Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trump's wall is threatening Mexico relationship (Jan. 25, 2017)

U.S. President Donald Trump signed orders yesterday to immediately start construction on a wall the border with Mexico and to aggressively find and deport illegal immigrants, reports the New York Times. The actions caused extensive anger in Mexico, and could push Mexico's government -- conciliatory in the face of Trump's aggression until now -- to take a stronger stance in negotiations, reports the New York Times separately.

Trump's orders, though symbolic to an extent, were perceived as particularly aggressive coming on the same day that high level talks were starting between Mexico's Economy Minister and the U.S. administration. And Trump's approach could force the Mexican government into a harder stance. Already President Enrique Peña Nieto is considering canceling his visit to Washington, scheduled for next week.

Yesterday in a nationally televised speech he condemned the U.S. decision and repeated that Mexico would not pay for the wall -- in response to Trump's reiterated assurances to U.S. citizens that Mexico will foot the construction bill, reports the Associated Press.

And today Trump upped the ante: he threatened to cancel the upcoming meeting himself, if Mexico refuses to pay for the wall, reports the Financial Times. "If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting" he tweeted.

In turn, Mexican officials said cancellation would fuel uncertainty, reports Reuters.

Yesterday, signing the executive order, Trump assured Mexicans that the wall would benefit them as well, and usher in a period of improved relations, reports Animal Político.

Yet, "his actions are starting to reverse a quarter-century of bipartisan policies aimed at fostering greater integration between the two neighbors," notes the Wall Street Journal.

The New York Times editorial board notes that the wall order depends on Congress approving billions of dollars in funding, and that insisting on Mexico paying is "either deceitful or delusional." Cutting off aid to Mexico, as Trump has appeared to threaten would only save about $142 million annually, "which doesn’t begin to pay for a wall along the 1,989-mile border. Besides costing billions, the type of barrier Mr. Trump has proposed would cause severe environmental damage and lead to lawsuits over private land."

In Mexico there is a growing feeling that Peña Nieto has been excessively weak in the face of Trump's bluster. Opposition leaders yesterday urged Peña Nieto to cancel his meeting with Trump, reports the Los Angeles Times. Yesterday opposition leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador -- a leading contender for the 2018 presidential election -- urged the government to take legal action in the U.N. over the wall, reports Reuters.

While Mexico's political leaders have spent recent decades seeking cooperative relationships with the country's neighbor to the north, the current situation has officials seeking an arsenal of weapons to use in trade negotiations. Mexico "must convince Mr. Trump that if he blows up the trade agreement on which Mexico has staked its hopes of development, by weaving its economy ever more closely into that of the United States, the United States will suffer, too," writes Eduardo Porter in the New York Times.

Hints of a strategy aimed at including security and immigration concerns in the trade negotiations started emerging this week. (See Tuesday's post.) 

"NAFTA fundamentally reshaped North American economic relations, driving an unprecedented integration between Canada and the United States' developed economies and Mexico, a developing country," notes a Council on Foreign Relations report from this week. 

Another New York Times piece analyzes NAFTA and potential changes, including changing "rules of origin" and easing customs processes.

On the issue of the wall: about a third of the border is already walled, much of it since 2005, reports the Financial Times, citing WOLA. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) estimates it would cost more than $11bn to build 413 more miles of fencing. And illegal immigration has vastly decreased in recent years, thanks in large measure to Mexican efforts to detain Central American migrants before they reach the U.S. border.

The overall aims of the wall itself are also fiercely disputed, notes the Guardian. Mexican immigrants have tended to return to their home country since the end of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, and research shows that immigrants are more law-abiding than "natives."

And some migrant advocates worry that the project will merely force would-be migrants into ever more dangerous routes in their attempts to reach the U.S., reports the Los Angeles Times.

The big winners of the massive construction project could be Mexican cement companies and construction workers, according to the Guardian in a separate piece that notes the pharaonic project could cost $31bn and take 40,000 people more than five years to construct.

