MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has stood quietly for months in the face of U.S. President Trump’s threats, bullying, and insults. But the mass shooting in El Paso, which killed at least 22 people, including eight Mexican nationals, has inspired a role reversal.
Now, López Obrador and other leaders in his administration are the ones talking tough, forcefully shaming the U.S. for the rise of xenophobic language emanating from its borders and its inaction on gun control.
This act of violence “has to do with the hatred, the phobia, the inequality that gives rise to and causes so much damage,” López Obrador said on Sunday night in a publicly televised address. “Nothing is resolved with violence, and nothing is resolved with what we know as xenophobia, hatred of foreigners, hatred of migrants.”
López Obrador’s speech followed similarly strong rhetoric from his foreign minister, who vowed to pursue the shooter’s extradition to Mexico and take legal actions against the company that sold the gun he used.
The immediate outpouring from Mexico's leaders, which appeared aimed at Trump despite not mentioning him by name, could mark a turning point in the evolving relationship between Mexico and the U.S., experts say, one that could push Mexico to have a more aggressive response to its northern neighbor.
“This act has woken up the Mexican government. Because it’s been in a very passive, and submissive position when it comes to President Trump’s demands and threats,” said Eduardo Rosales Herrera, a professor of political science and international relations at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
“This act has woken up the Mexican government”
The massacre also could reignite Mexico’s long-standing calls for more gun control in the U.S, which is responsible for roughly 70 percent of guns seized in Mexico and submitted for tracing, according to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Experts say the sale of American firearms in Mexico is directly contributing to Mexico’s all-time high murder rate.
On Sunday, López Obrador took a veiled shot at American gun laws. “In Mexico, there’s control over guns. In other countries, it’s like buying any merchandise. There’s no control.”
U.S. federal authorities are treating the mass shooting as domestic terrorism. They’re investigating a racist, anti-migrant manifesto believed to be posted by the suspect just minutes before the shooting. The 2,300-word document was posted on 8chan, a platform for racist and anti-Semitic content, and warns of an “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
State prosecutors in Texas have announced they will pursue the death penalty against the suspect, identified as 21-year-old Patrick Crusius of Allen, Texas.
Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Sunday that Mexico may attempt to extradite Crusius to Mexico to face charges of committing terrorist acts against Mexicans in the U.S.
“This individual is a terrorist,” Ebrard said. “Mexico declares its profound rejection and complete condemnation of this barbaric act, in which innocent Mexican men and women lost their lives.”
But it’s unlikely Mexico will be able to follow through on its threats to extradite the suspect or go after the gun dealer.
“Both ideas sound nice, but frankly, unrealistic,” said Gustavo Mojar, a former top intelligence and migration official in Mexico. In terms of legal action, he said the most likely outcome is that relatives of the victims will sue for civil compensation.
“Both ideas sound nice, but frankly, unrealistic”
Duncan Wood, director of the Mexican Institute at the D.C.-based Wilson Center, said the chances of extraditing the suspect to Mexico are nil. “Under what legal precedent? This is a crime that took place in the United States,” he said.
Still, Mexico’s response to the shooting marked a significant shift in tone for Mexican authorities. said Roberta Jacobson, the former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, who left the post in May.
“This is an interesting turnaround,” said Jacobson, noting that normally it’s the U.S. demanding the extradition of Mexican suspects to the U.S. to face charges. “There will be pressure on López Obrador to press harder against Trump in terms of demonizing Mexicans and Hispanics in the United States.”
López Obrador’s strong response to the shooting in El Paso may offer a way for him to show strength and authority, especially after acceding to Trump’s demands that Mexico act at the U.S.’ de-facto enforcement arm on migration, said José Luis Valdés, a professor of political science at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Over the past several months, the Mexican president has repeatedly declined to respond to Trump’s threats and insults toward Mexico and migrants. After Trump threatened to impose damaging tariffs on Mexico if they didn’t stop the flow of migrants, López Obrador was remarkable restrained, only going as far to say that the Mexican people “don’t deserve this kind of treatment.”
In a major concession, he deployed Mexico’s National Guard to stop the flow of Central American migrants from reaching the U.S.
This is an opportunity for López Obrador and Ebrard "to rebuild themselves before the Mexican public," Valdés said.
Cover: People gather in Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in a vigil for the Mexican nationals who were killed in an El Paso shopping-complex shooting. Twenty-two people were killed and dozens more injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)