From time immemorial the migrant has been both reviled and defended in different parts of the world. I quote verbatim from the Bible: “You shall not exploit the humble and poor laborer, whether he be one of your brothers or a stranger living in your cities.” (Deuteronomy 24.14). But as history has shown us, this principle is often broken, and, beyond this, the persecution of migrants has been used for political purposes. This is how we must understand what is happening today in the United States of America.
Today’s anti-migrant campaign is not only an economic issue, but fundamentally a political one. A specific group is taking advantage of the rise of nationalistic sentiments that permeate here and throughout the world.
The discontent in the U.S. is due of course to unemployment and low wages, just as people were upset about inflation in Germany before Hitler. But to blame these misfortunes on particular social or cultural groups, domestic or foreign, has an obvious political implication.
Donald Trump and his advisors have benefitted from stirring up certain sectors of U.S. society against immigrants and, particularly, those of Mexican nationality.
The discourse of hate and the viciousness against foreigners enabled them to win the presidency and they assume they are going to remain in power and be re-elected by feeding the hatred of some groups against others.
We must not underestimate the capacity of those currently in the United States government; they are not stupid. Donald Trump’s belligerent discourse follows a cold and calculated political strategy. The content, the technique and the propaganda used are inspired in the theory developed during the 20th century regarding the defense of “living space” (lebensraum) against supposed external enemies combined with the glorification of superiority and patriotism.
It was a mistake not to call more attention during the U.S. presidential campaign to the efficacy of this political strategy grounded in awakening hatred and nationalism. It was either not considered particularly important or people in the U.S. did not know how to counteract it. But there is still time to address the causes of the problem and lessen the damage, starting with a recognition that this phobia against the outsider is now deeply ingrained.
A few days ago, several newspapers published a story about an American couple who had dinner at a restaurant in Texas and on the bill they left a message that said: “The food was delicious and the service was good; however, the owner is Mexican, so we will not come back,” finally adding Trump’s signature phrase, “America first.”
These clever but intolerant and irresponsible neofascists now in power want to build walls in order to turn the United States into an enormous ghetto. Mexicans in general, and in particular our countrymen who have immigrated to the US, fulfill the same function today as the Jewish people who were stigmatized and persecuted during Hitler’s time.
This is why, in light of such barbarism, we must not limit our actions to protests and denunciations in the international arena, but rather we must take on the essential task of informing people within the United States itself. Right here we must stand up to the campaign of hatred and the violation of human rights. We must focus our attention in particular on those Americans of good will, and there are a great many, to help them see that they are being victims of manipulation and deceit. We need to pay special attention to Americans living in rural areas and small towns, those Americans that hold civic, moral and spiritual values, but, nevertheless, live in hopelessness and are being poisoned with hate against migrant workers.
Let us remember that Trump won in 2,548 counties, while Hillary Clinton won only in 472, even though these represent 64 per cent of U.S. economic activity.
But it is in the small counties where the people who were most affected by the 2008 economic recession live and it is there, where the majority of the workforce is Anglo Saxon, that the industrial jobs have not been recovered. In contrast, in the last few years new jobs have been created principally in the service sector in large metropolitan areas, where there is a higher share of Latin American, Asian an African American workers.
We need to communicate with those populations most hurt by the economic recession. We should explain with solid arguments the causes of the crisis which affects them. We must help them to see that migrants are not to blame for their unemployment or for the reduction of their salaries or wellbeing. The blame lies with an elitist government that punishes all of those on the bottom rungs of society and the middle class while benefitting those on the top. We must explain, for instance, that when the 2008 crisis hit, the government first saved bankrupt financial institutions instead of helping the people. We have to talk to them about poor income distribution, and about how while they pay a great deal in taxes, the wealthy pay very little.
We also need to inform them that the largest industrial plants installed in Mexico belong to American investors or businessmen who export both merchandise and profits back to the United States, leaving very few jobs or taxes in our country. Many of the plants are highly automated so that they can increase production without an intensive use of labor.
Generating employment here in the U.S. therefore does not solely depend on companies not leaving the United States but on many other factors. That is the case in Mexico, where despite all of the talk about the supposed success of our export model, our economy has remained stagnant for more than three decades.
The promotion of an elitist economic system does not lead to economic development or job creation. Trump often argues that the United States buys more from Mexico than it sells, that there is a $60 billion dollar deficit. This is not entirely true, because our exports contain a high percentage of U.S. capital, technology and inputs.
In other words, if it were true that the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA) only benefitted Mexico, our economy would not have stagnated nor would there be migration to the United States. In 1970, when exports represented only 7.8% of Mexico´s GDP, the economic growth was at 6.5% annually. In contrast, today, when exports amount to 35.3% of GDP, our economy grows by only 2.5% annually. Mexico therefore is not growing based on our trade with the United States. Although we export a high value, we also import the majority of that value.
