What will November bring for Mexico?

May 10, 2016

Brian Napoletano writes from Mexico on how the rest of the world is responding to the prospects of a general election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

ONE COULD argue that Donald Trump is the candidate that the Republican Party deserves. With the U.S. political establishment's increasingly transparent contempt for democracy consistently discouraging much of the population from participating in elections, the Republicans have increasingly relied on their right-wing extremists to gain an electoral majority.

Trump is a byproduct of the party's reactionary shift. Enthusiasm for his candidacy is not strong outside the narrow demographic that makes up his base. That includes the international community, even political conservatives--and especially in Mexico, where Trump has focused his bigotry with his bluster about building a wall along the U.S. border, and forcing the Mexican government to pay for it.

Even leaders of the right wing of Mexico's political establishment have been vocal and candid in their opinions of Trump. Former President Felipe Calderón of the right-wing National Action Party said of Trump, "I don't want to say ignorant, but he is not well informed." The people of Mexico would not pay "a single cent for such a stupid wall!" Calderón continued. "And it is going to be completely useless."

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón
Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón (World Economic Forum)

Calderón's predecessor Vincente Fox, frequently referred to as Mexico's equivalent of George W. Bush, was even more outspoken in his opinion, stating that Trump is "an embarrassment to his business colleagues." Fox echoed Calderón in declaring that people in Mexico wouldn't pay anything for the "fucking wall."

Mexico's political elite is largely subservient to Washington, and its working leaders rarely risk offending what may be the next administration. But current President Enrique Peña Nieto became the exception to this rule when he compared Trump's political strategy and "extreme rhetoric" to those of Mussolini and Hitler when they rose to power.

He also blamed Trump for deteriorating relations between the two countries, claiming that Trump's position undermines the "relation that Mexico had sought with the United States" by eliminating the possibility of a dialogue.

The response of Mexico's media industries to Trump's attacks on Mexico and the rest of Latin America suggest that the Mexican people find him equally offensive. Both Televisa, Mexico's largest television channel, and Ora TV, a media company owned by Carlos Slim, announced that they would no longer do business with companies associated with Trump.

In addition to inciting violence against Mexican immigrants and other people from Latin America within the U.S., Trump's bigotry and belligerence has naturally hogged the headlines in relation to Mexico--but in so doing, it has overshadowed the fact that Clinton may be an equally insulting candidate from Latin America's point of view.

Although she rejects mass deportations as unrealistic, Clinton has, by her own admission, repeatedly pushed for congressional initiatives for a "barricade" at the U.S.-Mexico border to "prevent illegal immigrants from coming in."

More recently, Clinton has claimed that "Mexican immigration no longer is really the issue," having been eclipsed by people from Central America and Latin America. " instead. She again proposed Plan Colombia--the U.S. military intervention in Colombia's civil war that began during Bill Clinton's presidency--as a "success story" and model for U.S. engagement with Latin America.

This isn't the first time that Clinton championed Plan Colombia for future U.S. strategy. In 2010, as Secretary of State, Clinton earned a mild rebuke from the Mexican government and a disavowal from Obama when she likened Mexico's struggle with its drug cartels to Colombia's civil war, and suggested that Mexico and Central America were both in need of a Plan Colombia.

In reality, Plan Colombia was no success. It implicated U.S. taxpayers in numerous instances of state terrorism against civilians, paramilitary death squads, political assassinations and environmental contamination from aerial fumigation programs, while doing little or nothing to harm the narcotics industries in Colombia or elsewhere. Surveys by women's rights organizations suggest that six women were raped every hour during the first nine years of Plan Colombia.

Widespread criticism of Plan Colombia doesn't seem to have dampened Clinton's enthusiasm for applying it to Mexico--she just promoted it again in an interview with the New York Daily News in April.

Clinton's support for the 2009 coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya further illustrates her contempt for democracy and human rights in Latin America.

In fact, in the Daily News interview, Clinton was questioned about her role in undermining efforts to restore Zelaya to power, in accordance with the attitude taken by the Organization of American States--and about whether she regretted her support for the coup in light of ongoing state terrorism against Hondurans.

Clinton claimed that U.S. interference prevented a "terrible civil war," and that the real problem in Honduras is drug gangs and traffickers. It was at this point that she repeated her proposal for another Plan Colombia, this time for the whole of Central America.

Clinton's track record in the Middle East similarly shows little indication that she is concerned about minimizing bloodshed or promoting democracy. In addition to supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Clinton pushed for the U.S.-led NATO bombings in Libya that are believed to be responsible for more than 1,100 civilian deaths.

When a mass uprising erupted in Egypt in 2011 against dictator Hosni Mubarak--who Clinton had previously described as a personal friend of the family--the Secretary of State avoided supporting calls for Mubarak's ouster. Meanwhile, the State Department cleared the way for the regime to continue buying tear gas from the U.S. government.

Clinton backed the Obama administration's nuclear agreement with Iran, but during the Democrats' presidential primary debates, she criticized Bernie Sanders for wanting to move quickly to normalize relations with the Iranian government.

So perhaps, like Trump, Clinton is the candidate that the Democratic Party deserves. The Democrats have always served the same ruling class as the Republicans, while relying on their ability to market the party as the lesser of the two evils to win elections.

Donald Trump's open bigotry, directed explicitly at Mexico and the Mexican people, guarantees that lesser evilism will be a strong force in November once again. But the truth is that the political differences between the two candidates--like that between the parties--are much smaller than either one admits.

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