|Edited by Max J. Rosenthal and Ruby Mellen|
Trump tweets and Mexico's presidential hopefuls fire back
The targets of President Trump's tweeted wrath are legion. They include online retail giant Amazon, the Democratic Party, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the mainstream media and undocumented immigrants known as "dreamers." But even among them, Mexico holds a special place of honor.Trump, of course, launched his presidential campaign with an infamous slur against Mexicans and a promise to fortify the border using Mexican money. There have been endless complaints about Mexican trade, attacks on a "Mexican" judge (a native-born American, in fact) and any number of other broadsides.
So it's hardly a surprise that on Sunday and Monday mornings — possibly provoked by Fox News coverage as well as ultranationalist White House aide Stephen Miller — Trump again focused his rage on the nation to the south. What followed was a blizzard of misinformation.
Trump attacked Mexico for supposedly allowing drug smugglers and hordes of migrants to rush over the border. (There's no evidence of increased flows, and Mexico in many ways is doing Washington's dirty work on its own southern border.) He then tethered his skepticism over DACA — an Obama-era policy that exempts hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children — to the imagined threat that new undocumented arrivals would seek to claim the same status. (That's just not how it works.)
Trump then referred to "caravans" of migrants marching through Mexico to the U.S. border. (There is, in fact, only one such "caravan," an annual activist stunt aimed at generating media attention for asylum seekers and migrants from Central America.) And, for good measure, he threatened to stop the "cash cow" that is the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he is bent on either renegotiating or jettisoning as part of his "America First" agenda.
In the face of this onslaught, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray tweeted a polite response. "Every day Mexico and the U.S. work together on migration throughout the region. Facts clearly reflect this," he wrote, referring to Trump's frenzy over "caravans." "An inaccurate news report should not serve to question this strong cooperation. Upholding human dignity and rights is not at odds with the rule of law."
But it's not clear how much longer Mexico's leadership will be as measured as Videgaray. As Trump fumed in his Florida mansion on Sunday, the Mexican presidential campaign formally got underway, and all the leading candidates took the opportunity to bash the tweeter in chief next door.
Conservative challenger Ricardo Anaya said he would confront Trump with "a strong and dignified stance." He struck back at Trump's complaints over the border, linking U.S. gun laws to cartel violence that afflicts parts of Mexico. "Eighty percent of the guns used to kill people in our country come from the United States,” he said.
Last month, while campaigning among Mexicans in California, Anaya decried the apparent timidity of Videgaray's boss, President Enrique Peña Nieto, in the face of Trump's bullying. He also offered solidarity with Mexican migrants living in the United States.
"I want to ask you, with my heart in my hand, that every time you hear an aggressive or denigrating expression, remember that there, in Mexico, you are the heroes of the country; the brave, the enterprising, the generous, those who dared to cross the border to give their family a better future," Anaya said.
In the port city of Veracruz, which U.S. troops occupied in 1914, López Obrador promised during a January speech that "we're going to put [Trump] in his place." On Sunday, at the border city of Ciudad Juarez, he told a cheering crowd that “neither Mexico nor its people will be the piñata of any foreign government.”
López Obrador, 64, blends that defiant nationalism with populist resentment over the systemic graft that still shapes Mexican society and politics — what he calls "the mafia of power." It's a stigma that Peña Nieto and his ruling party have been unable to shake. "Neither security issues nor social problems can be resolved with walls,” López Obrador said in Juarez, attacking Trump’s “mistaken foreign policy” and “contemptuous attitude toward Mexicans.”
"Mexico is now a democracy, but there is profound discontent with its results. Most Mexicans resent, and rightfully, the meager economic growth of the past few decades and the persistence of poverty and inequality," historian Enrique Krauze wrote in the New York Times last month. "And four terrible problems complicate this situation: violence, insecurity, impunity and corruption. In the face of this desolating balance sheet, the natural reaction in any democracy is to punish the government in power."
Some American and Mexican critics to the right of López Obrador style him as a Hugo Chávez-in-waiting and a danger to the U.S.-Mexican relationship. His disciplined campaign, after narrow defeats in the past, suggest those fears are possibly overblown. And in the age of Trump, his populism hardly seems any more a threat to the North American status quo than the politics that have taken root in the White House. The two may prove one another's best enemies.
