Trump and Peña Nieto during the former's controversial August 2016 visit to Mexico. Trump and Peña Nieto during the former's controversial August 2016 visit to Mexico. Henry Romero/Reuters

Crisis spurred with Twitter diplomacy

Trump is not considering the complex historic relationship between Mexico and US

Six days after taking office, United States President Donald Trump was facing the first international crisis of his administration. And it was unfolding on Twitter.


Following through on campaign promises to crack down on immigration, Trump signed executive orders to both kick-start the construction of a border wall with Mexico and block federal grants for “sanctuary cities” – jurisdictions that offer safe harbor for undocumented immigrants.

Trump justified these measures as necessary for improving domestic security. “A nation without borders is not a nation,” he said. “Beginning today, the United States of America gets back control of its borders.”

After signing the orders, Trump insisted in an interview with the ABC news network that Mexico would reimburse construction expenses “at a later date.”

Trump’s push to force Mexico to pay for the wall plunged the two neighbors into a tense and unusual diplomatic standoff. Mexico has long been a key partner and ally of the U.S. and Enrique Peña Nieto’s government has keenly tried to avoid a standoff. Trump, on the other hand, has fueled one with his frantic social media activity.

Welcome to the era of Twitter diplomacy.

Historically, diplomacy is not one of America’s strong suits. Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali once noted that he was surprised to learn that U.S. international officials usually see “little need for diplomacy.” For Americans, Boutros-Ghali claimed, it’s perceived as “a waste of time and prestige and a sign of weakness.”


But with Mexico President Trump has taken this tradition of American non-diplomacy to uncharted territories.

Peña Nieto chose moderation and diplomatic subtlety to address Trump’s belligerence. This conciliatory strategy has, indeed, been perceived as a sign of weakness on both sides of the border.

Yet the Mexican government’s situation is delicate. Either Peña Nieto endures Trump’s relentless humiliation, or he jeopardizes the nation’s commercial partnership with the U.S., which buys 80% of Mexican exports.

So Peña Nieto did everything possible to appease Trump, probably hoping that he would eventually moderate his positions. He even appointed Luis Videgaray – the unpopular politician who organized then-candidate Trump’s ill-received August 2016 visit to Mexico – as Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

Trump answered the conciliatory gesture, which was deeply controversial in Mexico, by tweeting that his southern neighbors would pay for the wall on the border “a little later” in order to build it “more quickly”.

Peña Nieto then tried to warn Trump about the consequences that a conflict with Mexico could have upon the U.S. agenda. Using the infamous drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo, as a subtle rebuke to Trump’s stance on Mexico, the president extradited him to the U.S. on January 19, just a few hours before Barack Obama’s term expired.

U.S. officials and the Mexican public interpreted the timing of the extradition, which had been green-lighted for months, as a Mexican housewarming gift to the Trump White House.

But a different hypothesis seems more plausible. Mexico rushed to hand over El Chapo to Obama to prevent Trump from taking credit for the extradition. As Mexican journalist Esteban Illades argued, if Mexico had delayed the extradition by one more day, Trump would have boasted about his role in organizing it for months on Twitter.

But Trump didn’t pay attention to Peña Nieto’s warning: two days after taking office he announced that he would begin renegotiating NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, and set a meeting with Peña Nieto on January 31.

Peña Nieto sent Videgaray and Ildefonso Guajardo, Mexico’s Secretary of Economy, to Washington for preparing his meeting with Trump. He instructed them to avoid both submission and confrontation in negotiations with the American administration.

But that plan faltered when, on the night before the emissaries were to arrive to Washington, Trump tweeted that Wednesday would be a “big day” for “national security” because he was looking forward to “building the wall.” Videgaray and Guajardo were actually in the White House when Trump left the building to sign his executive order.

This insult raised outrage in Mexico. Intellectuals, politicians and citizens, both left and right, demanded that Peña Nieto cancel his visit to Washington.

Mexico’s president answered this new provocation with a short video statement, in which he said that Mexican consulates would now serve as legal aid offices for undocumented Mexican migrants in the U.S. He resisted cancelling the meeting with Trump, though, saying that he would make a decision based on Videgaray’s and Guajardo’s report.

