Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 June 2019

Mexico's dignity 'intact' after US tariff deal, minister says

The agreement comes after the US threatened a tariff on Mexican exports if the flow of migrants crossing into America was not stopped

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador shakes hands with the crowd during a unity rally in Tijuana, Mexico. Getty Images
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador shakes hands with the crowd during a unity rally in Tijuana, Mexico. Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he was reluctantly prepared to slap retaliatory tariffs on US goods if negotiators in Washington had failed to strike a deal, addressing a boisterous celebratory rally on Saturday in the border city of Tijuana.

The president's comments came shortly after his foreign minister and chief negotiator, Marcelo Ebrard, announced that the country had emerged from the high-stakes talks that avoided US tariffs on Mexico's exports with its "dignity intact".

Mr López Obrador said that as an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, he opposes retaliation but had been prepared to impose tariffs on US goods.

"As chief representative of the Mexican state I cannot permit that anyone attacks our economy or accept an unjust asymmetry unworthy of our government," Mr López Obrador said.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, left, speaks with Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard during a rally in Tijuana, Mexico, Saturday, June 8, 2019. Ebrard has told a cheering crowd near the U.S. border that his country emerged from high-stakes talks over U.S. tariffs "with its dignity intact." (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, left, speaks with Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard during a rally in Tijuana, Mexico, Saturday, June 8, 2019. Ebrard has told a cheering crowd near the U.S. border that his country emerged from high-stakes talks over U.S. tariffs "with its dignity intact." (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

The rally in Tijuana, a short walk from the US-Mexico border, was originally scheduled as an act of solidarity in the face of President Donald Trump's threat to impose a five per cent tariff on Mexico's exports if it did not stem the flow of Central American migrants crossing its territory toward the US.

But after Mexican and US officials reached an accord late Friday that calls on Mexico to crackdown on migrants in exchange for Trump backing off his threat, officials here converted the rally into a celebration.

Me Ebrard, who helped negotiate the deal, said when he gave the president his report, he told Mr López Obrador, "There are no tariffs, Mr President, we emerged with our dignity intact."

Mr López Obrador has consistently said that Mexico's immigration policy will be guided by respect for human rights. How that is integrated with the more proactive enforcement Mexico has promised Trump is yet to be seen.

"We take advantage of being here in Tijuana to say to the people of the United States once more that we do not harbour any intention nor will we harbour any intention to harm them, and we are resolved to collaborate with them in all areas, especially on the concern spurred by the growth of the migratory flow to their country," he said.

"At the same time, we ask for their understanding because the migratory phenomenon doesn't come from nowhere, it comes from the material needs and the insecurity in the Central American countries and in marginalised sectors and regions of Mexico, where there are human beings who need to set out on a pilgrimage to mitigate their hunger and their poverty or to save their lives."

A series of speakers at the government-organised gathering spoke of the importance of the US-Mexico relationship and applauded Mexico's negotiating team. The rally had the feeling of a campaign event with paraphernalia from Mr López Obrador's ruling Morena party spread throughout the crowd.

The event was held in an intersection of Tijuana's gritty downtown surrounded by pharmacies and currency exchange shops. Prostitutes lined the street a block away from the stage filled with dignitaries.

Mr López Obrador spoke of the long and intertwined histories of the two countries, noting that they "are protagonists in the largest demographic exchange in the world."

Tijuana residents at the rally said they supported the terms of the agreement. But residents just a block away expressed concern the deal could mean more asylum seekers having to wait in Tijuana and other Mexican border cities for the resolution of their cases in the US, a process that can take months or even years.

Angelica López, 41, has worked at a US assembly plant in Tijuana for more than 20 years. The threatened tariffs would have directly impacted her family's well-being, she said.

"Honestly, we were worried," she said. "That's how we eat, how we provide for the family, our home."

As for the possibility that it means more Central American migrants have to wait out their asylum process in Tijuana, Ms López noted that she had arrived in Tijuana as an economic migrant from another part of Mexico.

"The opportunities are for everyone, we simply support one another as human beings."

But a block away, masseuse Omar Luna said he believed many of the Central American migrants waiting in Tijuana were not there to work and were causing problems.

"This part affects us a little," he said. "A lot of them don't come to work, they're criminals, (but) not all of them."

Critics of the deal in Mexico say the agreement focuses almost exclusively on enforcement and says little about the root causes driving the surge in migrants seen in recent months.

The deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops appears to be the key commitment in what was described as "unprecedented steps" by Mexico to ramp up enforcement, though Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said the deployment had already been planned and was not a result of external pressure.

Another key element of the deal is that the US will expand its Migrant Protection Protocol programme, or MPP. According to Mexican immigration authorities, since January there have been 10,393 returns by migrants to Mexico while their cases wend their way through US courts.

Observers said a concern is that if the MPP rolls out on a mass scale along the United States' entire southern border, it could overwhelm Mexican border cities.

Updated: June 9, 2019 11:19 AM

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