Last week, President Donald Trump, in a bid to force the Mexican government to crack down on migration to the U.S., threatened a series of harsh and escalating tariffs on Mexican imports.
The former head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy, likened the negotiations to a “hostage-taking” situation, arguing that the U.S. was threatening Mexico’s entire economy in order to extract harsher immigration policies from Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO).
On Friday, President Trump announced that the tariffs would not go into effect as scheduled after his administration and Mexican officials reached an agreement.
As part of the negotiations, Mexico has agreed to mobilize up to 6,000 National Guard troops to prevent migrants from entering through the southern border of Mexico or crossing the country to the U.S. The National Guard will in effect be tasked with catching, detaining and guarding migrants attempting to reach the U.S. border. Mexico also agreed to expand “Migration Protection Protocols,” which ensures that more asylum-seekers will be sent back to Mexico while they wait for the U.S. to process their asylum claims. Although it seems that these changes were the result of the most recent negotiations between the two countries, The New York Times reports that these measures were actually part of an agreement the U.S. and Mexico had come to months ago.
The agreement is a clear triumph for Trump and devastating to the tens of thousands of Central American migrants seeking asylum in the United States. To put it bluntly, Mexico has agreed to spend resources acting as the U.S. border patrol in Mexico.
This agreement represents an escalation of the brutal immigration policies that have characterized the Trump administration. At least six, maybe more, young immigrant children have died in ICE custody since September, 2018. These deaths are the direct result of an increasingly harsh immigration policy, in which rising numbers of migrants, including as many as 15,000 children, are now being held indefinitely in overcrowded detention centers and open-air facilities that several journalists have compared to “concentration camps.” Scott Warren is facing up to 20 years in prison for the “crime” of providing migrants water and shelter.
On the Mexican side of the border, conditions for migrants are becoming worse as well. On Thursday, while the tariff negotiations were ongoing in Washington, the Mexican military police fired tear gas at migrants attempting to cross the border into Mexico.
The policy of the leaders on both sides of the border is to stop migration into the U.S. These policies will not stop migration but will only make it more dangerous and difficult for those who attempt the arduous journey north.
AMLO Is Doing the Dirty Work of U.S. Imperialism
AMLO took office in December 2018 on a platform that promised economic justice and greater human rights protections. He was elected with massive support from working class people who were drawn to his progressive program. His policy toward migrants, however, shows that his human rights promises were a lie. Since taking office, AMLO has ordered authorities to detain migrants in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest and most southern state, effectively extending the U.S. border wall all the way to Guatemala.
While on the campaign trail, AMLO promised to demilitarize the border with the U.S., but instead he created a new military police force, the Mexican National Guard, which has been used to repress migrants at the Southern border. Members of the National Guard have effectively operated as migration agents, tasked with verifying documents and detaining immigrants, all in complete collaboration with the Mexican National Migration Institute (INM). The National Guard essentially has free reign to racially profile and detain people—an authority that is especially significant in a country where the military is notorious for its involvement in disappearances and human trafficking. This new military force is tasked with keeping order in overflowing migration offices that have now begun to double as detention centers. Their job is to detain and deport, stopping the constant escape of migrants.
Since December, the Mexican government has deported 80,500 migrants—three times as many people than those deported during Peña Niesto’s government—many of whom are fleeing various forms of misery and violence which are the direct result of the implementation of neoliberal plans ordered by Washington, D.C. Those migrants who have not been deported have been crowded into detention centers or harassed and abused by the newly created National Guard. In fact, just last month, a ten-year-old girl died in one of the Mexican government’s detention centers.
In his short tenure as President, AMLO has demonstrated complete subservience to the U.S. When Trump first threatened to raise tariffs on Mexican imports, the Mexican government appealed to a “friendly relationship” between the two countries. AMLO sent a letter to President Trump that appealed to the need for human rights protections but at the same time assured the U.S. that Mexico is doing what it can to stem the tide of migrants to the U.S.: “Human beings do not abandon their villages out of pleasure, but out of necessity. That is why, from the beginning of my government, I proposed opting for cooperation for development and helping the Central American countries with productive investments to create jobs and resolve this painful issue in depth.You also know that we are fulfilling our responsibility to avoid, as far as possible and without violating human rights, the passage through our country.”
Actions speak louder than words. Despite the rhetoric of “human rights,” AMLO is creating border policies that are arguably worse and more repressive than any of his predecessors.
Capitalists Fear for Their Businesses
Despite AMLO’s subservience to Trump in the face of the tariff threat, it is clear that capitalists on both sides of the border were against raising tariffs because it would cripple profits. U.S. corporations do not want to lose the large profit margin created by the hyper-exploitation of the working class in Mexico, which has the lowest wages of all the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The Mexican bourgeoisie, which depends on its business dealings with major U.S. capitalists, similarly objected to the implementation of tariffs. Amid U.S. trade disputes with China, the Mexican government and businesses are attempting to establish Mexico as a central (albeit subservient) trade partner of the U.S. empire.
