The U.S.-Mexico relationship needs a reset. Relations were already strained when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump made comments that Mexico sends us rapists and criminals. He then turned up the rhetoric by saying that he would build a border-wide wall to prevent undocumented crossings and have Mexico pay the bill. He continued his jabs by threatening to close the border if Mexico did not do more to prevent Latin American asylum seekers from crossing into the U.S. He then threatened to take the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if it couldn’t be reworked into the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. After Trump lost his reelection, the downward spiral in the binational relationship seemed to have slowed down.
However, in the last few weeks, the animus level between the two countries is again on the rise. Since taking over the House, Republicans have espoused a tough line on immigration and border security. On March 3, four Americans traveling to Mexico for a medical procedure were kidnapped and two were murdered in the Mexican border city of Matamoros. This has ignited a powder keg, and the insults and accusations are flying across the border. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and some of her hard right-wing colleagues have called for the U.S. to put together incursions into Mexico to strike at drug-producing labs and cartel strongholds. In the Senate, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has stated that he will introduce legislation to designate cartels as foreign terrorist groups, and allow the U.S. to use military force against them. Even Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a border state, has sponsored a bill to authorize the U.S. military to use force against nine separate cartels in Mexico. Crenshaw also stated publicly that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) appears to care more about cartels than his own people.
Needless to say, AMLO did not view these actions and rhetoric positively. He fired back that fentanyl is a U.S. problem, caused by the decay in its society. He stated that fentanyl is not being produced in Mexico. He also publicly stated that Mexico would not allow any foreign government to intervene in its territory, and that “Mexico is not a colony of the United States or one of its protectorates.” He threatened to work against the reelection of the people in Congress that are proposing the legislation. As a final jab, he stated that Mexico was a safer country than the U.S. and more democratic.
Does this sound like two good neighbors that share so much history and have so much at stake? The two countries trade approximately $1.7 billion dollars of products and services every single day. In 2021, Mexico was the U.S.’s No. 1 trading partner, and 16% of total U.S. exports are bought by Mexico. More than 300 million people cross the U.S.-Mexico border every year.
I would hope that the U.S. Congress understands the importance of Mexico to our nation and the consequences a military attack inside that country would create. We are just emerging from a devastating pandemic that caused supply chain disruptions and a generational economic upheaval across the world. Mexico was a strong partner to the U.S. during this crisis in terms of producing and supplying Americans with everything from food to consumer products. Many companies leaving Asia to protect their supply chains are choosing to establish operations in Mexico, and U.S. suppliers will supply them with raw materials and components. Warehouses on the U.S. side of the border will distribute these products.
From Mexico’s standpoint, AMLO should not provide ammunition to politicians or Americans who are anti-Mexico to begin with. Mexico does produce fentanyl. The cartels are indeed in control of portions of the country and the economy. Whether Mexico is more democratic than the U.S. is a matter of opinion. It is true that if we didn’t have people using illegal drugs in the U.S., the power of Mexican cartels would be diminished, and greater safety would be achieved in Mexico. However, it is out of line for the Mexican president to accuse the U.S. of social decay, when the same case could be made against his country.
The U.S. accounts for 39.3% of all foreign direct investment in Mexico, almost triple that of Canada (10.3%), Mexico’s second-largest investor. It behooves the Mexican government to strive for public safety and to diminish the strength of the cartels.
Upon assuming office, AMLO said that his approach to Mexico’s drug issue was “hugs not bullets.” This strategy has been a failure. Our two nations need each other, and neither is moving away in the near future.
We need cooperation, not rhetoric or grandstanding for political purposes. As Rep. Crenshaw stated when he was interviewed about his controversial legislation, “If I could choose one country outside the U.S. and just make it 10 times better, it would be Mexico. It’s one of our most important trading partners. It’s our most important ally. It’s right here in our hemisphere. We need Mexico to be successful.”
Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.