No surrender, but no sudden moves; with firmness, but without raising his voice. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known popularly as AMLO, has one goal: to do everything he possibly can, consistent with Mexican national dignity, to prevent the entry into force on Monday of US tariffs on Mexican imports—starting at 5%, but set to gradually increase to 25%—which Donald Trump has promised in case Mexico doesn’t agree to do the US’s dirty work for them: namely, to stop the arrival of Central American migrants to the US border.
AMLO’s cautious approach is understandable: the Mexican economy, dependent on the US in proportion of over 80% in vital sectors such as food and energy, would go into recession as early as July, when the tariffs on Mexican imported goods are set to rise to 10%. Not surprisingly, the president wrote in a letter to Trump that the deep economic, commercial and cultural ties between the two countries, sharing more than 3,000 kilometers of border and with the presence of 24 million Mexicans in the United States, require Mexico to act “with prudence and responsibility” and try to avoid a breakdown in relations with the Trump administration.
Not, however, without a warning of his own: “Without these important Mexican efforts in immigration matters, the US would receive 250,000 additional migrants, only in 2019”—delivered together with a conciliatory admission by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, head of the high level delegation negotiating with the US, regarding the unsustainability of the current situation because of the excessive increase in migration levels. However, while US Vice President Mike Pence believes that “Mexico must do more,” the efforts already made by AMLO’s government to curb the migration flows towards the north should not be overlooked.
During the first five months of AMLO’s presidential term, the number of deportations of Central American migrants has almost tripled: according to data from the Mexican National Institute of Migration, they rose from 5,717 in December 2018 to 14,970 in April (the highest number for a single month during the past three years), for a total of 45,370 deported, most of them from Central America.
The latest anti-migrant operation was conducted by the Mexican authorities during the first day of talks with the US delegation, when a caravan of around 1,000 migrants from Guatemala which was heading towards the United States border was stopped by immigration agents, the army and the federal police.
“The new government had intended to start with a humanitarian approach, with a more open policy than that of the previous administration, but they have apparently backtracked on that,” said Jorge Andrade, a researcher for the Institute for Security and Democracy. “The government opened the doors, but they forgot that their neighbor was none other than the United States.”
Also unsurprisingly, since the beginning of the year, the number of so-called “humanitarian visas” granted to migrants, enabling them to legally live and work in Mexico, has decreased dramatically, from around 11,000 in January to 1,500 in March. At the same time, the number of issued TVR cards (Tarjeta de Visitante Regional), which allow people to enter and exit Mexico’s southern states (Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco and Quintana Roo) multiple times, has increased, with the double aim of easing the flow of traffic to the congested border with the United States and of finding workers for the controversial major projects which are planned in the region.
It is clear that a top priority in this regard is the highly contested Tren Maya, a railway project which will link the main tourist areas of the Mexican southeast, in perfect continuity with the neoliberal strategy for territorial control pursued by previous governments, based on deforestation, monocultures, mining projects and business-friendly special economic zones.