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View From Mexico On Trump's Border Shutdown Threats


There was an element of suspense in President Trump's threats to close the border with Mexico, and perhaps that was intentional. The president made it seem like it could happen any day. Then, yesterday, he said he'd give Mexico one year to help reduce the number of migrants traveling to the U.S. and drugs coming across the border. After that, the threat gets specific.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If the drugs don't stop - Mexico can stop them if they want - we're going to tariff the cars. The cars are very big. And if that doesn't work, we're going to close the border. But I think that'll work. That's massive numbers of dollars.

MARTIN: President Trump heads to the border today. We're going to get the view from the other side with NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City.

Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So we just heard the president there saying Mexico could stop them if they want, talking about the number of migrants and drugs in particular. What does Mexico say about that?

KAHN: Well, Mexico's president consistently doesn't take the bait. You know, he just keeps the same tone with President Trump's threat. He keeps saying he won't be provoked, and he will be, quote, "prudent in his reaction." He wants a peaceful relationship with the U.S. You know, when he's pushed, though, the most he'll say is he thinks that closing the U.S.-Mexico border won't serve anyone's interests. And domestically, it just doesn't play well for the president to challenge every comment, tweet Trump makes. Lopez Obrador is really popular. He has consistently 80 percent approval rating, so it does him no good to go at it with Trump.

MARTIN: What about the aid issue? Because President Trump has said that Central American countries - Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in particular - he believes haven't been doing enough to stop the flow of migrants. So he has said he's going to pull U.S. aid to those countries. What's the reaction you've been hearing from people there?

KAHN: There's a lot of concern about what happens now. President Trump has directed the State Department to cut the aid from fiscal year 2018. That's about $450 million for the three countries. Many people I've talked to say cutting this money in the programs that are already ongoing would just be devastating and counterproductive.

So I talked to this one 16-year-old boy who lives in a particularly dangerous Guatemalan neighborhood in the capital. His name is Randall Gonzalez. He's a pretty articulate teen, and he's in this program that gets about $40 million spread out over five years to work in 100 - more than 100 communities and schools in Guatemala. It's funded through USAID and administered through Mercy Corps.

And he was just telling me about walking to school past this gang household two doors down from his house. And once he gets into school, he just breathes this sigh of relief. He says it's a sanctuary. And the program he attends there, funded through this program, he says it's changed his life. He's more confident. He's taking on leadership roles, and he would never join a gang.


RANDALL GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says he thinks it's selfish of Trump to cut them off, especially just as he and his friends are making a change in their community.

MARTIN: So is this the kind of school, the kind of program that would be subjected to these cuts?

KAHN: Exactly, yes. This was already funded, and it's in its, I think, third or fourth year. So the last year and a half would be cut.

MARTIN: So what's a place like that do? I mean, any of these programs - what are the options if that aid turns off?

KAHN: Doesn't seem like there's a lot of options. I talked to the program director of Mercy Corps in Guatemala that runs this program. His name is Marcelo Viscarra. And he said there's just - there aren't these big donors waiting in the wings to help them out. And he says that it'll just be heartbreaking for him to tell the recipients - these school principals, these participants - that the money has been pulled.


MARCELO VISCARRA: I can't imagine going to those schools and telling, hey, we have to shut everything down. We have been working so hard.

MARTIN: But I heard you say, Carrie, that the president has already directed the State Department to make these cuts. So this is a done deal, essentially. They are going to have to face this reality.

KAHN: Well, there's still a lot of questions about how it'll be cut, when it'll be cut and what Congress' role in that. So we'll just have to wait and see when those questions are ironed out.

MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thanks, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.