All of a sudden, Mexico is warmly welcoming the migrant caravan...
The New York Times today has an interesting long piece about the Mexican government wheeling out the welcome wagon for the Honduran caravan migrants in a big volte face of policy. Since this is the Mexican government, the conclusions can be only cynical.
Here's what the Times found:
Ever since the caravan crossed into Mexico three weeks ago, the country has faced a reckoning over the way it treats Central American migrants. Contradictory impulses are in play.
In Mexico City this week, doctors and dentists were on hand for free checkups, and children spent the mornings drawing and coloring. A mariachi band played after breakfast, young men sparred with retired boxers and, this being Mexico, masked wrestlers turned up for a lunchtime bout.
It wasn’t always this way. For decades, successive administrations used strong enforcement measures to control Mexico’s borders. The migrants tried to travel out of the sight of authorities, putting them out of mind of most Mexicans.
Now, Mexico City’s embrace of the caravan has thrown an opposing idea into sharp relief, an acknowledgment that the country’s asylum laws require the government to protect migrants, who are vulnerable to criminal gangs.
The Times goes at length to explore all the possible reasons for the strange shifting behavior of the Mexican government, which, through most of the 20th century, held a dour view of migration of its own nationals, even as it eventually came to view migration as a safety valve for its own potentially revolt-prone nationals, and a remittance bonanza. Not too long ago, Mexican presidents considered migrants traitors.
And as for Central Americans, Mexico had no trouble slapping them back and keeping them out. It didn't permit immigration for decades, owing to its supposed interests in maintaining the country's racial balance.
But Mexico is always a strictly self-interested country, it's the only way to understand the place, and now we see two things:
First, they allowed the Honduran migrants to push their way in, opening the gates for future caravan migrations (which certainly got started, about three more of them), making Mexico a migrant highway. Then they with President Trump making noises and sending troops to the border, they tried to stop them. Witness the incident where the Mexican governor offered them all free buses to Mexico City and someone from that federal capital got him to stop.
At the time, I attributed it to President Trump's resolve.
But things continue to shift.
Now Mexico is wheeling out the welcome wagon for the migrants, providing them with all manner of free stuff and attempting to harvest some free P.R. for it.
The Times speculates that the Mexicans don't want the migrants taking the dangerous route to the Gulf states, even though it's shorter. For the Mexicans, that could be a public relations problem, according to the sources quoted, because the latter is such a dangerous route. Already it's been reported that 100 migrants have already been kidnapped in those parts for ransom. The migrants are not only good for money for traffickers, their kids are good for securing illegal entry on the hip of some illegal entrant, to be followed by catch and release. Either way, the kidnappers win, so one can surmise the Times is at least partly right that there will be a lot of kidnappings, so it might make sense to wheel out the Mexico City welcome wagon. Migrants in Mexico City have their choice of routes to el norte, and can pick any port of entry.
How convenient, because it comes as the migrants now say that Tijuana will be their entry point to the U.S., even though it's about a thousand miles further than the nearest entry point to the U.S., at McAllen, Texas. It's not only harder to get to, but every mile adds danger. The Pueblo Sin Fronteras group that is directing this has a base there, and it is obviously motivating the migrants to keep at it to get to Tijuana and then into California because there the most generous state-sponsored goodies await. (From the organizers' perspective, it's an amazing take on the Chavista technique of offering free stuff to the poor to buy loyalty. Now that the Chavista oil money for goodies has run out, they are opting to use Uncle Sam's. And surprise, they are Chavista-aligned.) And the Mexican government is something I suspect has tentacles into the California government, at least based on what I've seen, which would also explain the sudden friendliness to migrants making their way to their political allies in California.
The other clue is the presidential transition in Mexico. Outgoing President Enrique Pena-Nieto has generally put on a cooperative face for President Trump, but it's unlikely he's happy about it. He's leaving office at the end of the month. His replacement, Andres Manuel Lopez-Obrador, a socialist, has openly campaigned on the argument that borders should be open to enter the U.S. and all illegals have rights to enter, which obviously is a vote-getter in Mexico. Might it be that Pena-Nieto is getting his final licks in at Trump now that Trump can't do anything to punish him? And that maybe the entry will be timed for Mexico's presidential transition so that the illegals entering the U.S. will be AMLO's problem? Possibly. Pena-Nieto might not just be giving Trump the middle finger by making things all nice for migrants in Mexico City, he might be poisoning the well for AMLO.
Lastly, the Mexican attitude toward the Central American migrants is interesting because of demographic factors: Mexico has gotten prosperous in the last few decades, it's certainly the most prosperous country in Latin America aside from Chile. However, it's lost a lot of people to migration, although that is tapering off. The empty spaces thoughout the country, particularly in its impoverished south, has allowed the creation a large illegal immigrant community inside Mexico, often of Central Americans who do farmwork in Mexico, while Mexicans themselves pick crops and do other labor up in the states. Surprise, surprise: the two southern states the Mexican government has asked the migrants to settle down in and take the pro-offered jobs and goodies are emigration-bare Chiapas and Oaxaca states. The self interest there is pretty obvious.
It's too soon to tell absolutely what is going on with the Mexicans suddenly enabling the migrants, but obviously, there's something in it for them as they do it, or they wouldn't do it. There is no more cynical government in Latin America, and they've obviously decided that the migrants who make it to Tijuana are going to be Trump's problem. Let's hope that as President Trump secures the border and comes up with a firm, rule-of-law solution for entry into the U.S., it just blows up in their faces.
Image credit: CGTN via YouTube, screengrab