But another social media blast from Trump derailed that wait-and-see strategy, too:

Even for mild Peña Nieto this was too much. He cancelled the meeting with Trump without even a press conference. Instead he tweeted: “This morning we have informed the White House that I will not attend the working meeting with @POTUS scheduled next Tuesday.”

As Foreign Secretary Videgaray acknowledged, “You don’t ask your neighbor to pay for your home’s wall.”

A phone call between Trump and Peña Nieto on Friday morning may allow for a brief cooling-off period, but without a doubt Mexico and the U.S. have entered into an age of conflict. The consequences, in North America and beyond, are still uncertain.

If the U.S. administration moves forward with its proposed plan to build the wall and fund it by imposing a 20% tax on Mexican imports, Peña Nieto’s government has options for retaliation. It could implement a crackdown on American citizens – many of them retirees – who overstay their tourist visas in Mexico, or impose reciprocal tariffs on American exports.

Indeed, the U.S. should not take Mexican friendship for granted. As Mexican historian Enrique Krauze has pointed out, despite recent good relations, Mexico has a series of historical grievances against the U.S., which remain deeply rooted in Mexican collective memories.

First, the U.S. invaded Mexico in 1846, annexing half of its territory. This event was so traumatic that it became the main theme of the Mexican national anthem.

Then, in 1913, the American ambassador, Henry Lane Wilson, plotted to have democratically elected president Francisco Madero murdered. This incident plunged Mexico into a fierce civil war and postponed effective implementation of democracy in the country for 90 years.

Finally, in 1914 U.S. marines occupied the city of Veracruz, triggering a prolonged period of hostile relations. The bond between Mexico and the U.S. only normalized again in 1942 with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy.

To maintain this peaceful coexistence, both Mexican and American governments have usually taken into account the complex historic relationship between the countries.

Trump’s novelty is that he seemingly has no interest in or intention to contemplate the conflicted history of Mexican-American relations – not even considering the strategic importance of Mexico for his nation.

Instead, his policy decisions seem based on social media metrics.

Mexican writer Jorge Volpi believes that Trump’s use of Twitter as a privileged medium says a lot about this president. Twitter favors speed over analysis, wit over depth and aggression over reflection. For Volpi, these are very Trumpian character traits.

The global consequences of such Twitter diplomacy are unknowable. But in Mexico, beyond generating a diplomatic crisis, Trump’s actions are successfully arousing the dormant spirits of Mexican nationalism.

Social media platforms are on fire there. Denise Dresser, a respected liberal intellectual, declared that though Donald Trump’s presidency may last eight years, Mexico has existed for thousands of years. Historian Rafael Estrada Michel has called for Mexico to renegotiate not NAFTA but the Guadalupe-Hidalgo treaty, which established the current U.S.-Mexico border after the Mexican-American war.

If U.S.-Mexico relations continue on this line, Mexicans will be forced to pay a terrible price for Trump’s antics. NAFTA established a prosperous free-trade zone in North America, and without its main trade partner Mexico will have to entirely reinvent its global alliances and its economic structure.

By the way, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative website – which, in our brave new world of alternative facts, might be taken down soon – U.S. manufacturing exports have increased 258% under NAFTA, and 40% of Mexican exports into the U.S. actually originated in American inputs.

It is also likely that the U.S. will find it seeking Mexico’s support in the near future. Neighborly collaboration is still necessary to face the myriad challenges both countries share, including climate change and cross-border drug policy. Will Mexico be there next time the U.S. needs it?

It now falls on American and Mexican citizens to defend and foster the peaceful relationship that has been built with much suffering over decades – not with Twitter diplomacy, but with human feeling.

The ConversationLuis Gómez Romero is a senior lecturer in human rights, constitutional law and legal theory at the University of Wollongong. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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  • Güerito

    Today it’s being reported that in their last telephone conversation, Trump told Peña Nieto:

    ** The US doesn’t need Mexico or Mexicans.

    ** Mexico is doing a bad job combating narco-trafficking, and if Mexico can’t do the job, it might be necessary to send the US military to defeat the cartels.

