Trump Retreats From Mexico Tariff Crisis He Alone Created

Interview with Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy in Mexico City, conducted by Scott Harris

President Trump’s threat to impose a 5 percent to 25 percent escalating tariff on all Mexican exports entering the U.S. was averted when Trump announced that a deal had been struck with Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador to take several measures to restrict the flow of Central American asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. southern border. But news reports tell a different story, one in which Trump repackaged earlier commitments made by Mexico to make it appear he had used threats and intimidation to gain a “great victory.”

Two elements in the agreement – negotiated months before by the two countries – included deployment of Mexican National Guard troops to the nation’s southern border and an expansion of a program to allow asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their legal cases proceed in the U.S. When news organizations reported details of the earlier pact, Trump stated that there were secret, undisclosed elements to his agreement with Mexico. However, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard promptly issued a statement denying the president’s assertion of a secret agreement.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy, based in Mexico City. Here, she assesses the reaction in Mexico to Trump’s tariff threat, the 11th hour agreement, and Lopez Obrador’s response to the crisis.

LAURA CARLSEN: I call it economic blackmail. Essentially, what he’s done is threaten the stability of the Mexican economy in exchange for these anti-immigrant, white nationalist measures that Mexico is supposed to take on for not the United States – because the United States doesn’t benefit from it – but for his administration and for the electoral purposes of his administration. So that’s really what’s going on here. It’s positive that the tariffs were averted and it’s also positive that some of the most drastic measures that were supposedly on the table did not come through – and that’s specifically a safe third country measure, which would force immigrants who are asylum seekers in the United States to remain in Mexico. It would actually deny them their right to request asylum in the United States. I think the most important thing and the most negative thing about the agreement that was reached is that Mexico appears to be in many ways supporting this image that these immigrants, these asylum seekers – women and children primarily – who are coming up from Central American countries are actually a threat to national security.

And that’s simply not true. And most people, anyone who’s really studied who these people are and why they’re coming up knows that this is not true. They’ve already debunked the myth that immigrants commit crimes at higher rates than anyone else. They’ve debunked the myth that these are numbers that are unprecedented and unmanageable. We don’t have an immigrant border crisis. What we have is a humanitarian crisis because the government’s refused to do the peaceful measures that are needed to, under law, process asylum seekers. If the United States put in qualified interviewers for asylum to process the increased number – and it is an increased number of people who are seeking asylum – if Mexico did the same because more and more people are seeking asylum in their country as well, you know, we could easily accommodate the numbers of families that are coming up from Central America.

And Mexico is not wrong in saying that one of the key elements of resolving this crisis, if not the key element, is going to the sources of immigration. Why are people being forced to leave their countries? And that’s where you find that U.S. foreign policy not only has not resolved the source of the immigration – you know, the expulsion problem – but that many U.S. foreign policies are exacerbating it and policies in the past have really created this crisis situation that forces people to leave their homes.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Can it perceived that Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador, “AMLO,” caved into Trump with these threats of tariffs? And it’s particularly important in Mexico itself because Obrador’s direct predecessor, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was seen by the Mexican population as being extremely subservient to Trump during his election campaign. And he was, I believe the polls said, one of the most unpopular Mexican presidents in recent history. So there’s a lot at stake for AMLO as he was in negotiation with Trump. What’s the perception in Mexico?

LAURA CARLSEN: Well, that’s a really good question because there have been a lot of mixed messages. Within the migrant rights community, not only did he cave to these two measures – militarization and the expansion of the “remain in Mexico program,” but also there’d been a crackdown on some of the people who led the caravan. So what we’re seeing is a very dangerous criminalization of human rights defenders in Mexico. And there’s a fear that that could go further.

The general feeling is that there has been a certain betrayal within the Lopéz Obrador government regarding a different model of immigration because what they promised was a paradigm shift. That’s their words for it. We will no longer treat this as a criminal and punitive model. We will go to looking at the root causes, etc. And there’s a feeling that that’s not really happening. Peña Nieto’s government was extremely unpopular for its attitude towards Donald Trump.

And so when we look at, for example, there was a rally that Lopéz Obrador called and then attended in Tijuana last Saturday. And what we see there, yeah, it’s a lot of mixed messages. I mean essentially he’s saying, yes, we did this and we averted a crisis with the United States and we want to be friends with the Trump administration, but we will defend our sovereignty and we will defend the rights of migrants. As long as these provocations from an openly anti-immigrant white nationalist government – which is the government of Donald Trump – continue, he’s not going to be able to have it both ways. At some point, there’s going to have to be a clear message in terms of which way this is going to go. And yes, internal tensions within his own government, because there’s a lot of representation of business interests which are really concerned with keeping the relationship with the United States – which means with the Trump administration – as calm and easy as possible. And then there’s a lot of social movements who are saying, we expected something different from you and we want to see that carried out. So there’s some latent contradictions there that are not going to go away.

For more information on the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy, visit

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