By Sergio Aguayo
Our old understanding with the United States has been shattered. Let’s redesign the relationship by changing attitudes in order to “Mexicanize” – without complexes – our strategy, our policies, and our story.
Let’s face it. There has always been a strong racist and anti-Mexican streak in the United States (and an anti-Yankee one in Mexico). James R. Sheffield, U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 1924 to 1927, despised us. He described Mexicans as “Indians” who were unable to understand any “arguments, apart from force.” We were close to another war, but Washington thought better and sent Dwight Morrow, who came to an understanding with Plutarco Elías Calles.
In the 90 years since, moderation has prevailed in the public discourse of presidents, ambassadors, and high-ranking officials. Phobias have rarely left the closet. In The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam recounts that President Lyndon B. Johnson categorized Mexicans as fat, barefoot creatures who would take advantage of and steal from the people of the United States. However, Johnson kept a tight lid on his anti-Mexicanism, and when he visited our country in 1966, he went so far as to praise us, calling our country “grandiose” and “wonderful.”
But that’s over. Donald Trump has legitimized anti-Mexicanism and shattered the Morrow–Calles understanding. He has dedicated himself to insulting and despising us, and he is determined to deport undocumented immigrants, build a wall with Mexican money, and repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta). I don’t know what Peñanietism will do in the short time it has left. The basic task is collective: to rethink our strategy, our policies and our story, reminding them insistently of their “joint responsibility” in the accusations that they hurl at us. To provide examples for this argument, I’ll review three themes: migration, trade, and security.
Migration: History helps to unravel the present and build the future. The mass displacement of people is a regional problem to which the United States has contributed. Let’s look at two moments: 1) The massive displacement of Mexicans began when the U.S. entered World War II; the priority now is to defend our people from racism and abuse, and to respond to this abuse we must return to the hundreds of thousands of criminals of other nationalities currently sent over our northern border every year; 2) The aggression of Ronald Reagan’s Republicans in Central America triggered the demographic cataclysm that they now want to contain by building a wall. To begin with, Mexico must repudiate the commitment of acting as the southern border guard, agreed upon by Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama. Then the next step is demanding a regional discussion on Central American migration.
Trade: Nafta was a joint effort. Ronald Reagan proposed it to José López Portillo, who ignored him. Years later, Carlos Salinas suggested it to George W. Bush, who adopted it. Nafta will be reviewed, and our best bet is the approach suggested by Bernardo Sepúlveda: to build multiple lines of legal defense.
Security: Since the blackmail of Operation Intercept (1969), Mexico’s grand strategy has followed Washington’s directives and made decapitating and fragmenting cartels a priority. What worked for them failed for us. Mexicanization of this strategy means, for example, legalizing marijuana and filing lawsuits against U.S. actors to indemnify the families of the (more or less) 140,000 Mexicans who were murdered with U.S. weapons smuggled into Mexico, thanks to Washington’s permissive stance.
Let’s take responsibility for how we are treated by demanding the same of them. We don’t know what will happen under the Trump administration, neither do we know the plans of Peña Nieto and Luis Videgaray, who call for unity without saying how they will use it. It is absurd for them to continue a line of counterproductive defeatism. Do they have a general project to negotiate with the Trump administration? Are they considering approaching U.S. citizens who oppose Trump? (We did so during the Central American wars and it worked.) Unity can only occur around the defense of our interests and dignity, with the weapons of reason and passion and with a very clear understanding of our national project.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Reforma on January 18, 2017. The English version was translated by Deborah Michelle Meacham.
The author is grateful for Andrew Selee’s suggestions.
SERGIO AGUAYO QUEZADA is a professor at the Centro de Estudios Internationales at El Colegio de México and researcherin Mexico’s Sistema Nacional de Investigadores. He contributes weekly to Reforma, as well as to other newspapers and TV shows. He recently published a book, The Mexican Enigma, which is now available for purchase in English digital download.