    ** The US is going to build the wall, and Mexico will pay for it, like it or not.

    ** He never really wanted to go to Mexico for the meeting last August.

    It’s reported that in response to this last comment, Peña Nieto began to stutter, unable to respond.

    • Dbearas

      I seriously doubt that this was the conversation that was had mr. Trump does not appear to be that crass of a human being and the president of Mexico does not seem to be that week we can’t believe anything that we get on the mainstream media these days the only thing I will believe it’s right here it from the two men themselves

      • gypsyken

        Nothing that Trump may do is so crass as to be unbelievable, and he is such a chronic, pathological liar that nothing he says can be believed unless it is independently confirmed. Merely consider his claims that his inauguration had the largest attendance in history and that he would have won the popular vote for president had not 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally.

        • Dbearas

          Don’t believe the fake bs news put out by the ultra leftist press. its mostly bs.

    • cooncats

      No one is forcing Americans, Canadians and Europeans to use drugs. The customer is not always right.

      • gypsyken

        Absolutely right. The U.S., not Mexico, is responsible for the drug problem in the U.S. The importers and sellers of illegal drugs in the U.S. are only doing what they are supposed to do under free-market capitalism–making as much money as they can by meeting consumer demand–and much of the problem in the U.S. results from the promotion of addictive drugs produced, at enormous profits, by legitimate pharmaceutical companies. Mexico should only address the drug problems of its own residents.

  • Güerito

    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump threatened in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them itself, according to an excerpt of a transcript of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press.

    • rob smith

      What a statement from a US president “bad hombres down there” then again what do you expect from a guy who watches cartoons all day.

      • cooncats

        Taken in by fake news, eh?


        • rob smith

          Be very afraid of presidents who go to war against the media. It’s because they have a hidden agenda they don’t want you to know about.

          • cooncats

            I think we should be afraid of the media. I don’t see anyone out there these days to keep the heat on all the politicians, not just the ones they don’t like. I don’t see how we can have an informed public in either country with this kind of media.

            Somebody badly needed to blow the whistle on these biased, one sided and just plain sloppy, shallow and amateur excuse for journalists we have these days. Trump is doing it.

  • Dbearas

    This is a very interesting opinion and I agree that Americans and Mexicans should be working together to solve some common problems however it’s important to note the Mexicans seem to feel
    t eThe US owes there people a job and a place to work legal and illegal and this is not the
    case. The American government has the duty to protect its citizens and its sovereignty this includes its citizens economic rights US government has failed to protect its citizens economic rights and its sovereignty in this regard. Mexicans have also looked at the drug problem as us problem only since it didn’t affect them well it has obviously affected Mexico and the Mexican economy greatly is a horrible travesty in a enormous problem to Mexico’s future progress Mexico is going to need the u.s. is help so I believe that the first course of action for Americans and Mexicans is to open and honest discussion with each other about how we feel about each other and about the problems that we share before that is done nothing can be accomplished. Many Americans are ecstatic that we have a president who is actually standing up for our rights as a people and as a country and not just laying down and allowing the world to use us this is truly a new day in America I agree that mr. Trump could use a little restraint in regards to tweeting. There is a huge crisis in Mexico in regards to corruption the rule of law in basic human rights in regards to Public Safety and Security this has to be addressed immediately in Mexico desperately needs help from the US in this regards they have failed miserably in defeating corruption and providing basic security for the common people what surprises me the most is at the Mexican people have not demanded this security from their government they March in the streets when the gas prices go up but they don’t seem to care that they can be if their businesses can be extorted their children can be kidnapped xceteraObviously the Mexican people care about these issues but where has the public outcry been anyway it’s time for a two countries to get started solving these problems before they get much further out of control

    • rob smith

      If you think truckloads of Okes a la Steinbeck are going to roll up
      their sleeves and pick your fruit and vegetables good luck with that! If
      there is going to be a trade war with America’s fourth largest trading
      partner do you think Americans will somehow not be affected in a very
      negative way. To think not is very simplistic and naive.

