President Donald Trump’s late-January call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was originally reported as “a very offensive conversation” in which Trump lambasted Peña Nieto and hinted at harsh unilateral US action against Mexican drug traffickers.
But transcripts released by The Washington Post — which match up with parts of excerpts that were released after the initial report — suggest that while Trump did bring up some of those topics, the call itself appears to have been less sinister than first thought.
According to the February report, Trump complained about the poor job Mexico’s military was doing against narco trafficking and “even suggested to [Peña Nieto] that if they are incapable of combatting [narco trafficking] he may have to send troops to assume this task,” said Dolia Estevez, who reported the original version of the conversation.
“It was a very offensive conversation where Trump humiliated Peña Nieto,” she said at the time.
According to The Post’s transcript, Peña Nieto’s reference to migration, and its relationship to economic conditions, prompted Trump’s discussion of security:
“We do not want them coming across. We have enough people coming across, we want to stop it cold. … And we have the drug lords in Mexico that are knocking the hell out of our country. They are sending drugs to Chicago, Los Angeles, and to New York. Up in New Hampshire – I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den – is coming from the southern border.”
Trump did refer to what he saw as the inadequacies of Mexico’s security forces in dealing with drug traffickers and organized crime and did mention US military support, but, based on the transcript, the reference appears to have been less confrontational than originally reported.
“You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with, and we are willing to help you with that big-league. But they have to be knocked out and you have not done a good job of knocking them out. … And I know this is a tough group of people, and maybe your military is afraid of them, but our military is not afraid of them, and we will help you with that 100 percent because it is out of control – totally out of control.”
Trump went on to discuss taxes before turning to the issue of his proposed border wall, telling Peña Nieto that his government could not keep saying it would not pay for the wall, “because I cannot live with that.”
“Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important to talk about,” Trump said of the wall.
“In terms of security, Mr. President, it is clear that organized crime is just as much our enemy as it is the enemy of your administration,” Peña Nieto responded.
Trump’s reply again referenced military cooperation:
“Enrique, you and I have to knock it out – you and I have to knock the hell out of them. Listen, I know how tough these guys are – our military will knock them out like you never thought of, we will work to help you knock them out because your country does not want that. Your citizens are being killed all over the place, your police officers are being shot in the head, and your children are being killed. And we will knock them out.”
Peña Nieto replied that the traffickers in question were being financed in large part by the US demand for illegal drugs and armed with weapons flowing over the border illegally — points he made with Trump’s predecessor last year.
The border wall continues to be a central part of Trump’s presidency.
Despite his earlier insistence that Mexico would finance its construction, however, his administration and the Republican Party appear to have accepted Peña Nieto’s refusal, including $1.6 billion as a down payment on the wall in a spending bill passed by the House at the end of July.
US law-enforcement agencies have long and deep relationships with their Mexican counterparts, and Trump doesn’t appear to have made an significant changes to US-Mexico security cooperation during his first six months in office either.
The latest sign of that cooperation is a BuzzFeed report that a US Marshals Service plane circled a town in northwest Mexico a few days prior to and on the morning of the capture of a bodyguard for one of Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s closest associates.
The details of Trump and Peña Nieto’s actual exchange are unlikely to boost the domestic image of either leader.
Trump’s approval ratings have continued to fall after he earned the distinction of being the most unpopular president at the six-month mark of the presidency.
Peña Nieto, whose tenure has been blighted by numerous scandals and missteps, has seen his job-approval rating fall into the teens, while his party, the center-right PRI, is in third place among voters a year ahead of the country’s presidential election.