Mexico’s troubles in the era of Trump

by Tim W. Shenk
Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)

“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.” – Donald Trump

Mexico and its people have been the subject of threats and misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and since.

Home to over 120 million people, Mexico is the United States’ third largest trading partner. The 35 million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the U.S. have an immense influence on culture and politics here.

Given the country’s prominence in U.S. political conversation, it has been an apt focus for CUSLAR this past year.

One of Donald Trump’s few concrete policy proposals was to pull the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA has been generally good for elites of both countries. At the same time, it has contributed to falling standards of living for working and poor people in both countries, displacing nearly 5 million Mexican family farmers and pushing U.S. manufacturing wages downward.

That said, there is no indication that the Trump administration will come up with something better than NAFTA for regular folks. Trump likely will be bad for Mexicans on both sides of the border, whether or not he builds his infamous wall. However, CUSLAR students’ research, shared in this CUSLAR Newsletter, indicates that Trump policies may not be the biggest challenge Mexico faces.

Rather, Mexico’s hardships are emblematic of a global trend toward increasing poverty and inequality. And presidents have to respond to the economy, not the other way around.

The crisis of overproduction of 2007-08 caused shifts in the global economy. Investors pulled money out of labor-intensive manufacturing, as consumers could no longer buy what was being produced and years’ supplies of products accumulated in warehouses. Investors preferred to gamble in speculation and resource extraction, as shifting policies have made mining and energy industries attractive.

In Mexico as elsewhere, some local populations have resisted exploitative incursions into their territories. Others, as Richard Gaunt explains on page 3 of this issue, are displaced and forced to migrate to feed their families.

Angel Alvarez, a guest of CUSLAR in October, shared first-hand accounts of development and underdevelopment in southern Mexico. An agricultural engineer and community development leader in Oaxaca, Alvarez shared about the dangers of new Special Economic Zones. He and Marx Aguirre expound further on page 8.

Alvarez noted organized crime’s takeover of agriculture, especially the mango industry in his native Tehuantepec isthmus region. On page 5, Meredith Rector explores how mangoes serve as a bridge between legal and illicit production in the region.

On page 6, Nicole Mance investigates the uptick in mining projects in Oaxaca and ties it to histories of colonial exploitation.

Indigenous Zapotec leader Odilia Romero notes that not much may change for her people’s struggles under the new president: “For us indigenous people of the world, all presidents are dangerous,” she said. “The 45th president will just continue what the others did not finish. And we’ll continue to do what we have been doing for 525 years.” On page 9, Vanessa Bauch chronicles Romero’s CUSLAR-sponsored visit in Oct.

The Trump era has begun. May our actions be informed by a deep analysis of the real dangers ahead. May we also gain perspective from leaders like Odilia Romero who have carried on struggles for justice and dignity no matter who the president is.


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