By Ann Deslandes
. (AP, Reuters)
The El Paso shooting last weekend could mark a redirection of recently agreeable relations between Mexico and its northern neighbour.
Mexico has been largely compliant with the demands of US President Trump, but change could be in the air.
The Mexican Government has made an uncompromising response, calling the shooting “an act of terrorism” against Mexicans in the US and demanding the US take measures to protect Mexican communities on the other side of the southern border.
“Mexico is outraged. But we aren’t proposing to meet hate with hate,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters on Sunday.
“We will act with reason and according to the law and with firmness.”
‘A climate of ill will’
The massacre in El Paso, a city on the US border that is twinned with the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez, ended the lives of eight Mexican nationals and injured seven others and was clearly racially motivated against Latinos.
The shooter posted a “racist, anti-immigrant screed” online before killing 20 people in a Wal-Mart carpark, saying his actions were a response to a “Hispanic invasion of Texas”.
Hatred of Mexicans in the US has been highly amplified since the ascension of Donald Trump to the US presidency.
Mr Trump has referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers and there is an increasingly clear line between his rhetoric and the enabling of racially motivated violence.
Hector Vasconcelos, the president of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Mexican Senate, said on Monday: “It is evident to me that this climate of ill will towards the foreign, the different, the other has been animated in recent years by the discourse of the White House itself.”
A symbolic break could happen
The US has been escalating pressure on Mexico for months, and the southern neighbour has, by and large, capitulated.
In June, Mexico agreed to further militarise its border with Guatemala in a deal to prevent the US from imposing additional tariffs on Mexican imports. In that month, 29,153 migrants were detained in Mexico, the largest number in a single month in recent history.
Overall, Mexico has detained 99,203 migrants this year and deported 71,110 of them.
Mexico also agreed this year to Mr Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy whereby asylum seekers granted a hearing in a US immigration court are required to stay on the Mexican side of the US/Mexico border until their case can be heard — an experience described by the New York Times as “disastrously difficult” for the asylum seekers.
But the El Paso shooting may well mark an at-least-symbolic break between the two nations.
“We will always defend our people. Mexico will always be our priority” said President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, popularly known as AMLO, in his usual daily press conference on Monday.
Mr Lopez Obrador also urged Mr Trump to “stop the messages of hate”.
“Use of force and coercive measures to face the problems we have is not the way forward,” he said, noting Mexico has been insisting on co-operation for development in the region.
Mexico is already pushing back
In the week leading up to the shooting, Mexico had already begun to suggest it had perhaps bled enough for the US this year when Mr Lopez Obrador rebuffed one of Mr Trump’s orders whereby Mexico would become a ‘safe third country’ for asylum seekers.
Under the order, migrants arriving in Mexico with the intention of seeking asylum in the US would first have to request asylum in Mexico. Mr Ebrard said the rule would mean, “a limitation on the right to asylum, with which Mexico is not in agreement”.
“I think the Government is speaking to the Mexican electorate here,” Catalina Perez Correa, a law professor at Mexico’s Centre for Economic Research and Teaching, told ABC News.
“Part of the electorate is disappointed with how AMLO handled relations with the US. When he was campaigning to become president, he said he would not allow Mexicans to be bullied,” Dr Perez Correa said.
“And then when Trump threatened to raise tariffs, AMLO agreed to do the US’s bidding.
“I think we have to read the Government’s response to the recent hate crime in this context.”
Dr Perez Correa also noted the US’s weak gun-control laws have a flow-on effect in Mexico, where murder rates are at an all-time high and firearms are involved in most killings. It is estimated the US is the source of at least 70 per cent of guns in Mexico, which has much stricter gun controls.
She said she thinks “Mexico’s negotiating position has gone” with the US since the agreement to crack down on migrants.
If Mexico did regain any power in negotiations with the US, Dr Perez Correa said she would like to see Mexico ask the US to tighten its gun controls; something former Mexican ambassador to the US has also suggested.
It’s personal on the border
On the border, the larger political problem is intensely personal.
Ivonne Moriel grew up in Ciudad Juarez and now lives in El Paso.
“We are numbed. We are heartbroken,” the 48-year-old told ABC News by phone.
“I work for an advertising agency. And we learned this morning that one of our co-workers lost her great uncle [in the shooting]. He was 90 years old and his wife is in the ICU.”
It’s typical of the binational towns across the US/Mexico border. Where nationally there may be some support for Mr Trump’s wall, here the local ties are much stronger.
“We all know each other, we are connected,” she said.
“We are a strong city. This will only make us stronger.”
Ann Deslandes is an Australian journalist in Mexico City.