Facing Trump, Latin America Must Stand United With Mexico

A seawall in Gaza City on a cloudy day last month
Keep him out?
Eduardo Barajas Sandoval


BOGOTÁ The declarations Donald Trump made in last week's inauguration speech mark a major shift for the United States on both the domestic and international fronts. His nationalist exhortations, and call for other countries to follow the same path, are the kind of dangerous demagoguery that often leads to war and misery.

Trump's claims that "for too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost" and that "Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth" are not unlike words a new president might say in a 1970s Latin American capital, not to mention certain places in Europe in the 1930s.

The thanks Trump sent to "the people of the world" suggests imperial visions from someone seeking a universal mandate. Was he forgetting for a moment that inside the United States each state governor has more powers to handle his or her people's daily lives than anyone at the White House? He has shown little understanding of the world's complexities and the lengthy processes that have helped remove borders. These may be the ideas of someone who has only worked in his own companies, far removed from institutional realities such as the balance of powers or restrictions of international treaties.

There's no reason to think that, when harping on Mexicans throughout his campaign, Trump wanted to differentiate between Mexican migrants and those from El Salvador, Honduras or anywhere else in Latin America. If there were other Latin American countries bordering the United States, the Trump treatment would be the same, with insults and calls for a wall. Because ultimately, millions of Latin Americans have entered or want to enter the United States, or have children there.

For someone who talks so much about the injustices of a system co-opted by an indolent political elite, he ought to understand better than anyone the dynamics at work in so many Latin American countries. He would understand the reasons for migration and the tremendous commitment migrants can make to the country he now governs. He might be more considerate to Hispanic migrants and the work they do, so crucial to the U.S. economy in part because it is labor that so many Americans spurn.

The coming years will be a test for Latin America's strength and solidarity. Trump isn't just a problem for Mexico, which has already had its fair share of ordeals. This concerns all of our countries. We must not abandon Mexico, because from its border with the U.S. way down to the tip of the Southern Cone, we are all targets of a new policy and strategic vision. For so many reasons, from our shared histories to our current realities, we are all brothers with the Mexicans.

Our foreign ministries, which are sometimes shamefully used to curry favor with Washington, should be working on a common pact for a constructive dialogue with this administration. We must come together as a single Latin American bloc, because without a solid alliance, we won't be able to command the respect we deserve in the international power game. This is not the time for isolated ambition or opportunism. Any weakness on our part could have fatal consequences, any division will breed contempt. Because while me may hope for the best, with Trump now in power, we must expect the worst.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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