Kelly and Tillerson: damage control. Kelly and Tillerson: damage control.

Will damage control save relations?

Mexico-US relationship continues to worsen due to Trump's inflammatory statements

Reprinted from InSight Crime


The U.S. Secretaries of State and Homeland Security visited Mexico in what appears to be an attempt to ease tensions between the two countries, but statements contradicting earlier U.S. presidential comments do not bode well for future security cooperation.

During a press conference last Thursday, the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, blatantly contradicted his president’s comments on the militarization of U.S. deportations during a diplomatic visit to Mexico, reported the New York Times.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump had boasted that the increased deportation of undocumented migrants under a new hardline policy amounted to “a military operation.” But alongside U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during the visit, Kelly said that the U.S. military would not be involved and that there would be no mass deportation.

Kelly also insisted that the policy would be implemented humanely and within the boundaries of U.S. laws. A joint statement by the two secretaries on the same day stressed the importance of maintaining close cooperation between Mexico and the United States.

The secretaries’ visit and comments clearly appear to be an attempt to salvage diplomatic relations between the two countries. These have taken another blow under the Trump administration this week, due not only to the aforementioned presidential directive that advocated for increased deportation back to Mexico — including of non-Mexican undocumented migrants — but also because of President Trump’s request for an assessment by last Friday of the foreign aid the United States provides to Mexico.

According to the New York Times, the strong implication behind this request is that the new administration may intend to leverage Mexico into paying for the infamous border wall by withholding aid.


Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray responded to these new developments by expressing his concern for the future of bilateral cooperation, reported the BBC. But according to the newspaper La Jornada, the Mexican top official adopted much tougher rhetoric in private with Mexican congressional representatives, warning that the country was prepared to engage in an economic war with the United States in response to harmful policies.

InSight Crime Analysis

The contradictory signals emanating from the White House reflect a lack of clarity within the Trump administration about its policies toward Mexico. While the president himself continues to make public remarks that inflame long-simmering tensions between the two nations, key members of his cabinet like Secretary Kelly appear to be attempting to reassure counterparts in Mexico that the United States is still willing to cooperate on issues such as security.

However, it is unclear whether these damage control efforts will be sufficient to mend the damage caused by Trump’s controversial pronouncements. Anti-Trump sentiment among the Mexican public has been growing ever since the real estate mogul began his presidential campaign by describing Mexican immigrants in the United States as “rapists” and criminals. This dynamic may make it difficult for political leaders to cooperate with the new president’s administration.

Indeed, the implication by Videgaray that his country’s government is willing to forcefully resist unpopular U.S. policies toward Mexico raises concerns about cooperation on important security issues. In a context of deteriorating bilateral relations, it is possible that Mexico may cut down on intelligence sharing or reduce efforts to stem migration and smuggling. And short of these steps, the simple fact of latent distrust between Mexico and the United States could impede day-to-day work on shared efforts to combat organized crime groups that operate on both sides of the border.

A glimmer of hope for the future of this cooperation may reside in Secretary Kelly. As InSight Crime previously explained, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security gained a nuanced understanding of security issues in Latin America during his tenure as head of the U.S. Southern Command. The former general, for example, has acknowledged the need to address violence and development in order to undercut the power of criminal groups.

The question is whether Kelly can convince the president to cut back on his divisive rhetoric in order to preserve a relationship that is crucial to security developments in Mexico, the United States and the region as a whole.

Tristan Clavel is a writer at InSight Crime, a foundation dedicated to the research of organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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  • cooncats

    Minor point of clarification here: Comparing something to a “military operation” is not the same as saying something is being conducted by the U.S. military. The Border Patrol and ICE are police forces and at least in the U.S. police forces are quasi-military. Inferring or suggesting that Trump was talking about operations conducted by the U.S. Military is simply incorrect. I suggest you add this edit to your piece lest you simply add to the climate of misunderstanding and hostility here.

    You are suggesting that Kelly is contradicting Trump. Unless you can show that Trump envisions actually involving the U.S. military you give the appearance of a bit of “fake news” here. That is the last thing this situation needs.

    I keep waiting for all the Trump bashing Mexicans to explain to us why millions of their countrymen found it necessary to leave their homes and families and go to the U.S. to survive. I keep wondering when the same folks will explain to us why a country with a population of very hard working and energetic people has a 50 percent poverty rate, why that same country is absolutely rife with corruption and theft of public monies and why the media seem more intent on scapegoating the neighboring country for the cardinal sin of wanting their immigration laws respected rather than addressing all the foregoing.

    I keep wondering when some of you will notice what an incredible lost resource all those millions of departed Mexican people represent.

    Perhaps it is time to stop being victims and blaming everyone else for the failures and lost opportunities at home that drive this entire situation?

  • K. Chris C.

    So long as Mexico bows down, kisses the US tyranny’s ring, and promises to no longer court China, the US tyranny will continue to import Mexico’s poor for use as de facto slaves, and continue to permit remittances to flow south.

    If Mexico continues to court China, see Iraq, Libya, Venezuela, and Afghanistan for possible outcomes.

    An American citizen, not US subject.

    • Hailey Mannering

      Certainly, more Mexicans would live in Mexico if the “War on Drugs” ended. Most of us would probably agree that certain US interests (and their paid Latin American puppets) want to continue the war, despite the harm far outweighing the good.

  • GOPerson

    As I have grown older and perhaps wiser, it seems to me men have not been maturing as they should. Mexico has been sucking on the teat of the US for 60 years and has finally been called on it. Their pride has been hurt so they bluster and moan, knowing all the while that it is past time for them to grow up and shoulder their responsibilities. All the politicians in Mexico feed at the public trough and it must stop. And I hope when the remittances from the US cease, the politicians step up and do what is right for their citizens and get their hand out of the till.

  • Henry Wilson

    “inflammatory statements” aka the nation of the USA finally saying enough is enough to bending over for the Mexican government sending all of its losers to dump on us to keep social peace and a lid on their unemployment issues. Enough to giving Guatemalans and Salvadorans a free pass across their nation to dump them on us. Enough of the criminal government in Mexico City thinking they have an inherent natural right to dump whomever and however they want of their social ills on us. Yeah…those inflammatory statements. Agreed.

  • Peter Maiz

    The short answer is no, nada, zip.