By RICARDO CASTILLO
Echoes of the mysterious meeting Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) had with Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, last March 19 are now thundering across the political landscape.
The following day, as reported by Pulse News Mexico, AMLO said, “Basically, we dealt with the issue of (joint) development cooperation, and about the possible signing of a bilateral agreement to guarantee investments in Central America and in Mexico on the order of about $10 billion to create jobs so that migration (from that area) will be optional, not by force as a consequence of a lack of (work) opportunities.”
Now several sources are claiming that Kushner requested the meeting to deliver an “urgent” message to AMLO to get the “out of hand” number of migrants from Central America under control, or the White House would shutter the border and cancel the signing of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
On Friday, March 29, while stumping in Michigan, Trump didn’t need an intermediary to deliver his message to AMLO. Trump warned that if Mexico doesn’t do its job, “we’ll close the damn border.”
AMLO was definitely paying heed, and answered Trump’s threat by saying: “I’m not going to polemicize over the issue. I’m going to be prudent over a series of circumstances, among others, because we want to have a very good relationship with the United States government.”
On Monday, March 25, AMLO had an early meeting with Interior Secretary (SeGob) Olga Sánchez Cordero and Foreign Relations Secretary (SRE) Marcelo Ebrard. All immigration issues are normally coordinated by the National Migration Institute (INM), which is under SeGob’s aegis. On that day, Sánchez Cordero was ordered to provide figures over the amount of Central American migrants crossing Mexico to get to the U.S. border. Also, the management of the INM was taken off her hands and given to Ebrard, with an assurance to Central Americans that “we are going to continue helping for the migrants’ flow, but it will be done under the law and in an orderly manner.”
AMLO also said, “I respect President Trump’s position and we are not going to engage in a fight.”
Sánchez Cordero made public the figures, showing that, during February, 76,000 Central Americans — mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — entered Mexico. This month (March), the number is up to over 100,000, and that if the flow continues at this pace, over 900,000 people will have crossed Mexico this year seeking asylum in the United States, she said.
Thus far, Ebrard offered the strongest official statement made in response to Trump’s threats to close the border: “Mexico does not act based on threats and we are the best neighbor the United States can have.”
Nevertheless, everyone knows a border closure would prove devastating for both nations, as reliable Pew Institute calculations are that a million dollars are traded per minute along the 1954-mile-long border.
How to pacify Trump? Now the ball is in Ebrard’s court and this is the first question he has to answer. This is a problem AMLO inherited from former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who during the last five months of his shift did absolutely nothing to stop the flow of migrants across the Mexican southern border.
The surging flow of Central American migrants also represents a problem for Mexico at the southern border with Guatemala, where towns are beginning to complain about the sheer number of passersby. Some municipal mayors are so desperate that they are closing town entrances with police cars, much to the chagrin of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), which has banned such practices. That did not keep it from happening just this week in the town of Huixtla, Chiapas, just north of the border city of Tapachula.
A fact of Mexican policy is that AMLO has not considered closing down the border with Guatemala and Belize to stop the flow of migrants.
Additionally, Trump is campaigning for a 2020 reelection and his favorite target to badmouth on a campaign happens to be Mexico. But now, he has also targeted Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, ordering U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to cut the approximately $500 million in aid these nations receive from the State Department.
One question that springs to mind is what role will Jared Kushner now play in the scenario. In the past, he struck a great friendship with former Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray He was even awarded Mexico’s prestigious Golden Eagle Award for his help in maneuvering the free trade negotiations his father-in-law now threatens to undo.
Will Ebrard follow in Videgaray’s footsteps?
Kushner is one of the few people in the Trump inner circle that is competent and capable of appeasing The Don, particularly now that he has opened an pathway of communication with AMLO and Ebrard.
It will be interesting, also, to see how newly nominated U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau manages this prickly issue.
In the meantime, let’s wait for Trump’s next tweet.