View From Mexico On Trump's Latest Rhetoric NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro asks José Díaz-Briseño, Washington correspondent for the Mexican newspaper Reforma, how Mexico has been reacting to the latest escalation in rhetoric from President Trump.
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View From Mexico On Trump's Latest Rhetoric

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View From Mexico On Trump's Latest Rhetoric

View From Mexico On Trump's Latest Rhetoric

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

President Trump has threatened, again, to close the southern border this week unless Mexico blocks all illegal immigration into the United States. I'm not playing games, the president said on Friday. In Mexico, the recently elected president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said this at a rally also on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Raise your hand if you think that I have to respond to President Donald Trump every time he mentions Mexico. Do I have to reply to him?"

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No.

LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He asked the crowd again, "raise your hand if you think we have to be prudent."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

(CHEERING)

LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "That's my people," said President Lopez Obrador. Joining me now to talk about the view from Mexico is Jose Diaz-Briseno, Washington correspondent for Reforma, a Mexican daily newspaper.

Welcome to the program.

JOSE DIAZ-BRISENO: Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. When asked about closing the border on Friday, President Trump added it could mean all trade. The consequences, of course, are incredibly severe for both countries. Does Mexico view this as empty threats or are they concerned?

DIAZ-BRISENO: I think that for the northern part of Mexico, this is a very worrisome statement by President Trump because even the least delay in lines, both of pedestrians and trucks or cars, has a real impact in the economy of those states that export to the United States. And it's not exactly closing the border. President Nixon, in 1969, ordered the whole Customs agents to check 100 percent of traffic through the border. So that's what we're looking at. The closure of the border in itself - it's not possible. So these things are meant as a political message. And that's how Mexico is seeing it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say it's not possible to close the border, what you mean is that the threat is that they will delay things so much by checking every single thing that comes through and every single person, that, effectively, it slows trade down so that it's unmanageable.

DIAZ-BRISENO: Right. The very slowdown of this 100 percent check of the border of every car, every pedestrian and every truck and even trains causes a huge hemorrhage for the economy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So also reportedly, the president has recently instructed the State Department to end foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where many of the migrant families seeking asylum are coming from. And that has got to have a huge impact on Mexico.

DIAZ-BRISENO: Oh, of course. And there are some congressional ramifications to this threat by President Trump in the way of eliminating aid to Central America. But in general, Mexico has engaged in this issue in a very pragmatic way. Mexico - it's basically already enforcing the U.S. border. Mexico, for the past five years, has deported more Central American migrants than the U.S. itself. But in an additional way, President Lopez Obrador - and we saw this at this rally that you were quoting. He says, why responding to President Trump when we know he's already in a 2020 campaign trail? I won't get anything in return. I better cooperate with him under the table, deporting migrants and engaging in commerce and the trade negotiations of the new NAFTA.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, that sounds like Lopez Obrador does not want a confrontation with President Trump. But is that a tactic that can work long term when you have this rhetoric coming out of the United States? And, you know, Mexicans don't like it.

DIAZ-BRISENO: Well, President Lopez Obrador has an advantage compared to the previous president, Enrique Pena Nieto. His approval rate is around 80 percent in Mexico. So basically, he's engaging in his domestic agenda on energy, economic reform, social programs. And the least he wants is a distraction coming from the north. Most of the pressure to respond to President Trump and these attacks on Mexico comes from the punditry - you know, people in the press. But at some point, he'll have to make a speech in a way to respond to Trump in saying, hey. We're allies rather than enemies.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Where does this leave the U.S.-Mexico relationship right now? I mean, if Mexico is doing the United States' bidding and yet the threats keep coming, I mean, what does the future hold, in your view?

DIAZ-BRISENO: Well, let's not minimize these past three days of President Trump confronting Mexico for not doing enough. It's the toughest moment in the relationship since the previous threats back in 2017 when he took office. But the thing is that President Trump himself is extremely unpopular in Mexico. So there is no need for Mr. Lopez Obrador to go there out to the plaza and shout against Mr. Trump. And let's remember. Mexico buys more U.S. goods than the whole Latin America together. So it's a two-way street. And I'm sure that any closure or so-called closure of the border is going to have an impact, particularly on those states bordering Mexico.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Jose Diaz-Briseno, Washington correspondent for Reforma.

Thank you so much.

DIAZ-BRISENO: Appreciate it - thank you.

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