"If Lopez Obrador wins and meets his vow to respond harshly to Trump’s tirades against Mexico, Trump would be able to tell his base: 'You see, I told you so. Mexico is not a friendly nation,' " Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer wrote. "The two nationalist-populist presidents would feed one another — and help each other with their respective political bases — with an escalating war of words."
“The Trump administration will pressure U.S. immigration judges to process cases faster by establishing a quota system tied to their annual performance reviews, according to new Justice Department directives.
"The judges will be expected to clear at least 700 cases a year to receive a 'satisfactory' performance rating, a standard that their union called an 'unprecedented' step that risks undermining judicial independence…
"Some immigrants facing deportation wait years for a court date, and are typically authorized to work in the United States to support themselves during that time, an arrangement critics view as an incentive to illegal immigration.”
• Here’s a vivid snapshot of what’s taking place: Trump routinely growls about the threat posed by MS-13, the deadly Salvadoran gang that first formed in Los Angeles prisons. As the gang's influence grew, it traumatized a generation of Salvadoran youth. Tens of thousands have fled the country’s violence over the past decade, with many enrolling in high schools in the United States. Hannah Dreier, an immigration reporter for Pro-Publica, tells the grim story of Henry, a teenaged MS-13 member desperate to get out. But when he went to authorities in Long Island, they sent him into deportation proceedings, and he now faces certain death back home:
“Under normal circumstances, Henry’s choice would have been his salvation. By working with the police, he could have escaped the gang and started fresh. But not in the dawning of the Trump era, when every immigrant has become a target and local police in towns like Brentwood have become willing agents in a nationwide campaign of detention and deportation. Without knowing it, Henry had picked the wrong moment to help the authorities…
"Since Trump’s election, the Suffolk County Police Department has stepped up its cooperation with ICE, targeting suspected MS-13 members for deportation. Shipping suspects back to Central America is easier and quicker than proving they have broken the law; even if suspects have committed no crime, ICE can petition to have their immigration bail revoked. In effect, it is a repeat of the same failed strategy that led to the creation of MS-13. The gang first spread to El Salvador from Los Angeles amid a wave of deportations in the 1990s… Now, by deporting children who have come to America seeking escape from MS-13, the Trump administration is only intensifying the cycle that drove them here in the first place.”
• After congratulating Russia’s Putin for his not-so-democratic reelection, Trump followed suit with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on a Monday phone call. Sissi, fresh from a landslide victory in a race where he allowed no meaningful challengers, now may be contemplating finding ways to extend his rule beyond the eight-year term limit. From the Wall Street Journal:
“Allies of Mr. Sissi say they plan to press for a change in the constitution that would allow the former general to stay in power beyond the current eight-year limit. Critics say his supporters are using the election to position the president to become ruler for life, stirring memories of past presidents who remained in power for decades…
"Supporters of an extension are drawing encouragement from a global trend of authoritarian leaders removing obstacles to their continued rule. Pro-Sisi commentators increasingly point to the model of China, where the government recently removed term limits to allow President Xi Jinping to remain in power for life.
"‘Let me tell you something, there’s no bigger country than China, and they just changed the constitution to give the president an open term, up to life,’ television host Imad Eddin Adib said last week."
• Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of Nelson Mandela and one of South Africa’s most prominent and polarizing figures, died at a hospital in Johannesburg on Monday. She was 81. From The Washington Post’s obituary:
"At the time of her death, long after her divorce from the country’s first democratically elected president, Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela was still called 'the Mother of the Nation.' And in many ways, she epitomized the so-called 'new' South Africa far more than her idealized former husband.
"She was beautiful and violent. Her bravery under the brutal apartheid regime won her lasting respect and adulation; allegations that she was the kingpin of a deadly vigilante group during the 1980s earned her fear and mistrust…
"She at times harshly criticized the African National Congress — the political party that she also called her 'family' — most recently condemning it for the continued economic disparity that has left millions of black South Africans in poverty. Yet since the end of apartheid in 1994, she served many roles in the South African government, from member of Parliament to the head of the ANC’s Women’s League…
"Fraud convictions, insubordination and allegations of crimes, from corruption to murder, all seemed, at different points, to spell her downfall. Yet Mrs. Madikizela-Mandela always rebounded.”