News Briefs
  • Cuba is willing to continue negotiations with the U.S. under Trump, but won't "make concessions inherent to its independence and sovereignty," said President Raúl Castro, according to the Associated Press.
  • Trump Tower Punta del Este, a luxury development in the exclusive Uruguayan beach destination, no longer has pictures of the U.S. president and his adult children in the promo material, but his name still gives potential buyers confidence, reports the Associated Press.
  • New York Times Magazine feature focuses on undocumented college students who came to the United States as children and face an uncertain future. Many are enrolled in the Obama DACA program, which permits them to register with the government and receive a two-year renewable protection against deportation, along with work permits and Social Security numbers. Yesterday Trump promised a new policy for the so-called "dreamers," saying they should not be "very worried," reports Reuters.
  • The reinstatement of a U.S. policy withholding USAid funding from any organization that offers abortion services or information -- the so-called "global gag rule" -- could have a chilling impact on work done in Latin America by family planning organizations, reports the Guardian. It could hinder broader civil society program, such as contraception provision and campaigns to combat HIV/Aids, but also strengthen conservative movements opposed to reproductive rights in the region.
  • Central American countries hope Trump's trade pact rejection mania overlooks the Central America Free Trade Agreement. It's terms are so favorable to the U.S. they think it could remain, reports AFP.
  • In a summit this week the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States backed dialogue in Venezuela, condemned the criminalization of irregular migration and demands that Washington return to Cuba the military base at Guantanamo and end "without conditions" the US economic embargo against that country, reports EFE.
  • Assassinations of human rights defenders in Colombia rose last year. Many of the murders are attributed to right-wing paramilitary groups opposed to the FARC peace accord, reports Reuters. Last year 117 rights activists were killed compared with 105 in 2015, according to the Bogota-based Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ).
  • Human Rights Watch reiterated concerns over the definition of "command responsibility" in bills related to the FARC peace accord. The existing wording could allow military commanders to escape accountability for human rights crimes committed on their watch. "The prospects that Colombia achieves a just peace relies on the guarantees that those most responsible for atrocities will be adequately held accountable. The availability of a definition of “command responsibility” that conforms with international law serves an indispensable role in achieving that purpose."
  • Colombia's homicide rate has consistently dropped since 1992 when the country's major cartels were dismantled (with a few reversals), though experts are not in agreement over why exactly, writes Juan Carlos Ruiz in la Razón Pública.
  • Latin America is suffering a "populist hangover," according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's latest Democracy Index report. "The region's average score has slumped over the course of a decade, from 6.37 in 2006 to 6.33 in 2016. Latin America is still some way from catching up in terms of democratic development with Western Europe (average score 8.40) and North America (8.56) and cannot afford to suffer a regression, as it did in 2016." While in the rest of the world 2016 marked a rise in populist rhetoric, in Latin America the year marked a turn away from the Pink Tide governments and towards centrist and right wing leadership, notes the report.
  • Haiti's president-elect, Jovenel Moïse, was questioned for four hours by a judge, in relation to fraud allegations, reports the BBC.  Moïse met with the judge yesterday in a closed door session which he went to voluntarily without a lawyer, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • At least 12 Haitians died trying to reach Turks and Caicos in a wooden boat. Three illegal vessels reached the British territory last month, and illegal immigration is a key priority for the new premier, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Brazil is facing a large outbreak of yellow fever, reports the BBC.
  • São Paulo’s new mayor, a former reality TV star, is planning a vast privatization of the city's assets in order to raise about about $2.2 billion. Everything from the city's carnival revenues to cemeteries are on sale. João Doria, who won by a landslide in an election marked by voter rejection of establishment politicians, has already gotten rid of the city’s fleet of 1,300 cars and told his staff to use Uber instead, as well as instituting fines for employees who are late to meetings, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Puerto Rico's new governor says the island will never escape its economic slump unless it becomes the U.S.'s 51st state, reports the Miami Herald. He is pushing for a vote this spring to allow residents to choose whether to turn the commonwealth into a state, and says the U.S. Congress is morally obligated to comply with the results.
  • Wildfires in southern and central Chile have destroyed around 300,000 acres of forest land and killed three firefighters over the past week, reports the New York Times. The blazes have been amplified by a prolonged drought and high temperatures, while containment has been complicated by strong winds and smoldering ash. Help has come from France, Peru, Mexico and the United States, including the world's largest firefighting aircraft in a fire-fighting operation funded by a wealthy Chilean resident in the US, reports the Guardian.
  • The first Cuban exports to the U.S. since the trade embargo was instituted about 50 years ago -- artisanal charcoal -- arrived this week, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Fidel Castro's death hasn't reduced his presence in Cuba, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Argentina's human rights community is up in arms over a government move making the National Day of Remembrance a moveable holiday. March 24, which marks the day of the last military coup and the start of a repressive regime that disappeared about 30,000 people, is a national holiday. Traditionally it is commemorated with massive marches, which some say the government seeks to undermine by moving the holiday to create a long weekend, reports Página 12.
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