By Carlton Joseph
The last few weeks we have witnessed the implementation of the racist and irresponsible Immigration policy of the administration of United States President Donald Trump. This zero tolerance policy has resulted in thousands of Central American migrants either being detained at the border, or children separated from their parents, or parents returned to their countries without their children.
Many children were held in cages and detained by U.S. military and CIA contractors inside vacant office buildings with dark windows, no kitchen and only a few toilets. Now the administration is having difficulty reuniting families because of poor planning and a lack of a method for identifying separated families.
During this time, Mexico held its national elections and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is now the new President. His party, Movement for National Regeneration, will hold a majority of seats in both Houses of Congress and represents a clear mandate for implementing the policies of his new administration. Clearly, the total defeat of the Conservative PRI after nearly 90 years as the country’s dominant party, indicates that the people have lost faith in the neoliberal economic programs that were implemented by the US-backed PRI government.
During the election campaign, Obrador argued that corrupt governments and the broader “mafia of power” (a concept that he sometimes used to include business interests), has caused persistent poverty and inequality, inefficient public services and perilous insecurity. He also said that he would not allow Mexico to be Trump’s “whipping boy” but noted that he wants “friendship” and “mutual respect” with the U.S. and that he would seek to avoid any trade war.
In response to Trump’s tweet last April that “Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the U.S. . .,” Obrador indicated that his administration would stop detaining Central American migrants heading for the U.S, a program that held 80,599 migrants and deported 78,309 last year.
Obrador is bringing a new style to the presidency. His rhetoric is down to earth and designed to help ordinary people understand what government is doing Like former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, we can expect enhanced anti-poverty programs, increased expenditure on infrastructure, greater effort to curb political corruption, and a slower approach to private investment, particularly in Mexico’s state-run oil company, PEMEX. And we can expect the wrath of American capitalists who want to control or own Mexico’s natural resources and have grown accustomed to dictating to the previous PRI government.
Obrador vows to tackle corruption and rejects the PRI machine politics. This will expose the cozy relationship between government and business and could result in the U.S. trying to destabilize the country’s financial system by imposing sanctions ,using the mantra of socialism and other mechanisms to force Obrador to accept the old neoliberal program.
It is difficult for him to accept their program because he ran against it and he is not expected to renege on some of the promises he made to the people. He has demonstrated that he has a clear strategy for accomplishing his goals. During a presidential debate last May he said: “We are going to change the relationship, and Trump is going to learn to respect us. I can guarantee you that.”
He also promised to tackle violence and the “mafia of power” at the root of corruption in Mexico.” He said that ” It is not with walls or with the use of force that social problems and security issues are solved. These problems are solved with development and better quality of life.” He has also vowed to protect the human right of immigrants, and suggested tackling economic development in Central America to create jobs and minimize the need for migration.
Obrador has also made huge efforts to reach out to his traditional foes in the private-sector, including the cabal of rich capitalist Mexicans who believe that he is a socialist. Since the election, he has worked to signal that his administration won’t undermine Mexico’s macro-economic stability or financial health but that he would examine current contracts signed by PEMEX.
Executives at US companies such as AT&T, Ford, GE, Boeing and Delta that have invested heavily in Mexico are waiting to see what will happen next. My concern is that these companies are the architects of these laissez faire policies and would insist that he maintain the low wage policies of the PRI.
Obrador’s election is historic because it synthesized decades of struggles in Mexico- struggles for human rights, social movements, justice and reduction of poverty.
His election is also revolutionary. Instead of the perpetual “war on drugs” which has led to 350,000 deaths over the last twelve years, he is talking peace and plans to attack poverty, the root of the crime problem. He has proposed three million scholarships to youths so that they can have either access to higher education or begin apprenticeship with businesses.
He wants to implement price supports for basic products from the rural areas and support a move for self-sufficiency in food to reduce imports.He also wants to reduce the purchasing of military hardware from the U.S. and instead focus on a joint strategy for economic development so as to reduce or stop the rate of migration to the U.S.
In 2015, at the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City, former United States President Barack Obama publicly stated that the days of US interference in the affairs of Latin America were coming to an end. He told a forum of civil society leaders at the conference that “the days in which our agenda in this hemisphere presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past”.
Obama was right. The corrupt politicians and policies imposed on these countries by the US and International organizations like the IMF are disruptive of these economies and result in civil war, extreme poverty and lack of opportunity. Hence the need for people to migrate, especially to the US, because our television, Voice of America, and other mass media, inform them that this is the country of opportunity.
Many people in the U.S. feel no connection to the Central American children coming across our southern border, but they should be sympathetic to the countries they are fleeing because the US is responsible for the chaos in these countries. U.S. intervention in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are forgotten but the problems created remain. The civil war in El Salvador began in 1980 and ended in 1992. During much of that time the Salvadorian people were subjected to death squads and massacres by their government — which was backed by the U.S. which. spent more than $6 billion on direct military assistance to El Salvador’s repressive regime.
Trump has forgotten or is unaware that Contra guerrillas backed by President Ronald Reagan used Honduras as a base to attack Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in the 1980s, and the U.S. continues to have a presence in Honduras, including military bases. Also, the Obama administration failed to stop, or legitimized a coup in 2009, which overthrew a democratically elected president and further destabilized Honduras.
There are two major consequences resulting from U.S. meddling in these countries : people realize that the economic systems imposed on them are not meeting their needs and demand change, and when they have no hope of survival in their country, they migrate.
The US must stop imposing its economic and political model on these countries and allow them to choose their own model of development.
( Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington D.C., is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)