Thursday, June 06, 2019

Trump's Threats Against Mexico

Donald Trump insists that Mexico control the movement of migrants to the point that no one tries to enter the United States illegally. Otherwise he will impose tariffs, which are currently scheduled to begin on Monday. Here is the key point:

But officials have provided few other specifics about how Mexico could meet those goals quickly enough to stave off Mr. Trump’s anger. Mexico has already tried to secure its own southern border and has long fought transnational gangs.
I am not certain whether Trump believes it when he says Mexico could do this easily. Maybe he does. Either way, I cannot think of anything the Mexican government could do to stop migration while remaining anything resembling a democracy and not destroying its economy and the economies of its neighbors. Among other things, this would mean militarizing the entire lengths of the southern and northern borders, which would likely entail some sort of martial law in cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. In the interior, the government would need to militarize other things, like probably the train system. Any president who tried to do all this would be harshly criticized. Article 108 of the Mexican constitution allows for impeachment of the president "for treason to the country and serious common crimes." Hurting Mexicans (and others) to appease a U.S. president might well apply.

The human cost would be immense and violent clashes with organized crime would be inevitable. But even if you wanted to do that, it would take a lot of time and who knows where the money would even come from because it would be extremely expensive.

Tariffs will hurt Mexican producers, and if they shed jobs then guess where people will think about going. The administration assumes that threats of tariffs, and then perhaps the tariffs themselves, will bring Mexico to its knees in capitulation. But what capitulation actually means is unclear. In part it means accepting deportees while they await a decision. Other than that, Trump has never indicated what he thinks Mexico can actually do. The most likely answer is that he has no idea.

The best case scenario is that Trump is bluffing and that he will accept some small steps from the Mexican side and then say they're doing enough to avoid the tariffs. I am reminded of Venezuela, where he constantly talked about using military force but eventually it became clear he was only bluffing, at which point it lost its bite as a threat.


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