For starters, let’s soothe Enrique Peña Nieto’s nerves—the Mexican president can remain calm. We don’t expect anything from him. In fact, I don’t know anyone who thinks that Peña Nieto will effectively stand up to Donald Trump and defend Mexicans—at home or abroad.
So far, Trump’s dealings with Mexico have most likely been some of the easiest negotiations he’s ever been involved with. In fact, the author of “The Art of the Deal” didn’t even have to negotiate. He merely insulted and threatened, and Peña Nieto gave him everything before Trump even asked for it.
Trump isn’t in office yet, and already Peña Nieto has caved on three basic points: amending the North American Free Trade Agreement, building a wall at the border and deporting thousands—maybe millions—of undocumented Mexicans from the U.S. Peña Nieto never even put up a fight.
Readers may recall Peña Nieto’s paralysis in August during that ill-fated news conference with Trump in Mexico City, when Peña Nieto didn’t dare say that Mexico would not, contrary to Trump’s insistence, be paying for the border wall. But that same day, Peña Nieto also capitulated on NAFTA—a much more important issue.
“The next (American) president will find a partner to look for ways to modernize NAFTA,” Peña Nieto nervously said. “Modernize” is just a euphemism. Peña Nieto kicked open the door for Trump.
Then, in a recent speech in Lima, Peru, Peña Nieto doubled down on his offer to be flexible with NAFTA. “More than renegotiation, we’re talking about modernization,” he told the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. (There’s that word again.)
Peña Nieto could have just said no to Trump with regard to NAFTA, or the wall, or the mass deportations, as Jorge Castañeda, Mexico’s former secretary of foreign affairs, pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed. Instead Peña Nieto became, in effect, one of Trump’s accomplices.
Mexico has much to lose if NAFTA is modified — more than 70% of Mexican exports are bound for the U.S., according to data from the World Bank. Given that 15% of American exports go to Mexico, the U.S. would also lose. Last year, the U.S. exported some $236 billion worth of products to Mexico. That amount helps generate some 5 million to 6 million U.S. jobs. Bottom line: Both countries could suffer under a revised NAFTA.
Nobody wins in a war of avocados and trucks. Nobody wins with a 35% tariff on exports. But Peña Nieto, at least so far, has cowered and accommodated.
Perhaps Peña Nieto assumes that since he invited Trump to Mexico, the president-elect will be more agreeable—and even change his stance on some issues. But that assumption is a huge mistake.
Trump isn’t a man of manners. Now that he has won the election, his goal is not to accommodate his host in Mexico City but to impress the 62 million Americans who voted for him. For Trump, Mexico is just an annoyance. He doesn’t understand that bilateral relations are essential. Mexico — let’s be perfectly clear — will never be a priority for Trump.
After all, Trump tactically cast Mexico as an enemy when he launched his presidential campaign in June 2015. He insulted immigrants by labeling them “criminals” and “rapists.” He aims to deport millions. He insists on building that border wall (which now might be a fence at some points). And he won over U.S. voters after months of accusing Mexico (and China) of stealing jobs.
There are times to push for polite negotiations, and there are times to fight. This is a time to fight. But that’s something Peña Nieto doesn’t know how to do.
Sadly, all he has done since the beginning is to kneel before Trump.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision and the host of “America With Jorge Ramos” on Fusion. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of several best-selling books. His latest is “Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.”