My colleague Cleve Woodson wrote on her marriage to Mandela: “Their marriage had endured his incarceration and hers. It had weathered her hard-won ascendance in the movement to end systematized racism in Africa’s southernmost country and his inability to be a physical presence in his family’s life. In the end, it was a marriage that survived prison, but not freedom.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday he would scrap controversial plans to deport African asylum seekers, saying he had reached an “unprecedented understanding” with the United Nations to help resettle many of these migrants in Western countries. Many others would be allowed to remain in Israel.
But just hours later, Netanyahu hit the brakes — writing on Facebook that he would suspend the new plan until he had met with delegates from south Tel Aviv, where many African asylum seekers now live.
The sudden shift reflects how nettlesome the issue of African migrants has become, both within Israel and abroad. While the deal would have eased international anger with Israel over its deportation plans, many of Netanyahu's core supporters oppose letting large numbers of migrants in the country.
That right-wing base largely views Africans as economic migrants who entered the country illegally in search of work. But liberal Israelis argued that many of these migrants would face persecution if they returned home, with some critics of deportation comparing the asylum seekers’ plight to that facing Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.
The Israeli government pushed back against critics, in particular those who labeled the deportation policy racist, noting that thousands of Ukrainian and Georgian migrants were deported last year without being offered the $3,500 relocation payment that was being offered to migrants from Sudan and Eritrea to leave.
About 38,000 Sudanese and Eritreans now live in Israel, most of whom entered the country illegally via the land border with Egypt before a border fence was completed in 2012. In the initial statement released by Netanyahu’s office, Israel said it would work with the United Nations to resettle at least 16,250 migrants in Western nations — Canada, Italy and Germany were mentioned as possible destinations — over five years. An equivalent number would receive temporary residency in Israel.
Some pro-migrant groups had welcomed the decision. The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, a group that advocated for asylum seekers, welcomed the news, noting that it was symbolic that the announcement had happened during Passover, “the holiday of freedom.”
But many felt that the decision had come out of the blue. “I don’t think anyone was expecting it in Israel," said Yonatan Jakubowicz, the founding director of the Israeli Immigration Policy Center and a supporter of the deportation policy. “The government will face opposition." — Adam Taylor
The big question
With Russia and the United States locked in a tense battle of diplomatic expulsions, this may not seem like the best time for President Trump to cozy up to Vladimir Putin. But the president himself apparently has other ideas. The Kremlin said on Monday that Trump invited Putin to meet him at the White House, an offer extended during a March 20 call in which Trump also offered controversial congratulations to Putin for winning re-election last month. So we asked Post White House bureau chief Philip Rucker: How does Trump think a Putin meeting would benefit him?
"Simply put, no leader has more confidence in the sheer power of his own charisma than Trump. The president sees himself as a master deal-maker with a singular charm and an innate ability to win over even his most hostile critics.
"Those critics have been particularly sharp on Russia. The foreign-policy establishment believes that Trump is trying to personally ingratiate himself to Putin by going soft on Russian actions and avoiding any criticism of Putin himself.
"One recent example was Trump's decision to congratulate Putin on his re-election — ignoring the pleas of his national security advisers, who had written 'DO NOT CONGRATULATE' on the president’s briefing materials before the call. Trump also declined to bring up the virtues of free and fair elections, as his predecessors routinely did during such conversations.
"Trump likely sees such overtures as just another part of his charm offensive. On the campaign trail, he explained his praise for Putin as a strategic ploy to cultivate Russia as a partner of the United States in solving some of the world’s seemingly intractable problems — the nuclear stalemates in Iran and North Korea, as well as general unrest in the Middle East. If the two leaders can spend extended time together in person, all the better.
"Trump has certainly long been consistent on the virtues of a warm relationship with Russia, both during the campaign and in office. Last month, amid criticism about the Putin call, Trump snapped on Twitter: 'The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.'"
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