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Mexico, Cuba, and Trump's Increasing Preference for Punishment over Diplomacy

June 11, 2019

In his approach to the carrot-versus-stick equation that is central to statecraft, Donald Trump always opts for the stick. Apparently unaware of, or unconcerned with, the advantages offered by the canny use of public diplomacy, coercive tactics have become a main feature of his Presidency. On the international stage, Trump has used rhetorical bluster, unleashed financial sanctions, and threatened military action against adversaries such as Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea, and has deployed withering tariffs to initiate an ongoing trade war with China. It is not only against nations with which the White House has ideological differences that Trump has chosen such an approach; he has also made rumblings about slapping tariffs on imports from long-standing American allies, including Canada, France, and Germany.

The weaker the country, the more bullying Trump’s behavior. In March, for instance, in a bid to pressure the nations from which much of the current surge of migrants is arriving, he announced cuts to U.S. humanitarian aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. On May 30th, he moved to punish Mexico over immigration, as well. He peremptorily announced, via a pair of tweets, that he had decided to tax all Mexican imports with a five-per-cent tariff, beginning June 10th, “until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP. The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied, at which time the Tariffs will be removed.” His idea was that the tariff would rise by five per cent at the beginning of every month until it reached twenty-five per cent—the same rate he has levied against China...

AMLO might well be accused of naïveté on that point. But, apart from the damage that Trump’s obstreperousness is doing to the international image of the United States, most close observers of the U.S.–Mexico relationship agree that his approach is counterproductive. “Linking immigration with trade is something that we and the Mexicans have long resisted,” Eric Farnsworth, a former Clinton Administration official, and the vice-president of the Council of the Americas’ Washington, D.C., office, told me. “Why? Because certainty for the business community is key to investment, which, in turn, is key to job creation. Good jobs and opportunity keep people from a desire to migrate. Now, scrambling the business climate further, even as Mexico’s economy is already struggling, could lead to job losses in Mexico, increasing immigration. It’s exactly the opposite of what should be done.” Luis Miguel González, the editorial director of the Mexican financial daily El Economista, warned that Trump’s tariffs could have a seriously destabilizing effect. “If the tariffs go ahead, they will be a severe blow to the Mexican economy. If that happens, there could be a major deterioration in social aspects of life, mainly public security. In terms of bilateral relations, it will oblige the government to assume a nationalistic policy, similar to that which we had forty years ago, with an enormous component of phobia toward the United States. The thing to take into account here is that the government doesn’t have a Plan B. It’s either get along with the United States, or get along with the United States.”...

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