On March 20 Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (Here and Here) visited San Francisco and appeared at a theater in the Mission District. His candidacy for the Mexican Presidency is gathering steam, and he is presently polling ahead of all other candidates. The Mexican election is in 2018 and retired IAM Organizer and immigrant rights activist Joel Ochoa comments on Mexican politics in the age of Trump. (Peter Olney)
The election of Donald Trump as the 45th U.S. President has affected, among many other things, the way Mexicans will elect their next President. All appearances indicate that the way to the official residence of Los Pinos, now runs thru the barrios where Mexicans reside in the United States.
Back in mid-2015 when Donald Trump announced he was seeking the nomination of the Republican Party to run for the presidency of the United States, he identified Mexico and Mexicans as the root of the moral and economic evils that, in his view, were causing the demise of American society. An extraordinary moment, it was Mexicans first; everybody else came later.
The message caught most everyone by surprise and the prediction of a short-lived campaign dominated the political discourse. However the message resonated among certain groups of voters who Trump was able to identify and target relentlessly with vicious attacks an enemy of convenience, Mexico and Mexicans, that at the end carried him to the Presidency.
Mexican leaders reacted with a nonchalance and naive attitude, giving Trump chief of state treatment in a visit to Mexico where he outshone President Pena Nieto. Once they realized Trump had painted them as incompetent and corrupt, that he was not backing down on his demand for payment of the infamous wall, and that he intended to renegotiate, or end, the terms of the North America Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, they panicked.
On November 9, 2016 Mexico woke up to the realization that a game changer had occurred and the country was not ready to deal with it. Officially the cornerstone of the Mexican economy, NAFTA, was on Trumps “hit list” and remittances, about 28 billion annually, became a point of concern to Mexican finances.
Historically, people migrating to the north have served Mexico politically and economically. It alleviates social pressure created by lack of employment opportunities and is a source of tremendous quantities of income. Remittances, monies sent by Mexican immigrants to their families back home, are recognized by the government as a key source of income; clean money that is directly injected into the Mexican economy for which Mexico currently pays almost nothing. That is only a part of the money flowing to Mexico as a result of the hard earned income of millions of immigrants. At least that is the part that can be quantified. The other part has to do with services generated in Mexico and other countries; such as television programs, sports, publications and more. Immigrants also send money by less traditional methods utilizing a network of couriers that are expensive and not always reliable. Immigrants are part of an industry that has benefited both countries. As someone called it: “an industry with no furnaces.”
To put into perspective what kind of purchasing power the above represents, Mexican immigrants could buy, in one year, all the teams from the NBA. The entire league! And that is only the official part. We shouldn’t be surprised if there was more money available, that is sent thru non-traditional ways in addition to what is charged for services. Mexicans could probably buy up a ton of MLB or NFL franchises also!
The Mexican rich and political classes are fighting to keep the status quo created with the implementation of NAFTA. They are not ready to sacrifice and look for other markets. Their sense of patriotism doesn’t go that far. They would rather take the insult in order to keep, and sustain, what they have.
In that context, to keep their privileges, Mexican elites are projecting a more benevolent attitude towards the millions of Mexican living in the U. S. The view remains paternalistic in the sense that they still talk about “defending our paisanos” instead of recognizing how vital we are, and have been for a long time, to the Mexican way of life. Bottom line, they fear the loss of that source of revenue.
Since the election of Trump, or perhaps because of his policies, the pilgrimage of Mexican politicians to cities in the U. S. has become a constant. Governors, presidential aspirants and other functionaries are coming to “defend or protect” immigrants. The common denominator among those Mexican politicians is the lack of knowledge of what our real problems are. For most, this is no more than a photo op, something new to add to their resume.
Perhaps the exception is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) because he has surrounded himself with people knowledgeable of the problem. Jose Jacques Medina, a long time Los Angeles community and labor organizer is one such supporter. Lopez Obrador has been touring cities in the U. S. (his Los Angeles speech is here) but more importantly his followers have built a network of committees to facilitate civic participation.
But much more is needed. Mexicans escaped their country because of violence and the lack of opportunities. Going back to a nation in deterioration is not an option, at least not now, because there are no jobs, no special schools to train adults nor to integrate children, no security and on top of all this Mexico has to defend the very same policies of NAFTA that created the conditions that forced Mexicans to migrate.
Trump is a challenge because his policies could change the dynamics of how Mexico operates in the international market. With more than 500 billion dollars in trade flowing between both countries, the U.S. represents Mexico’s main trading partner (to the U. S. Mexico represents its third).
Mexico could opt for opening other markets; but it will be more costly and will imply losing access, at least for some time, to the most important market in the world. It will require a great deal of sacrifice and the patriotism of Mexican elites won’t go that far. My sense is that they, the rich and most of the political class, will take the insults, rather than sacrifice the privileges.
For as long as they can get a U.S. visa the parade of Mexican politicians will continue. Mexicans residing here can’t stop it or prevent it. However, we can demand respect and ask for tangible solutions. Mexican immigrants have the right to that and more. 28 billion dollars plus annually gives us that right.