According to a transcript obtained by AP of the phone call which took place on Friday morning between President Trump and his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Pena Nieto, and which was intended to patch things up between the new president and his Mexican peer a day after Pena Nieto called off his visit to the US, Trump threatened to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them itself.
The excerpt of the call did not make clear who exactly Trump considered “bad hombres,” – drug cartels, immigrants, or both – or the tone and context of the remark, made in a Friday morning phone call between the leaders. It also did not contain Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s response. Nonetheless, the excerpt “offers a rare and striking look at how the new president is conducting diplomacy behind closed doors.” As AP puts it, Trump’s remark suggest he is using the same tough and blunt talk with world leaders that he used to rally crowds on the campaign trail.
“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt seen by the AP. “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.” The phone call between the leaders was meant to diffuse the escalating tension between Trump and Pena Nieto. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.
A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided an excerpt to The Associated Press. The person gave it on condition of anonymity because the administration did not make the details of the call public. A Mexican reporter’s similar account of Trump’s comments was published on a Mexican website Tuesday. The reports described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontation conversation.
As Business Insider further adds, citing an interview between the Mexican news outlet Aristegui Noticias and Dolia Estevez, a journalist based in Washington, DC, who cited sources on both sides of the call, “It was a very offensive conversation where Trump humiliated Peña Nieto.”
“I don’t need the Mexicans. I don’t need Mexico,” Trump reportedly told the Mexican president. “We are going to build the wall and you all are going to pay for it, like it or not.”
Trump hinted that the US would force Mexico to fund the wall with a 10% tax on Mexican exports “and of 35% on those exports that hurt Mexico the most,” Estevez wrote in Proyecto Puente.
“He even complained of the bad role the [Mexican] army is playing in the fight against narco trafficking,” Estevez, who writes for Forbes and is close to the Mexican journalist and anchorwoman Carmen Aristegui, said during an interview with Aristegui’s eponymous news outlet. Trump “even suggested to [Peña Nieto] that if they are incapable of combatting [narco trafficking] he may have to send troops to assume this task,” she said.
The US president “said he would not permit the drugs coming from Mexico to continue massacring our cities,” Estevez added. She said Trump went so far as to say, “I really didn’t want to go to Mexico last August,” referring to Trump’s visit to the Mexican capital last year.
Peña Nieto was accompanied on the call by people from his country’s foreign ministry, while Trump was joined by “the famous son-in-law,” likely meaning senior adviser Jared Kushner, and chief strategist Steven Bannon. Kushner is reportedly close to Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, and they were seen as the likely go-betweens for the two governments.
“Before this unusual onslaught, Peña was not firm,” Estevez said. “He was stammering.”
This is where the AP’s transcript comes in to fill in the remaining blanks.
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As expected, Mexico’s foreign relations department denied that account, saying it “is based on absolute falsehoods.” The reason is obvious: if accurate, it shows just how little leverage the Mexican president has, if he allows Trump to talk in such a manner.
“The assertions that you make about said conversation do not correspond to the reality of it,” the statement said. “The tone was constructive and it was agreed by the presidents to continue working and that the teams will continue to meet frequently to construct an agreement that is positive for Mexico and for the United States.”
Trump has used the phrase “bad hombres” before. In an October presidential debate, he vowed to get rid the U.S. of “drug lords” and “bad people.” “We have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out,” he said. The phrase ricocheted on social media with Trump opponents saying he was denigrating immigrants.
Trump’s comment was in line with the new administration’s bullish stance on foreign policy matters in general, and the president’s willingness to break long-standing norms around the globe.
While prior to his inauguration, Trump irritated China when he spoke to the president of Taiwan, breaking long-standing U.S. policy, and his temporary ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries caused consternation around the world, nothing has created the level of bickering as the border wall, a centerpiece of his campaign. Mexico has consistently said it would not pay for the wall and opposes it. Before the phone call, Pena Nieto canceled a planned visit to the United States.
The fresh fight with Mexico last week arose over trade as the White House proposed a 20 percent tax on imports from the key U.S. ally to finance the wall after Pena Nieto abruptly scrapped his Jan. 31 trip to Washington.
Trump has since tasked his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner – a real estate executive with no foreign policy experience – with managing the ongoing dispute, according to an administration official with knowledge of the call. At a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May last week, Trump described his call with Pena Nieto as “friendly.”
A White House spokesman did not respond to the AP’s requests seeking a comment if Trump indeed threatened to invade Mexico.