These and other arguments should be disseminated in the United States. By offering sound reasons we can convince the population affected by the economic crisis that, without hate and rancor, it is possible to build better societies on both sides of the border grounded in the ideals of justice and universal brotherhood and sisterhood.
Instead of hostility, the best for our respective peoples and nations is respect, mutual understanding and cooperation for development.
In this context, we call on US scholars and intellectuals with civic, social and democratic values to draw up a plan by which we can convince and persuade workers and the middle class in the United States that migrants are not their enemies, but brothers and sisters, admirable human beings who, just like the founders of this great nation, were forced to leave their places of origin out of need, not because they desired to.
We must counteract Trump’s strategy with a commitment to fundamental principles: not with shouts and insults responding to their provocations, but with intelligence, wisdom and dignity, with non-violence. This is a battle we must undertake in the terrain of ideas. It is a struggle against those who encourage selfishness and in defense of the forgotten ones, so that we can together stop the growth of resentment against those who are from another class, nationality or religion. To the discourse of hate we must respond with the spiritual principle of love for others.
To incite hate against migrants is to attack all of humanity. We became human when we set out from our places of origin and strode forth.
Our ancestors, of all of us, left Africa, reached the Middle East and Europe, possibly even Mexico. It has been demonstrated that they then settled in Asia and from there they populated the American Continent.
Migration is the foundation of nations and this great country of the United States is an example. The strength of modern cultures is in the sum of all the influences, languages, and knowledge which have contributed to their creation.
Humans have moved a great deal and have populated almost the entire world, but we all come from one same home. Today we acknowledge our shared history through the universal value of brotherhood and sisterhood.
That is why, when a wall is built to segregate people or when the word “foreigner” is used to insult, disparage or discriminate others, humanity, intelligence and history themselves are being insulted.
However, I am optimistic. I believe that the wall and the demagoguery of chauvinism will not survive in the face of the talent and dignity of the people of the United States. I wager that with clear argumentation, the strength of public opinion will manage to bring to reason those who, like Donald Trump, today choose to use threats and force.
Here in the state of California, a blessed refuge for migrants, I would like to remember and honor César Chávez, an exceptional activist and leader, who taught us that freedom is not implored, but conquered. Here, from Los Angeles, we want to express to all Mexicans on this side of the border our most sincere solidarity, an active, committed, impassioned and fraternal one, and also make this solidarity extensive to all of the Latin American and other migrants from the entire world.
I would like to inform you that our movement has established a special commission in the state of California, headed by Héctor Vasconcelos, Morena’s Secretary of Mexicans Abroad and International Politics, and Jaime Bonilla, President of Morena’s Baja California State Committee, that will be in charge of the following tasks:
- Coordinating work with scholars and activists to draw up a plan for the creation of committees at the county level and for disseminating a message of reason and fellowship to the U.S. population.
- We will use the mass media and social networks in order to make information available in English and in Spanish in the United States.
- We will also publish a special edition of the Regeneración newspaper to be distributed outside of churches, union halls, stadiums, supermarkets, public spaces and shopping malls.
- The committee that represents us will bring together lawyers for the defense of migrants from Mexico as well as from other parts of the world. We shall build bridges and work together with other social, civic and migrant organizations in the U.S. in order to act jointly in the defense of human rights and against racial discrimination.
- If in the coming days the Mexican government does not present a formal complaint to the United Nations regarding human rights violations by the United States against Mexicans, we will do so ourselves. We demand compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which all signatories to the UN are committed to abide by. Specifically, Article 1º states: “All human beings are born free and equal in their dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Dear friends: At this time so full of threats and stridency, let us not lose sight of a U.S. president, a giant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in 1941 pronounced his commitment to defend four fundamental human freedoms:
- Freedom of speech.
- Freedom of worship.
- Freedom from want.
- Freedom from fear.
I want to thank each of you for being here in this famous Plaza Olvera of Los Angeles. Rest assured that we are working to confront hunger and poverty in our country so that in the not too distant future no one is forced to emigrate and people can find work where they were born, near their families, in their environment, and with their own traditions and culture.
We are fighting against corruption, which is Mexico’s principle problem. We have the firm conviction as well as the moral authority necessary to completely eradicate it. At the same time, we will be observing closely so as to prevent mistreatment against migrants from Mexico and the rest of the world.
Next week I will travel to Chicago and over the following month, I will be visiting seven other cities in the United States. I am committed to returning to Los Angeles. We shall meet again.
Friends, Mexicans, U.S. citizens, citizens of the world:
The most important priority is neither the United States nor the American continent. What is truly important is to build here on this earth the kingdom of justice and universal brotherhood and sisterhood.
As Martin Luther King used to say: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Andrés Manuel López Obrador is president of MORENA's national executive committee and the leading contender from the left in Mexico's 2018 presidential election. This speech was originally given in Spanish on Sunday, February 12, 2017, in Los Angeles, California's Plaza Olvera.