The “Great Wall” of America:
US President Trump’s Great Wall project has outraged Mexican public opinion. However, man-made physical barriers between the two countries have existed long before Trump came into power. The product of Western liberalism, the prospect of a permanent wall provides new opportunities for both Mexico and the US to re-examine the future of their convoluted bilateral relation in the context of a post-Western world order.
Mexican public opinion is incensed. The source of this public uproar are the controversial declarations and actions of US President Donald Trump against Mexico and the Hispanic community at large. The list of grievances encompasses theoutrageous claims that Mexican migrants are rapists, the detention of minors in deplorable conditions, and, of course, the plans for building a wall. For many in Mexico, the source of this problem dates to the fateful invitation by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to both US presidential candidates in the summer of 2016. An invitation only taken up by Trump and rejected by the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton.
The pharisaic aspect of the Mexican outrage lies in the fact that the border wall between the United States and Mexico is over 60 years old. Between San Ysidro, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, a fence was first erected in the 1950s, only to be reinforced with recycled military landing platforms in the 1990s. In 1994, President Clinton launched Operation Gatekeeper in California, Operation Hold-the-Line in Texas and Operation Safeguard in Arizona to strengthen border security. In 1996, a Democratic Congress and President approved further barriers on the border. In 2006, President Bush signed into law the Secure Fence Act with the support of Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joseph Biden. By 2015, about a third of the US–Mexico border (1,078 km out of 3,140 km) already had some type of man-made physical barrier. Contrary to popular belief, a Great Wall between Mexico and the United States has been a long-cherished American bipartisan project predating the Trump era.
The brainchild of liberalism…
The Great Wall of America is thus a brainchild of the liberal world order established under Pax Americana in the aftermath of WWII. It is therefore no coincidence that as the world moves towards a post-Western order, the border wall poisons the already difficult bilateral relation between Mexico and the US. While the American political elite has been rather dysfunctional in addressing popular anxieties over the last decade, the Mexican business elite experiences difficulties to imagine a world beyond American dominance. After all, since the late nineteenth century the Mexican economy has chiefly relied on capital flows stemming from Wall Street, and since the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 nearly 80% of Mexican exports head to the United States despite the most determined efforts to facilitate investments and trade flows from other countries. Such is the power of habit.
While American dominance has contributed significantly to Mexican development, the power of habit has become deadly as of late. Since the internationalisation of a prohibitionist regime by the Reagan administration, the pressure borne by Mexico’s justice system from illegal CIA and DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) operatives in Mexican territory has resulted in a lethal war on drugs. Notwithstanding close governmental collaboration, 22 million American residents still get their illegal substances smuggled across the border while over 200,000 Mexicans have been murdered and over 34,000 have disappeared since 2006. Unsurprisingly, these numbers have influenced much of the discourse motivating the US bipartisan consensus on wall-building as Mexican immigration became entangled with this public security crisis in Mexico.
…could turn into a wall of opportunities
Despite this convoluted past, a consolidated border wall between Mexico and the US may become an opportunity for both countries as a more diverse world order emerges. After all, Mexico has 15 free trade agreements covering 45 countries around the world, 31 investment promotion and protection agreements, and 9 commercial agreements. It possesses the tenth most traded currency in the world and second most traded emerging market currency, only after the Chinese renminbi. Based on estimates by the International Monetary Fund, PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasted that Mexico would emerge as the seventh largest economy in the world by 2050. Mexico also welcomed over 39 million tourists in 2017, becoming the sixth most visited country. Aware of its responsibilities in fighting climate change, Mexico now taxes carbon, possesses a voluntary carbon trading scheme and offers one of the world’s seven environmental stock markets facilitating a transition to a low carbon economy. As per the OECD, Mexico also pursues policies conducive to gender equality, and the pay gap is lower than in Switzerland. In short, Mexico is far removed from the Hollywood stereotypes of border town movies. Instead, as Claudia Ruiz Massieu – Mexican Foreign Minister at the time – made clear in 2016, Mexico is willing to share in the costs and responsibilities that a post-Western world order entail.
At first sight, the political instrumentalisation of the border wall issue by President Trump appears as a strident break from the American-led liberal order. In a more careful consideration, however, it stands in the continuity of the American political elite’s failure to explain the ramifications of the liberal world order to its domestic constituencies. The Great Wall of America now offers a test to the perpetuation of the unquestioned American dominance and a respite to reflect on the emergence of a post-Western world order. It is therefore a wall full of opportunities.