalistic and “brave” citizens as much as it needs a citizenry committed to international cooperation, transparency, and critical engagement and that can call into question another government’s erroneous policies – like Trump’s – while demanding better of its own.
April 13, 2017
* Gema Santamaría Balmaceda is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of International Studies at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM), and a participant in the Robert A. Pastor North America Research Initiative.