By RICARDO CASTILLO
After the threat by U.S. President Donald Trump to impose export tariffs on Mexico if it didn’t stop the flow of migrants coming out of Central America, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has complied both with stopping Trump from slapping Mexican exports with his blatantly illegal tariffs, but also, cartoonists claim, can trump up his roster of political achievements.
A recent news cartoon shows Mexico’s under-deployed National Guard blocking migrants from Central America, with Trump telling his U.S. supporters: “See? I kept my word; not only did I built the wall, but Mexico is paying for it.”
For sure, some people in Mexico are not laughing.
In his desperate efforts to launch his reelection campaign on June 18, Trump preconditioned his stopping an incremental import tax on all Mexican goods to the positioning of the National Guard at the Guatemalan border “right now.”
Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard had little choice but to comply, even after insisting to State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo that the Mexican National Guard (GN) was not yet ready for duty, as preparations were underway for its official launching on June 30. Remember, the National Guard is a newly legislated police force that, even without U.S. desperado pressure, is being pulled together on a forced march basis.
Moreover, the job of stopping undocumented migrants from entering Mexico was never even envisioned when AMLO originally proposed this new police force. The GN becoming the “Mexican Migra” was purely accidental, and while the force is made up of former professional soldiers and the federal police, its officers were not trained for immigration interdiction.
Thus far, Mexico’s National Guard is being not-so-slowly deployed along the approximately 600-mile-long border with Guatemala.
Another initial problem the GN is facing is military logistics, starting with having so send out a lodging team as preparations to deploy an army has been traditionally carried over. First you send a group of persons specializing in setting up tents, sanitary facilities and preparing meals, so that when the troops arrive, they are offered a comfy setting from which they can go to war, or in this case, start stopping Central Americans from crossing the ill-defined borderline between Guatemala and Mexico.
The bad news is that the troops are being posted in outdated facilities, or, even worse, they have to set up their onw camps because there aren’t any facilities and definitely no advance team to handle a lodging preparations and service their needs.
Also, the border in question is not just any border. It is definitely porous for trekkers and made up for the most part of luscious rain forest separated by two not-so-small rivers, the Usumacinta and the Suchiate, with long stretches of dry land in between, particularly from Tenosique, Tabasco to Tapachula on Chiapas states.
But still, for the most part, the majority of the National Guardsmen (and women) are being located in the still-amiable region of Tapachula, just north of the Suchiate River crossing point of Ciudad Hidalgo in Mexico and Tecum Uman in Guatemala, traditionally the most active point of entry into Mexico.
The good news is that the U.S. Embassy must certainly have a team of observers in Tapachula because we’re only hearing good things from POTUS, who is praising the immediate results of the National Guard operation.
Some 2000 guardsmen are already posted on a 24-hour basis on the Mexican side of the Suchiate River, over which, for decades, crossings were never done over the official bridge uniting the two nations and where officials demand identification papers and valid visas.
On the river, the crossers from Guatemala do it on rafts, or balsas, which are nothing more than wood boards mounted over inflated tractor or trailer rubber camara rims which can transport five or six people at a time for about a dollar apiece.
The business of rafting people across the Suchiate became big business for local boats men, who are now the first victims of the presence of the National Guard. The GN is stopping the raft operators themselves, a group that had grown to about 1,500 over the past year of the migratory boom.
There is a fact to life along the Suchiate River, and that is that the number of people trying to cross illegally into Mexico is decreasing. In fact, according to recent reports, although the number of Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans still remains high, the presence of Cubans, Haitians and Africans has dwindled down significantly. There are “balsero” associations on both borders of the river who are vehemently but uselessly protesting against the presence of the National Guard because their main source of income dried up literally overnight.
In fact, “polleros,” or chicken haulers as people who offer crossing the border and taking migrants to the U.S. border are often called – for about $5,000 apiece – have also changed their tactics and are now moving their crossings east on the Suchiate.
Another mode of transport from Tenosique was the cargo train known as “La Bestia,” is now being guarded by the National Guard, preventing migrants from riding on the top of cars. That too has stopped migration significantly.
AMLO made an appearance at Tapachula on Thursday, June 20, where he and new El Salvador President Nayib Bukele met for several hours.
Prior to the meeting, AMLO announced that from then on, anyone riding Mexican public buses would be required to present identification, a requisite that was not previously mandatory. This is just another hurdle migrants are finding this week. The country’s main bus lines, ADO and Flecha Amarilla, have informed users that they will no longer issue tickets without an ID.
Mexico Armed Forces Secretary Luis Crescencio Sandoval González explained on Monday, June 24, that indeed the National Guard officials now stationed at the border are not acting alone, but in tandem with National Migration Institute (INM) officials, who have expertise in the field of handling migration issues but have over the years been outnumbered.
“If we left the migrant wave totally in the hands of the INM, it would not possible to manage because the INM has a limited number of personnel,” Sandoval González said. “We are now supporting and guarding them while they do their inspection duties.” Guardsmen arrest the undocumented and turn them over to INM officers for processing.
Sandoval González added that, thus far, there are 2,000 guardsmen along the border at Guatemala and Belize, while 4500 more are stationed on secondary stations on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Incumbent Mr. Trump is having his cake and eating it too as he can now proudly shout out at his electioneering rallies:
“Do we have a wall at the border?”
The obvious answer should be: “Damn right, we have.”
“And who is paying for it?”