Thursday, February 23, 2017

"Don’t mention the wall," U.S. Mexico diplomatic divisions widen (Feb. 23, 2017)

Top U.S. officials in Mexico face a challenging diplomatic mission: to mend a growing rift with a neighbor in the midst of a series of U.S. policy changes interpreted as hostile by Mexicans. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly arrived yesterday in Mexico City with the mission of soothing their counterparts in the wake of a tiff between the two presidents over a U.S. proposal to build a border wall and make Mexico pay, as well as threats to unravel a landmark free trade agreement critical for Mexico's economy.

The two met with the Mexican foreign and defense ministers yesterday and were set to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto today. Their strategy was dubbed "don't mention the wall," by one diplomat cited in the Guardian.

Mexican officials took a hard-line towards the overtures, that come the same week as new U.S. guidelines that call for enlisting local U.S. authorities to enforce immigration law, jailing more people pending hearings, and sending border-crossers back to Mexico to await proceedings, even if they aren’t Mexican, explains the Wall Street Journal

"I want to make it emphatically clear that neither Mexico’s government or the Mexican people have any reason to accept provisions that have been unilaterally imposed by one government on the other," Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said at a ceremony on Wednesday. "We won’t accept it because we don’t have to."

Mexican newspapers have described "the new deportation policies in apocalyptic terms, saying in some cases that they represented “war” on the millions of Mexicans in the United States," according to the New York Times.

Most undocumented migrants entering the U.S. from Mexico are from other countries, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection: of more than 400,000 people apprehended in the year ending Sept. 30, more than 220,000 weren’t from Mexico.

Current Mexican policy ensures deportees from the U.S. are actually Mexican before allowing them to enter, reports Proceso.

Mexicans fear the new U.S. crackdown on undocumented immigrants could lead to deportee and refugee camps along the border, reported the Associated Press yesterday. 

In the ratcheting up of diplomatic tension, Mexico says the entire bilateral relationship -- including border and drug cooperation are on the table along with trade renegotiations. The U.S., for its part, is in the process of reviewing of all federal aid it provides to Mexico, including funding for development projects as well as economic, humanitarian and law-enforcement assistance, reports the WSJ. (See yesterday's post as well.)

"Relations between the neighbours are at their lowest point for decades," according to the BBC.

The move to reexamine all aid to Mexico -- report due tomorrow -- is part of the U.S. administration's efforts to make its neighbor pay for a border wall project, reports the New York Times. Yet Tillerson's role is complicated, according to the NYT he plays little role in setting actual policy and instead seems to be used for cleaning up the administration's messes. 

Trumps "vision of a US-Mexico border wall and other policies are likely to have lethal consequences for many seeking a path out of the deadly violence endemic to their Central American homelands," according to Amnesty International. "By shutting the door to refugees, Trump is effectively condemning them to a life of terror and violence. Failing to take action to protect refugees is not going to stop people from embarking on these dangerous journeys, it will just put them at heightened risk – pushing them to repeatedly attempt the perilous journey in search of safety."

There are frequent reports about the fences that already exist along the border, but the Guardian and AFP have a great photoessay with pictures from both sides. "I quickly began to see, once starting the project, that there is already a wall. While it is not brick and mortar, a huge fence runs up and down the border in quite a few locations. That being said, there are gaps in the fence, and there are areas where there is nothing at all. In many locations the border is the river, or mountains, and a physical barrier would almost be nonsensical, but there are places that the border patrol mentioned that are now seeing high traffic because the fence is everywhere else," said photographer Jim Watson.

News Briefs
  • A BBC piece looks at Central American government's notable silence regarding Trump's new deportation policy, though many of their nationals would be affected. Avoiding attention is a possible reason, as is waiting to see how the Mexico-U.S. spat plays out, hypothesize some experts.
  • In a Guatemala stop before going to Mexico, Kelly urged would be Guatemalan migrants not to risk their children's lives on the dangerous journey to the U.S., reports Aristegui Noticias.
  • Amnesty International's report on 2016 denounces that "politics of demonization" are causing division and fear, and risk a domino effect as powerful states backtrack on human rights commitments. More on the report tomorrow.
  • Mexico's attorney general's office accepted 19 recommendations from the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) between 2011 and 2015, pertaining to grave violations committed by its functionaries. But has resolved on only one of these cases, reports Animal Político, based on a new report by Mexico's national auditing body. The cases involve grave human rights violations of at least 212 people, including forced disappearances and torture.
  • Sixty percent of Mexicans trust the armed forces and agree it should be involved in internal security duties according to a new poll by Parametría, reports Animal Político. The data seems to indicate widespread support of a bill that would regulate military participation in security duties, despite experts concerns that it presents little benefit and could lead to widespread human rights violations. (See Jan 30's briefs.)
  • Ecuadoreans will determine their next president in an April 2 runoff vote between Alianza País candidate Lenín Moreno and conservative banker Guillermo Lasso, reports the Wall Street Journal. Moreno, representing the current government alliance, won about 39.4 percent of the vote last Sunday, just shy of the 40 percent plus 10 point difference he needed for an outright win against Lasso's 28.1 percent. Delays in results led to accusations of fraud, but no evidence of irregularities has been reported, according to the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs and Tuesday's post.)
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse tapped an obscure physician who heads the Petionville Rotary Club, Dr. Jack Guy Lafontant, to be his prime minister, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Brazilian Foreign Minister José Serra resigned yesterday, citing health reasons. The 74-year-old said he will resume work as a senator, reports the Wall Street Journal. He was seen as a key member of President Michel Temer's government. Serra spearheaded a U-turn in foreign policy since taking office last year, turning against leftist allies in the region such as Venezuela and Cuba.
  • Brazilian development bank BNDES is working to resume nearly to $5 billion in loans suspended due to links with the sweeping Operation Car Wash corruption probe, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • São Paulo's political outsider mayor, João Doria, has made painting over the city's colorful graffiti with grey paint a priority, to the point where he's donned coveralls and completed parts of the task himself. His efforts have set off a local debate over the lines between tagging, graffiti and street murals, reports the Guardian.
  • Argentine economy officials announced aggressive fiscal deficit reduction targets, which will require further cuts to public service subsidies, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Red de Innovación Política launched a ten part series of interviews with its members. In Política Recuperada they give personal accounts of how small political groups seek to use the internet to bridge the gap between democratic systems and their citizenry.
  • Intense water use is threatening the last of Mexico City's pre-Columbian canal area in Xochimilco, reports the New York Times.
  • Mexico's sugar tax has driven down soft drinks purchases for the second year running, by about 9.7 percent over the past year, reports the Guardian.

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