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Wall Wishing or Gringo The Lilacs? Mexico and the Ugly American

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Last week a number of major American news outlets, in response to the reported cancellation of Mexican President Pena Nieto’s visit to the United States, ran stories decrying the terrible state of Mexican-American relations. Some of the papers trotted out a number of Mexican commentators who opined that bilateral relations had never been worse, and pinned the blame, predictably, on President Donald Trump, expressing “…shock and dismay that Trump’s campaign promises could be moving toward reality.” This nascent controversy seems to have been overshadowed by the travel ban fury, but it bears closer examination nonetheless.


The media brought out many prominent Mexican citizens, mostly former political figures of note, who all agreed that Mexican-American relations had reached a low ebb, and that they could never remember a tenser diplomatic atmosphere. Margarita Zavala, mentioned as a possible candidate for the Mexican presidency in 2018 said, “When we are talking about building a wall, about deporting migrants, about eliminating sanctuary cities…we are talking about causing human suffering.” Former Mexican President Vincente Fox said that he could not remember a worse time in relations with the Colossus of the North. Fox declared, “We don’t want the ugly American, which Trump represents: the imperial gringo that used to invade our country, that used to send the Marines…this is what this guy is menacing us with.”

Mr. Fox makes a breathtakingly broad statement here, and his use of the “gringo” vernacular would be condemned if such a common and unfavorable term were used by an American president. (The term used to describe Americans is reputed to have developed during the Mexican-American War of 1846-48, when American troops endlessly sang the popular song, “Green Grow the Lilacs,” which was understood by Mexican troops as “Gringo”, hence the title of this piece.) Are bilateral relations really worse than they have ever been? US-Mexican relations have been tense since 1836, and have been characterized by periods of frost and thaw, with the cold times outweighing the warm spells. The aforementioned war of 1846-48 marked the nadir of relations, but the French intervention in Mexico in 1863-67 nearly brought armed conflict with the USA after our civil war. Disorders in Mexico after their revolution of 1910 provoked conflict, and border incursions by Mexican outlaws in 1916 precipitated a police action by American forces. Later on, German plans to use Mexico as a staging ground for an invasion of the American Southwest, and a partition of the USA, led to great friction. So, it is quite a stretch to argue that Mexican-American relations have never been worse that right now.


The statement that Mexicans fear an American invasion is ridiculous on its face. Trump has never suggested any sort of American infringement on Mexican sovereignty, he has argued, instead, for a clear territorial division between America and Mexico, with a border wall. As far as an American “invasion” of Mexico, one does see the occasional example of off-duty sailors and marines making spectacles of themselves in Tijuana, but this is hardly something that local police cannot handle, and they do so, very well.

It would seem to the casual observer that the Mexicans, possibly misunderstanding the American system, would like the president to forsake his constitutional duty. The president’s oath of office as most readers certainly know, requires that he faithfully execute the laws of the United States of America, duly enacted by the Congress. Securing the national border is at the top of that list, and cannot be ignored, although a series of presidents have hoped that this problem would simply go away. The Mexicans, themselves, are doing nothing to police the border, and have for many decades turned a blind eye to blatant violations of the line, usually refusing to discuss the matter with the Americans. This happened, most famously, when President Jimmy Carter was curtly rebuffed by the Mexican government during a state visit in 1978.

The Mexican obstruction of border policing has ratcheted up during recent years. The public interest law firm Judicial Watch noted recently that Homeland Security officials reported in October 2016 on a Mexican plan to trans-ship tens of thousands of migrants from Haiti, Russia, Armenia, Guatemala, Brazil, and the Congo to America, under a secret accord with the Obama administration. The migrants journey starts in Brazil, under a South American policy to allow free transit of immigrants through the continent. They are forwarded to Mexico, with the understanding that the Mexican government will help them gain entry to the USA, where they will then apply for asylum. A border wall will not end these schemes, but it will certainly make them more difficult to succeed. Is this the reason the Mexicans are incensed about the planned increased border security?


So, let’s recap. Mexican observers claim Mexican-American relations have never been this bad. Trump wants to enforce the national immigration laws, and asks Mexico to co-operate. The Mexican government predictably scoffs at this supposed American temerity. The American leadership decides that the time has come for action, and will no longer fool around on this issue, so they will build a border wall. The Mexican political class erupts in outrage, and decries the “historically bad relations” with the USA. The American president has a constitutional responsibility to enforce the immigration laws. Perhaps the Mexican government finds his zeal distasteful, but he will fulfill his obligation to enforce the laws. The Mexican government and political class are finding out what the American liberals and the Democratic Party found out a few months ago. Donald Trump may be inelegant at times, but he is a president who means what he says, and intends to keep campaign promises.

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