Mexican and U.S. negotiators are working to find a way out of the escalating tariffs President Donald Trump has threatened over what he says is Mexico’s failure to stop Central American migrants from reaching the U.S. border.
But if they don’t reach a resolution by Monday, the first tranche of tariffs of 5% will hit all goods being imported to the United States from Mexico, increasing to as much as 25% by October. It is possible, though, for the president to delay the tariffs if he’s happy with how the talks are progressing.
There have been reports over the past 24 hours of what the Mexican government is offering as a possible concession to Trump’s demands, but the talks are ongoing and most of the details are still unknown.
But anonymous sources have told The Washington Post that Mexico has proposed sending 6,000 National Guard troops to its border with Guatemala.
The problem is that Mexico doesn’t really have a National Guard, per se, as former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda told NPR on Friday.
“The Mexican National Guard, in fact, doesn’t really exist yet. It’s just the army with a different uniform — an arm band of a different color. It doesn’t really exist, it hasn’t really been set up yet … This is a new institution made up of old military, old federal police, old navy. They’re barely being trained, they’re not being trained to go into action yet,” he said.
Castañeda also said he doesn’t believe the troops will make a difference in the short term at the Guatemalan border, and their removal from their regular posts will cause violence in Mexico to “increase dramatically” as it did in 2014 when the troops were sent to mitigate the flow of unaccompanied minors from the same border.
Mexico is currently undergoing historic levels of violence, with the first quarter of 2019 seeing an unprecedented number of murders in the country: 8,493, a 9.6% rise compared to the same period last year. This puts the country on track to surpass its staggering rate of 33,500 murders in 2018.
Ongoing violence in the country, linked to gangs and drug cartels, along with the fact that the country lacks essential protections for refugees are among the reasons refugee advocate groups don’t think the country is safe for migrants.
However, Trump is demanding that Mexico sign a “safe third-country” agreement, which would allow the U.S. to deport Central Americans to Mexico, preventing them from seeking asylum in the United States.
In fact, just last year, the president himself called Mexico “the number one most dangerous country in the world.”
Castañeda pointed out that Mexico “certainly is not a safe place for Mexicans, so I don’t know why it would be a safe place for Guatemalans.” Furthermore, this might lead a domino of forced agreements that would lead to, say, Guatemala being declared a safe third country for Hondurans, and Honduras being declared a safe third country for El Salvador. But none of these countries are safe, which is why people are fleeing them in the first place.
Trump also ordered the State Department to halt $450 million in aid to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, claiming the three countries weren’t doing enough to stem migration to the United States.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is in a tough spot. He ran on a platform of addressing the country’s poverty rates, an effort that will be harmed by U.S. tariffs on goods produced there.
Trump tore apart the free trade deal in place between the United States, Canada, and Mexico last year, saying that Mexicans were stealing American jobs, exporting drugs and criminals to the United States while demanding it pay for a border wall between the two countries.
But almost as soon as a new free trade deal — the USMCA, which has yet to be ratified — was reached, Trump started to increase the pressure on Mexico to do more to stop Central Americans from reaching the United States. He also threatened to entirely close the U.S.-Mexico border, and then later, to slap tariffs on Mexican automotive parts. Neither of those threats materialized.
Trying to appease Trump largely contradicts Obrador’s human rights policies — which stand in sharp contrast to the American president’s. But increasingly, Obrador, who is new to the office, has had to do what he termed America’s “dirty work” — cracking down on migrants, when his platform had looked at migration through a lens of economic opportunities rather than the “invasion” Trump perceives.