Mexico is mobilizing to resist President Donald Trump’s policies in ways that range from the sensible to the strange.
Mexican negotiators are hammering out a trade deal with Europe in a bid to reduce reliance on U.S. markets following Trump’s pledge to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and his efforts to stop companies from moving U.S. plants south of the border. The U.S. receives three-quarters of Mexico’s exports and supplies half its imports.
Faced with the U.S. president’s anti-immigrant stance, Mexico has set up workshops and hotlines to educate migrants about their rights in the face of deportations, though those have fallen about 13 percent since Trump took office.
So common are the public-service announcements about what migrants should do if U.S. immigration agents show up at their door — don’t open it, ask for the agents’ names and search warrants — that radio-listeners in Mexico City now likely know more about dealing with U.S. agents than with corrupt local cops, or about other pressing public issues like fighting dengue and Zika.
But Trump’s policies and comments about Mexico have also stirred up some odder suggestions and awakened some very old ghosts.
For the past 30 years, lawyer Guillermo Hamdan has spent his free time preparing legal arguments for declaring null and void the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, under which Mexico received $15 million from the U.S. but ceded California and most of Arizona, Nevada and Utah, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. The territories have been part of the United States for almost 170 years — about seven times longer than they were part of independent Mexico.
Hamdan argues the treaty is invalid because it was signed under duress as the result of the 1846-1848 Mexican-American war launched with a U.S. invasion. A Mexican victory would require the U.S. to return much of the territory or pay reparations that Hamdan calls “incalculable.”
‘Let the ghosts out’
While Mexico’s governments have shown no interest in taking up the case, his case has gained public attention lately in the country.
“The outrage over the humiliating treatment [of Mexico] by Trump” was the spur for dusting off the 170-year-old case, Hamdan said.
“What Trump did was to let the ghosts out by attacking us,” he said. “He poured turpentine on a wound that has never healed.”
Another old case — this one little-known even inside Mexico — has been brought up by Sen. Patricio Martinez, who claims that the present borders in southwestern New Mexico and Arizona are wrong due to a surveying error after the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, in which the U.S. acquired almost 30,000 square miles (77,000 square kilometers) from Mexico in exchange for $10 million.
Martinez has drawn up maps claiming that border markers were mysteriously moved sometime between 1853, when they were laid out and reviewed by both nations, and 1896, when another survey was done. He said the lines should have been drawn further north and that Mexico was robbed of almost 210,000 acres (85,000 hectares) of land.
He argues the U.S. should return the territory or pay for it.
This comes as a surprise to Gabriel Duran, a consultant for the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission. In his 35-year career at the commission, he had never heard of the claim.
“As far as we know no monuments have been moved,” said Duran. “They are where they should be.”
He said officials of both nations have supervised, tracked, mapped and agreed on the border markers for generations, most recently, with GPS technology.
But the proposal that has drawn the most press coverage has been a somewhat quixotic idea floated by a single renegade senator, Armando Rios Piter, who wants to stop Mexico’s imports of U.S. corn and replace them with suppliers from Brazil, Argentina or other countries.
Rios Piter suggests that would be a way to defend Mexicans against Trump and show displeasure with his policies.
While Mexico buys about a quarter of U.S. corn exports — it is the largest foreign buyer — it would also mean considerable price increases for impoverished Mexican consumers, since transport costs would be steeply higher for South American grain.
Tom Sleight, president of the U.S. Grains Council, noted that, including transport costs, Brazilian corn would be 10 to 15 percent more expensive, meaning Mexicans would also have to pay more for beef and pork.
And that’s not counting the huge cost of building new grain storage facilities and transport terminals to receive grain shipments arriving aboard large ships from South America, as opposed to the rail freight that delivers much of the U.S. corn directly to feed millers in Mexico.
“You have buyer-seller relationships that have built up over decades on very good infrastructure logistics,” Sleight says. “To replace that overnight is not going to happen.”
Treatment of migrants
The chief — and most plausible — representative of Mexico’s old resentments is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the two-time leftist presidential candidate who came within a hair’s breadth of winning the 2006 election. While Lopez Obrador vows he is not anti-American, he has filed a complaint against Trump’s treatment of migrants with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
The fear and loathing Mexicans feel for Trump could translate into more votes in 2018 for Lopez Obrador, who advocates a sort of return to the hyper-nationalist days of the early 1960s personified by ex-President Adolfo Lopez Mateos.
“We are not accustomed to getting down on our knees,” Lopez Obrador said of U.S. relations. “We are going to defend our migrants. We are going to defend our human rights.”
It is the specter of a Lopez Obrador presidency that has the current Mexican administration eager to start any renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement now — and not in next year’s presidential election season.
“We think there are better conditions for reaching a commercial agreement with the United States or any other national in 2017,” said Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray. “As the election year opens, particularly the presidential elections, it becomes more complicated for any type of international negotiation.”