      • Cool Hand Luke

        The only evidence I see here in regards to hatred and contempt seem to be in your posts.
        Sad, that nothing seems to be positive when you post it.

      • Dbearas

        Wont be too long and automation and robotics will take over all of the harvesting of veggies and fruit. in a trade war with mx the usa would destroy mexicos economy. not good or smart for either country but that would be the outcome.

  • rob smith

    Deep in their hearts Americans know they stole much of Mexico’s land. That is why they hate Mexicans so much.

    • cooncats

      Deep in my heart I’ve actually read the history, not the made up shit they feed liberal snowflakes these days and lo and behold it is clear Mexico couldn’t hold onto the land. What is even more clear is that they made the same mistake the native Mexicans made by joining with Cortez. They got swallowed up by the real enemy. Mexico actively solicited Americans to move into the southwest precisely because they couldn’t populate it, thinking they’d feast off of the economic wealth created and the new settlers would be good sheeple and put up with the endemic corruption of Mexican government.

      They were wrong and they paid the price.

      • rob smith

        100% wrong ever hear of the US Mexican war. “Mexico couldn’t hold onto the land” So if I am unable to win a war against an invader the USA I should lose it. So if Hitler occupys France he should have it.

        • cooncats

          Two hundred percent wrong. The war was at the end of all that migration the Mexicans lured into the southwest, not at the beginning.

          And yes, that is how it works in the real world, not snowflake land. You lose a war the winners get to decide what they want to keep. Hitler had France as long as he could keep it, no longer.

          • gypsyken

            Cooncats is a prime example of the fact that closed-minded conservative ideologues simply cannot be reasoned with. They simply cannot think rationally or critically. They rely on what are now called “alternative facts.”

          • cooncats

            And you are a prime example of a lefty who can’t carry the argument or present any facts of his own so they get personal.

  • Oh, my po’ Mexico is all disrespected and insulted and what all. Here’s the situation in a nutshell. For decades now, millions, literally, of us Mexicans have sneaked into the U.S. by various means, tunneling under walls, climbing over walls, flying into cities and overstaying tourist permits, trodding across the southern deserts with backpacks, etc. You name it, we’ve done it. While entirely ignoring visa requirements, i.e., American law.

    This has gone on so long, either ignored or encouraged by both Democrat and Republican administrations, that the character of America has change drastically in many areas where you can walk through neighborhoods, well, barrios, and not know that you’re not really in Michoacán instead of, say, Los Angeles or Houston.

    Here in Mexico we have places like San Miguel that are overrun with Gringos. Lots of English heard. Lots of people who cannot speak the language of the nation they’re in. Lots of boutiques charging in dollars, not pesos. Lots of people dressed like clowns. But most of the Gringos are here legally. I will give them that.

    Imagine Mexico with not just one San Miguel or Ajijic, but hundreds, literally. Hundreds. Full of English-speakers and most in Mexico illegally, oops, I mean “undocumented immigrants.” How would Mexicans like that? I’ll tell you. Not one dang bit, and something would be done about it.

    Mexico has no right whatsoever to be getting insulted by Trump. Mexico brought this upon itself. Well, with the help of quite a few Democrat and Republican administrations up north. But American citizens rose up and said, enough already! We’re taking back our country. And they elected Trump.

    Mexico had it coming. What’s surprising is that it took so long.

  • cooncats

    Nothing complex here at all. Mexico has one standard for stuff and people going north and quite another for the same going south. The people of the U.S. with the exception of the radical left and the predatory capitalists that feed off of a created labor surplus to pay substandard wages and benefits, and the globalists who export American jobs to an economy that pays sweatshop wages, are fed up with the double standard.

    Trump is not an isolated example or something new. The pressures have been building for a long time and the pot is finally starting to boil over. The ruling elite of both countries ignores this reality at their own peril. Here in Mexico this could very well result in the election of Obregon, a populist rabble rouser like Trump.

  • gypsyken

    I invite U.S. expats who deny that Il Duce Trump is a fascist to consider the “Early Warning Signs of Fascism” poster in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. ( It provides a useful and revealing checklist.