By RICARDO CASTILLO
The recent exchange of love letters between the unlikely pen pals of U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) only serves to confirm the statement I made in a recent column regarding the potential of similarities between the two: Birds of a feather flock together.
AMLO sent a four-point letter to Trump via U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – written in Spanish, by the way – and promised that, once Trump answered, he would make it public. He already did and unquestionably AMLO identified with Trump on two key issues. Both are antiestablishment and were cleanly elected by landslide majorities – in Trump’s case by the Electoral College, but still by a landslide majority. In short, AMLO – once the ugly duckling of Mexican politics – fits pretty well into Trump’s political breeches.
The four points “for cooperation and prosperity” that AMLO proposed were trade, immigration, development and security. The reception by Trump was eclectic and full of praise for AMLO, but surely the most pressing issue for Trump to solve as of right now is immigration and, in particular, what to do about Central America’s political troubles which keep on sending undocumented migrants north to the United States, all of them via Mexico.
AMLO’s letter contained what may become a turning point topic that could transform a tumultuous Central America into a booming group of nations. The proposal is to establish cooperation between the United States and Mexico with the “north” Central American nations (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua), which represent a constant headache for both countries in terms of having to expel people seeking refuge either from economic need or political persecution.
The main problem in the region is poverty. AMLO’s idea of a solution to the Central American problem is anything but new in terms of Mexican government administrations. There have been failed treaties galore aimed at lifting Central America out of poverty.
There were negotiations in 1979 that led to the 1980 San José (Costa Rica) Treaty for regional development. After nearly 20 years of accomplishing nothing, the idea was rehashed with the Tuxtla (Gutiérrez, Mexico) Mechanism in 1998, and later with the highly touted Puebla (Mexico)-Panama Plan of 2001. More recently, the 2015 Alliance for Prosperity is now underway but with questionable efficiency.
Did I leave any treaty out? Maybe, but if I did, it does really not matter since all of these magnificent plans went kaput under their own weight because. true to traditional Mexican and Central American politicking, they were all based on all good intentions by the governments with no financial backing at all.
And these plans do not include those drafted in the United States by previous administrations. All put together, they have led to the massive flocking of undocumented people north looking for an improvement to their quality of life – a valid motive to move.
Though it was a detail that not mentioned in AMLO’s letter to Trump, in the new administration’s plans is the development of the 210-kilometer wide Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a proposal that goes back to the presidency of Benito Juárez of 1859.
Back in those days, U.S. envoy Robert Milligan McLane and Juárez Foreign Relations Minister Melchor Ocampo signed the McLane-Ocampo Treaty in Veracruz City awarding free transit to U.S. troops through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The treaty was nixed by the U.S. Congress because of the imminent civil war looming upon the United States at the time.
The railroad was to follow the natural rout of the two ports, Salina Cruz in Oaxaca State and Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz State. In fact, the railroad was built and still exists, but the grandiose plans to make the Isthmus into a wealthy pole of industrial and agricultural development never came to fruition.
Like with various Central America plans, efforts to develop the Isthmus for the enormous logistics potential it represents for the Mexican government have been drafted to build a multi-track railroad pathway to transfer cargo containers from Salina Cruz to Coatzacoalcos in a jiffy. The latest of these plans came from Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who just last year launched the latest salvo to save the Isthmus from dire poverty through the Special Economic Zone and the Southern Border Plan, both of which Peña Nieto recently had to admit are moving “slowly.” Rather, not at all.
But now, AMLO has proposed that “what we want is to modernize the railways connection between Salina Cruz and Coatzacoalcos and also modernize both ports so that they can dock large container-carrying vessels and connect Asia with the eastern United States.”
Is this another here we go again with the Isthmus dream? We’ll see.
Incidentally, this “intermodal corridor” would also help to do away with the old rickety trains nicknamed by Central American migrants as “the beast,” which helps them to go deep into Mexico on their journey to the American Dream.
But like in all relationships, let’s take it one step at a time. Now the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks are back on the table with a new unity between Canada and Mexico to continue keeping the pact for what it was conceived, on a trilateral basis, not a bilateral one, as Trump proposes.
AMLO in his letter pleaded with Trump to bring the NAFTA negotiations to a definite conclusion for the regional good.
Definitely, Fortress America sounded like a good electoral campaign slogan for Trump, but the reality is that the United States is sandwiched between Canada and Mexico.
And we ain’t moving nowhere!