“Pobre de México tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos”
“Poor Mexico: so far from God and so close to the US” (Porfirio Diaz)
It hasn’t quite been 20 days since the swearing in of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Since the start of his term he has been breaking records for what can be called “notable undertakings”, i.e. not “achievements” – which would have a positive connotation – but a number of jaw dropping and mind boggling feats including setting off international furore by banning citizens of 7 majority Muslim countries from entering the US, sacking the Attorney General for expressing reservations over the policy, halting funding for NGOs that support abortion, declaring that for every new piece of regulation 2 existing ones have to be done away with, and alienating the prime minister of one of the US’ closest allies, Australia, during their first official contact.
Another alarming feat Trump has pulled off is managing to turn the clock back on US-Mexico relations over a century by making a threat to all but invade the US’ southern neighbour unless Mexican authorities did more to reign in “bad hombres down there”, during a phone call to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. One interpretation of the words used is that it was an offer to send troops to help supposedly overwhelmed Mexican authorities with quelling the drug trade-related violence that has plagued the country over the past decade. That said, Donald Trump does not have an altruistic bone in his body – he is after all the one who during his transition phase is reported to have asked State Department officials why the US was spending “so much money” on foreign aid when there were poor people suffering in America – so it can’t be that he wants to do it for the overall good of Mexican society.
Trump’s idea of putting US boots on the Mexican ground is more likely attributable to a desire to shore up security in the US by preventing Mexico’s instability and violence from spilling over into the US.
What is most alarming in all this is that these threats / proposals concerning Mexico which are being bandied about by Trump hark back to a painful past of habitual US aggression against Mexico in centuries past that must never be repeated.
In 1535 Spain set up its colonial administration in Mexico, whose territory at that point covered about 40% of what is now the United States of America, three-quarters of a century before the 167 founding of the first English colony in what would become the country now led by Donald Trump.
Fast forward to the 19th century and we find US President of the day John Tyler officialising the policy of annexing Texas in March 1845. The policy came to fruition 3 months later in June of that year, though the territory was still claimed by Mexico.
In the ensuing years the US attempted to purchase large swathes of territory from Mexico – namely the equivalent of the modern States of California and New Mexico. Mexican authorities refused to let the US envoy have an audience with then President Mariano Paredes, in a situation that was recently echoed in a way when current Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto cancelled a visit to Washington DC in reaction to Donald Trump’s continued insistence to building a border wall between the 2 countries and somehow having Mexico foot the bill. When these economic territorial overtures were shunned, the US then shifted gears to suddenly needing to go to war with Mexico, which came about from 1846 to 1848 with catastrophic results for the latter, as Mexico was relieved of half of its territory.
As an interesting side note, the geographical distribution of the Hispanic population of the modern day US lines up almost perfectly with the 19th century borders, as seen below.
Trump’s anger at Mexico not going along with his wall-building policy in 2017 and the ensuing alluding that America may have to step in and be a force in Mexico can be easily likened to US government anger at Mexico spurning its political and territorial advances and resorting to war in the 19th century. Further, Trump’s posturing about sealing the US off from Mexican insecurity and possibly stepping in to bring pressure to bear on local Mexican players is disturbingly reminiscent of the so-called “Bandit Wars” on the US-Mexico border of just about 100 years ago amidst American concerns of widespread turmoil in Mexico – then in the grips of a revolution – spreading to the US.
Beyond skirmishes in border areas, the Mexican Civil War provided the US with pretext to flex its politico-military muscle on 2 other occasions. First, in 1914 a number of US naval officers were arrested by Mexican authorities for entering into prohibited Mexican territory, drawing the ire of the US government, which demanded a formal apology and 21-gun salute from Mexico. When this was slow in coming, to say the least, US President Woodrow Wilson ordered a military reprisal offensive by invading and occupying the port of Veracruz and imposing a blockade for several days in order to block Mexico from receiving an arms shipment from Germany, in one of the finest displays of the Monroe Doctrine’s aversion to European influence in the Western Hemisphere. For what it’s worth, the policy was repudiated in 2014 by then Secretary of State John Kerry. Time will tell how the US position on the policy will change under newly named and fantastically unqualified and undiplomatic State Department head Rex Tillerson.
The Veracruz invasion has been referred to in a New York Times article as “a smaller encore of the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848”. The other instance of US military intervention in Mexico during its revolutionary period dates back to 1916, when one of the warring factions in Mexico made an incursion into New Mexico in protest over favourable treatment given by the US to the other side. This sparked what was known as the year-long Punitive Expedition by the US Army from March 1916 to February 1917, meant to hunt down those responsible for the New Mexico attack.
It goes without saying the none of these incidents have any business recurring in the 21st century, and to even mention anything going along those lines is absurd and obscene.
German sociologist Max Weber famously theorised that governments enjoyed “the monopoly of legitimate violence” in society. Not unlike his Mexico comment, Trump recently also said he would consider sending troops (or “the Feds”, as he put it) to Chicago if the city didn’t manage to get a handle on its long spiralling violent crime problem that has seen it become one of the most violent cities in the US. Someone needs to explain to him that what he wants to do in abroad Mexico and at home in Chicago isn’t necessarily what Weber was talking about. Of course, nobody will though.