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Opinion Andrés Manuel López Obrador: Mexico will wage a battle of ideas against Trump

Andrés Manuel López Obrador speaks during a rally last month at the Revolution Monument in Mexico City. (Christian Palma/Associated Press)

Andrés Manuel López Obrador is chairman of the National Executive Committee of the National Regeneration Movement and is a contender for the Mexican presidency in 2018.

President Trump owes his electoral triumph last November in large part to the propagandistic use of political slogans designed to play on the frustrations of sectors of U.S. society burdened by unemployment, poverty and creaky, inefficient public institutions. The strategy was to deflect attention from those very real problems and focus instead on imaginary enemies.

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Trump’s plan was based on a faulty reading of the situation and on promises that cannot be kept, both because of their vagueness and because they collide with inescapable economic realities. The overriding aim was to reach the White House, even if it meant promoting racial hatred, mass paranoia and an imperial arrogance that is obsolete in today’s world.

If the offensive against Obamacare failed, the trashing of the free-trade agreement between Mexico and the United States turned out to be unfeasible, and the building of the border wall was mired in budgetary, legal, technical and even environmental problems, the new administration could at least move to criminalize and persecute migrant workers — and that is what it did.

On Nov. 9, 2016, it became clear that the Mexico-U.S. bilateral relationship had entered a rocky phase. This was due not only to the incoming Trump administration’s policy of xenophobia and racism and the threat to block trade, but also to the arbitrary and abusive plans to force Mexicans to pay for a border wall. This wall is neither a Mexican nor a binational project, but an attempt to strong-arm and humiliate Mexico that is unacceptable and incompatible with international law.

The night before, our party issued a statement emphasizing that Mexico is a sovereign nation and expressed our solidarity with migrants of all nationalities who are living in the United States. We asked President Enrique Peña Nieto to take a firm and dignified stance against the assertions of the incoming administration, which Peña did not — and will not — do. The National Regeneration Movement instructed its U.S.-based committees to offer legal assistance to our fellow citizens at risk, and we called upon all Mexicans to summon the national unity so greatly needed in this new situation.

After his inauguration, Trump doubled down on his anti-Mexican rhetoric and hardened his stance against migrants. Given the total apathy of Peña Nieto’s government and his unwillingness to defend our compatriots, we filed a complaint with the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on March 15.

Mexican workers who go to the United States are not, as candidate Trump claimed, criminals, drug traffickers or rapists. The overwhelming majority of them are honest, hard-working people, displaced from their own country by the social disasters created by three decades of neo-liberal governments that have destroyed national industry, rural productivity, the public education and health systems, and citizen security, and have encouraged the rise of the criminal forces that now terrorize Mexico. These exiles make a dual contribution that is essential to the economies of both countries: They pay U.S. taxes and provide the cheap labor that allows the United States to stay competitive with Europe and Asia, and they send more than $20 billion in remittances to Mexico every year.

With a view to repairing the bilateral relationship and defending our citizens in the United States, we have set out to do two things: First, to explain to the people of the United States that they have been misled by demagogic rhetoric designed to feed an electoral ambition and obscure the real causes of their situation; and second, to show Mexican migrants the importance of their presence and their work north of the border and help them see how the application of liberal dogma in Mexico has affected their lives.

Regardless of Trump’s decision to stir up xenophobia and racism, we think the best way to defend migrant workers is to offer them opportunities for a decent life in Mexico so that they will not be forced to leave. To do this, Mexico must restart economic growth, create jobs and improve general living conditions. This means taking steps to reenergize agricultural production, boost the productive sectors and raise wages if we hope to make a dent in the migrant flow.

Obtaining the budgetary resources to do this will require an unyielding, head-on fight against corruption in public office, a legally and morally intolerable practice that currently results in the disappearance of more than $50 billion annually. If we were to invest that sum in education, health, housing and a broad economic stimulus, we could see a radical turnaround in the current national situation of decay, crisis and despair.

Our objective is to simultaneously attack the root causes of immigration, insecurity and violence. We are convinced that the true solution to Mexico’s problems is to improve the living conditions of its people, not to unleash military force against criminal organizations.

We intend to form a government that shows respect for our neighbor to the north while never yielding in our determination to defend Mexican sovereignty. To this end, we will wage a battle of ideas against those who promote selfishness, class bigotry, fear-mongering and discrimination of all types, and we will seek to persuade Trump that his foreign policy is flawed and counterproductive.

With this in mind, we call for a harmonious relationship between our two countries, one based on cooperation for development. When we work together, everyone wins. But in confrontation, the United States and Mexico will both lose.