In a video message distributed via social media, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced late Wednesday that he would consult with other Mexican political actors on fundamental aspects of the U.S-Mexico relationship. But Peña Nieto did not immediately respond to a cascading chorus of calls from Mexican politicians and media personalities that he cancel his planned Jan. 31 meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington.
The Mexican leader’s message followed a veritable political firestorm that erupted in Mexico after U.S. President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order on Tuesday clearing the way for the construction of the border wall he promised during the election campaign.
Trump’s order came as two senior members of Peña Nieto’s cabinet, Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray and Economy Secretary Idelfonso Guajardo, were in Washington for preparatory talks related to Peña Nieto’s previously scheduled visit.
Across Mexico’s political spectrum, sharp reaction followed Trump’s border wall action and his reiteration that Mexico will pay for the construction of the envisioned, massive barrier. Party of the Democratic Revolution Senator Armando Rios Pitter, who is an increasingly frequent face on television talk shows, joined National Action Party (PAN) Senator Roberto Gil Zuarth in calling on Peña Nieto to cancel the Washington visit, with Zuarth going as far as defining Trump’s order as “a hostile, enemy act.”
Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, considered by some the “moral leader” of the Mexican left, and Margarita Zavala, former President Calderon’s wife and a 2018 presidential hopeful for the conservative PAN, also urged Peña Nieto to forego the Washington trip. Javier Bolanos, president of the lower house of the Mexican Congress, voiced the same opinion.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, leader of the center-left Morena party and the emerging frontrunner in the 2018 presidential race, advocated internationalizing the border wall issue. “The wall attacks us and leaves the Statute of Liberty a legend. We will go to the international tribunals. Long live fraternity,” the former Mexico City mayor and two-time presidential candidate wrote on Twitter.
Lopez Obrador, known as a relentless critic of Peña Nieto, recently raised eyebrows over his support for Peña Nieto in regard to the Mexican president’s upcoming dealings with the Trump White House.
Cutting criticism of Trump and the border wall was forthcoming from even the usually tamer quarters of the mainstream Mexican media. On Grupo Formula, for instance, television journalists and commentators Jose Cardenas, Ricardo Rocha, Jorge Castañeda and Rafael Cardona variously suggested that Peña Nieto consider canceling the Washington meeting, recalling the Mexican ambassador and sending a diplomatic note of protest. Cardenas characterized Trump as a “professional bully,” “imprudent” and an “idiot.”
In addition to repeating a vow that Mexico would not pay “one cent” for the border wall, Peña Nieto mentioned Trump’s executive actions on immigration as cause for concern. The Mexican president told social media viewers that the Secretariat of Foreign Relations would redouble defense of Mexican immigrants in the U.S., and that he would consult with the Mexican Congress, the National Governors Association and administration officials on the appropriate course of future actions connected to U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations.
“We reiterate our friendship with the people of the U.S. and the will to come to agreements with its government,” Peña Nieto said. “Agreements in favor of Mexicans.”
Trump communicated his own response in two tweets early Thursday: “The U.S. has a 60 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers of jobs and companies lost. If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”
Kent Paterson is an independent journalist who covers issues in the U.S./Mexico border region.