Feb. 24, 2017
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with police officers and security personnel as he boards a plane to depart Mexico.
The secretaries of State and Homeland Security, Rex Tillerson and John Kelly, made an official visit to Mexico on Thursday to meet with their Mexican counterparts and president Enrique Peña Nieto in an attempt to soften and ease the rising of tense relations between the two North American countries.
The two American officials held several meetings led by the Mexican secretary of Foreign Affairs, Luis Videgaray, who praised the first conference between the Peña Nieto and Trump administrations as a “very important step forward" to ease the current atmosphere and announced that they actually “coincided" on how to approach several bilateral issues that concern both nations.
“We have addressed several topics on our agenda and we are on the right path to be closer to each other, although this will be a long process," said Videgaray in a press conference in which he also made clear that Mexicans are “irritated" in the face of the two new memorandums on immigration that the Trump administration approved this week and which could increase the number of deported people to Mexico.
This express visit has left us with three positive signs that could lead to an improvement of the Mexico-US relationship, and one negative aspect that might jeopardize the future of this long-time alliance.
The two sides are committed to continue talking
The American and the Mexican secretaries have agreed to continue maintaining a number of regular meetings this year. Bilateral conversations at conferences and official visits will help diplomacy to reign, helping to put aside attacks and threats through the media.
Bilateral relations will be discussed as a whole and not piecemeal
Videgaray claimed that the Americans have agreed to a multi-topic approach when analyzing relations with Mexico, and not holding conversations on one topic at a time. This is to a degree a victory for the Mexicans, since they wanted to always have immigration and security issues on the table when discussing commercial relations with the US. Presenting this as a package will reduce the possibility of American cherry-picking diplomacy.
Agreements reached on immigration and security
The two sides agreed that in order to reduce the number of immigrants arriving to the US, the situation in their countries of origin needs to improve. In other words, the Caribbean and Central American countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala need to develop their economies, reducing the incentive for economic migration.
As a result, Mexico and the US announced that they will foster several multi-lateral conferences in which these countries will participate, with other actors such as Colombia and Canada, to work toward enhancing the security and economic conditions in those nations.
As for security, secretary of State Tillerson assured that US intelligence will continue to collaborate with Mexican forces to eliminate criminal gangs and narcotraffickers who are smuggling people and gangs north of the border. And elsewhere, Tillerson stressed that the US will strengthen its operations against arms traffickers to Mexico, with nearly 70% of the illegal weapons there coming from the US.
NAFTA will be “modernized," not swept away
The secretary of State also had a word for NAFTA, an agreement that he stated will be “modernized." The same day in the morning, the Mexican Secretary of State, Ildefonso Guajardo, said that renegotiations are to be started by the summer and might conclude by early 2018.
According to what these two officials have said, it initially seems that NAFTA will be renegotiated, or modernized, but not swept away as President Trump has hinted at on numerous occasions. That is very good news for free trade and the industrial world, as this agreement has boosted bilateral commerce by 400% between the countries since 2014.
The negative effect is still Trump's unpredictability
While Tillerson and Kelly were making a humongous diplomatic effort, Donald Trump was holding a meeting with representatives of several American manufacturing industries in the White House and said the following: "We are going to have a good relationship with Mexico, I hope, and if we do not, we do not."
Additionally, Secretary Kelly said in Mexico that there would not be mass deportations because of the new memorandums that he signed on Tuesday. But, in another sign that the White House is in disarray, Trump chimed in, stating, "we are getting really bad dudes out of this country, and at a rate that nobody has ever seen before."
And while the Secretary of Homeland security assured that there would be no use of military forces in deportation, Trump commented; "And they're the bad ones. And it's a military operation."
As the Mexican Secretary of State said, the country's top public officials are taking important steps to improve battered relations. And if one thing can be gleamed from the visit, it is that traditional face-to-face diplomacy may indeed win out over the 140-character variety favored by the Commander-in-Chief.