Fixing What is Breaking: Rex Tillerson’s Journey to Rekindling Inter-American Solidarity

By Cecilia Godoy

On Feb 1st, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson kicked off a Latin American tour to improve relations with the region. On the trip that began this past week, Tillerson is expected to start his tour in Mexico with later stops in Argentina, Peru, Colombia, and Jamaica. The campaign is essentially an effort to build on the Inter-American sentiment of solidarity and establish a unified front against the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. However, a significant level of rapprochement and diplomacy will be required to get these countries and allies on board. The Trump Administration has made it quite clear that the U.S.-Mexican relationship will be significantly different from what it was like during the Obama years. One of the president’s newest tweets attacked Mexico, calling it “the number one most dangerous country in the world,”[1] a statement that could damage relations with an important trading partner and ally.

On January 31st, the Secretary did serious damage control following President Trump’s inflammatory remarks about Mexico. Secretary Tillerson held talks with Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto and other senior officials to clarify America’s official position on issues relating to NAFTA and immigration. However, at the news conference following the meetings, Tillerson defended Trump’s attempts “to modernize the NAFTA agreement, and to crack down on both legal and illegal immigration.”[2] Additionally, he stated that one of the Trump administration’s key goals is to “clean up the troubled U.S. immigration system and lift the cloud of uncertainty on immigrants living without proper documentation.”[3] While both governments claim that diplomatic and economic relations are not at risk of changing, Rex Tillerson’s reception in Mexico City was decidedly frosty. Protesters voiced their outrage and discontent by taking to the streets and calling for Tillerson's resignation.

The upcoming Mexican presidential election in July will be critical in determining the quality of US-Mexican relations in the future. The front-runner, leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor, would take a more confrontational policy towards America which could further heighten the tension between the two countries. López Obrador has criticized the Trump Administration’s moves to deport unauthorized immigrants and has “promised to end a relationship of subordination to the United States.”[4] The ruling party’s candidate, Jose Antonio Meade, is currently third in recent polls.

The Trump administration’s rhetoric and actions over the past year, seems to have given rise to anti-Mexican sentiment in the United States. Before the Trump administration, it looked as though the U.S.-Mexican relationship was improving with both sides finally taking to each other.[5] Instead of furthering the progress made however, the Trump administration has used inflammatory rhetoric in order secure its position as the regional hegemon. It appears that the American public needs to be educated on the interdependence of US-Mexican relations. By understanding that benefits are being offered to both countries, the public will learn to value the social and economic relationship between these historical allies.