Trump’s Mexican Poodle

In the turbulent history of Yankee imperialism that Latin American demagogues have used for a century as a pretext to keep the region underdeveloped, we had not seen anything like it: a leader of Latin America’s anti-imperialist left turned into Washington’s docile poodle.

I am referring to Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Mexican president who has just agreed to become President Trump’s implacable border policeman in order to avoid incurring the wrath of the U.S. president in the form of tariffs. This is the same López Obrador who just weeks ago was demanding apologies and compensation from Spain for the conquest of Mexico five-hundred years ago and who supports Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro in the name of Mexico’s right to conduct a foreign policy immune to pressure from other countries.

The other side of the equation—Trump’s own conduct vis-à-vis Mexico—is no less shocking. In the long history of trade protectionism, which was known as “mercantilism” in the times when the economic science was born, we had not seen anything like it either: a president who calls himself a supporter of global trade, yet who is ready to inflict economic punishment on his own people by applying tariffs on imports from his neighbors unless they solve his domestic immigration “problem.”

That is what Trump recently threatened to do before López Obrador agreed to deploy the newly created (and politically controlled) National Guard both at the border with Guatemala and throughout his country in order to stem the flow of Central American migrants; to take back asylum seekers who manage to cross the U.S. border and give them jobs and health care; and, in the absence of substantial progress, to take measures that will subsequently turn Mexico into a “safe third country,” meaning that Central Americans aspiring to get asylum in the United States but who set foot on Mexican soil first would have to apply for refuge in Mexico, not in the U.S.

Can you imagine what the Mexican and Latin American left would say if a center-right ruler like Argentina’s Mauricio Macri or Chile’s Sebastián Piñera responded to Trump’s verbal missiles and tariff threats by turning the other cheek and announcing that from now on he will become Washington’s immigration police?

López Obrador could have responded to Trump by pointing out the approximately $US17 billion that a tariff of 5 percent on imports from Mexico would cost the US economy ($US 80 billion if the tariff went up to 25 percent, which Trump also threatened to impose at intervals). The Mexican government could have reminded him that some U.S. border states, Arizona and Texas among them, depend on Mexico for about 40 percent of their imports from abroad. Or that the production between the two countries is so integrated that the different supplies used to manufacture goods travel back and forth, so that a finished product that enters the United States from Mexico is in a certain way a product that Americans import from themselves.

But, instead, López Obrador has chosen to do Trump’s dirty work to avoid incurring his wrath. Don’t get me wrong: commercial wars are a horrific idea and trying to avoid them is a very commendable thing. But I simply point out the glorious irony of seeing the Mexican government play the subservient role that the Mexican left—of which López Obrador is in part an expression—has always decried in the Latin American right vis-à-vis Washington. And, in this case, at the expense of the Central American poor that López Obrador used to champion until a few weeks ago.


Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. His Independent books include Global Crossings, Liberty for Latin America, and The Che Guevara Myth.
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