Amid rapidly deteriorating relations between the US and Mexico, reports are emerging that President Donald Trump openly threatened military intervention in a phone call with his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto. According to a partial transcript of the conversation obtained by the Associated Press, Trump told Peña Nieto: "You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it." ("Bad hombres" is a term Trump also used in his final debate during the presidential campaign to refer to Mexican narco-gangs.)
AP said it obtained the transcript excerpt from a "person with access" who provided it on condition of anonymity. The Mexican news website Aristegui Noticias published a similar account of the call, based on reporting by journalist Dolia Estévez. The report described "a very offensive conversation in which Trump humiliated Pena Nieto."
Mexico's Exterior Secretariat quickly denied the Aristegui Noticias account, saying it "is based on absolute falsehoods," and later said the statement also applied to the excerpt published by the Associated Press.
The prospect of an actual war with Mexico may not be as far-fetched as it seems. On Jan. 6, an official with the US consulate in Guadalajara was wounded in a shooting attack on his car as he was driving out of a parking garage at a shopping center.
Nightmarish narco-violence continues to be a near-daily phenomenon across Mexico. Four were killed when gunmen attacked the Quintana Roo state prosecutors' office with bullets and improvised explosives in the resort city of Cancún on Jan. 14. One day earlier, five were killed and several injured in a shoot-up of an electronic music festival at a venue in nearby Playa del Carmen. A banner that appeared on a nearby roadside declared the area the territory of the "Old School Zetas."
And the official authorities continue to be nearly as lawless as the drug cartels they are ostensibly fighting. UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst delivered a preliminary report Jan. 24 decrying that human rights defenders in Mexico are themselves targeted for rights violations. Rights defenders are arbitrarily arrested and detained, and their families threatened, to silence them. The report found that nearly 98% of crimes committed in Mexico remain unresolved, contributing to "the sense of widespread impunity."
The US has long been backing Mexican security forces in their lawless drug war through the massive aid program known as the Merida Initiative, despite the human rights crisis in the country. Activists have for years been protesting to call a halt to this aid. But if the White House now adopts a position of open hostility to the Mexican government, we could be looking at a far greater disaster.