Republicans in the U.S. feared the tariffs because some estimates showed that they would cost the American consumer more than $800 a year. Going into the 2020 elections, unhappy consumers are the last thing the Republicans want, although both Republicans and Democrats agree that there is an “immigration problem” and that there is a need for increased border security. Thus, Trump’s show of force turned out to be a success: Mexico is acting as U.S. border patrol at no cost to the American tax-payer, and there are no crippling tariffs.
Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric are helping him consolidate an electoral base for the 2020 elections, particularly in the midst of discussions over his impeachment. Trump demonstrated his strength by twisting AMLO’s arm to maintain “free trade” privileges and deepen Mexico’s subordination with immigration regulations.
At the same time, it is expected that by the end of 2019 nearly 800,000 people will leave Central America to cross Mexico and try to reach the United States through the Mexican border.
Migration, Anti-Imperialism and Internationalism
Trump’s statements and demands about immigration are just the tip of the iceberg of the imperialist offensive facing Mexico. Already Trump tweeted that he will hang the tariff threat over Mexico whenever he pleases.
….We do not anticipate a problem with the vote but, if for any reason the approval is not forthcoming, Tariffs will be reinstated!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 10, 2019
While it is easy to just blame Trump, as the liberal U.S. media does, the immigration policies being implemented by the White House have long-standing roots in previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat. The U.S. has been working for years to re-colonize Mexico and create a country that is entirely at the mercy of its northern neighbor.
U.S. imperialism manifests itself in Mexico not through bombs but through one-sided commercial treaties, the cornerstone of Mexico’s economic dependency on the interests of multinational companies. Mexico’s northern border has one of the most important productive chains in the world, the automotive value chain, whose sole purpose is to produce cheap commodities for the U.S. NAFTA brought about the rearrangement of the entire Mexican national economy into an export platform entirely at the service of U.S. corporations. Free trade has meant disastrously low wages (the lowest on the continent), horrendous working conditions and a new sector of the working class laboring in the maquilas on the U.S.-Mexico border.
These problems are further exacerbated by the fact that Mexico has one of the highest foreign debts in the region, which means budget restrictions on health, education and all other public spending.
Mexico is, in a sense, a semi-colony of the U.S., a country with independent elections, but one with policies dictated by the U.S. empire in the political, military and diplomatic fields.
In the military realm, the Mexican war on drugs was commanded by the U.S. government. The arms for this war come from the U.S., but the casualties are Mexican: there have been at least 200,000 deaths since 2006. This is why AMLO’s new National Guard is particularly heinous; Mexicans know the brutality of the military police and the crucial role they have played in trafficking networks, femicide and migrant massacres. These problems are directly tied to the decay caused by an imperialistic ransack of Mexico’s economy, one which is perpetuated by the most powerful imperialist force in the world. As Mexicans say, “Poor Mexico. So far from God, so close to the United States.”
The Need to Fight
The fact that both Democrats and Republicans have participated in the re-colonization of Mexico demonstrates the bankruptcy of both parties. Trump’s actions are not new. In Mexico, AMLO’s complete subservience to U.S. interests and the ease with which he agreed to brutally repress migrants demonstrates the limits of progresisve capitalists. It shows the need for independent working-class organizations and for the multi-ethnic American and Mexican working classes, and their organizations, to raise a clearly anti-imperialist policy in favor of the rights of all migrants, regardless of their country of origin.
Anti-imperialism means fighting to abolish ICE and the brutal, inhuman detention centers, as well as fighting the Mexican National Guard, Mexico’s new repressive mechanism against migrants.
However, these measures are not enough: the extent of Mexico’s colonization demands an even stronger response. There are open borders for commodities to guarantee massive profits for the capitalists. We need open borders for people who migrate as a direct result of U.S. imperialist policies in Central America and Mexico.
Today, migrants are second-class citizens with few labor rights, which drives down wages for the whole working class. The solution is not closed borders, as Bernie Sanders would have us believe. Rather, it is open borders and full citizenship rights to all migrants.
We don’t just fight for migrants’ human rights; we must also fight for Mexico’s national independence—to break the economic and political chains that bind Mexico to American capitalists. This rupture with imperialism also means confronting Mexico’s capitalists and the capitalist parties who profit from and guarantee Mexico’s subordination. Mexico should not pay its foreign debt and should break the treaties and trade agreements that subordinate it to the U.S. empire.
As socialists, we challenge the ownership of the means of production. Mexico’s productive capacities are owned by U.S. corporations, with profits that flow one way. This system of ownership guarantees Mexico’s continued misery; consequently, we must fight for the means of production to be expropriated from the international capitalists and to be put in the hands of the Mexican working class.
These urgent tasks will not be carried out by the Democratic Party or by Lopez Obrador’s administration. As socialists we put forward an anti-imperialist and internationalist perspective—on both sides of the border—to end imperialist oppression, to expropriate the expropriators, and to build a United Socialist States of North and Central America.
Published simultaneously in Spanish on La Izquierda Diario México.
Translation by Ophelia Raggio