Mexican president considers cancelling US trip after Trump ordered building of border wall

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto gives a foreign policy speech after US President Donald Trump vowed to start renegotiating North American trade ties, in Mexico City.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto gives a foreign policy speech after US President Donald Trump vowed to start renegotiating North American trade ties, in Mexico City.PHOTO: AFP

MEXICO CITY (NYTIMES) - President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico is considering canceling his meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington next week, officials said on Wednesday (Jan 25), responding to broad public outrage in Mexico over Mr Trump's announcement that he will construct a wall along the southern border of the United States.

Mexicans across the political spectrum have been calling for Mr Peña Nieto to cancel the meeting since Mr Trump signaled his intention to build the wall late Tuesday night.

"In light of today's ambush and 'my way or the highway' policies, Mexico would do well in carefully re-evaluating the president's trip next week," said Mr Arturo Sarukhan, the former Mexican ambassador to the United States.

On Twitter, others had less measured words for Mr Trump's announcement, calling it "an offence to Mexico," a "slap in the face" and a "monument to lies."

Mr Trump's executive order complicates a relationship that had already grown tense during the US election campaign. His promises to build a wall, deport millions of Mexicans and cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) became harder for Mexicans to ignore. But Wednesday's broadside, coming as Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray was to begin his first day of preliminary talks in Washington, touched a new low in bilateral relations.


Pressure has been building on Mr Peña Nieto, whose approval ratings are near the single digits, to respond more forcefully to Mr Trump's provocations. So far he has resisted such calls, preferring dialogue to confrontation. But having his foreign minister greeted with an order for building a border wall was likely to chip away at that resolve.

Videgaray orchestrated Mr Trump's visit to Mexico during the campaign last year, when he was finance minister. The move drew such widespread condemnation that Mr Videgaray resigned his post.

After Mr Trump's victory, Mr Videgaray's fortunes revived and he became foreign minister. But any hope that his invitation could be leveraged in Mexico's favor now seem dashed.

Many Mexicans said they felt conciliatory gestures were no longer an option.

"It's like we are Charlie Brown and they are Lucy with the football," said Mr Jorge Castañeda, a former foreign minister of Mexico. "Peña is a weak president in a weak country at a weak moment, but he has to find a way to get some official backbone."

While Mexico does not want a war of words - or trade - with Washington, in recent days top government officials have gone on record saying they would be willing to walk away from Nafta if the negotiations did not suit Mexico's interests. That position was unthinkable even a few months ago.

For a new US president, Mr Trump is both extremely well known in Mexico and widely disliked.

His positions have unified an otherwise fractious country, where corruption, a fledgling rule of law and economic struggles have alienated many from political engagement. As his promises have begun to materialise into action, the public discourse is changing.

"This wall, instead of creating good borders, will inevitably and undoubtedly create more security problems for the US," said Mr Roberto Ortiz, 72, who sells GPS navigation units for drivers. "He will no longer enjoy Mexico's cooperation and help with these issues."

Still, despite the outrage, there was a recognition that the action was more political than substantive, like the wall itself. A meaningful stretch of the US border is already lined with a wall, and illegal immigration persists.

Most experts do not think a wall will make any difference.

"Symbolic gestures are not going to change the fact that we're neighbors and that our countries will affect each other in perpetuity," said Mr Carlos Pascual, a former US ambassador to Mexico. "We have no choice but to keep working for better solutions."

Others took the wall threat with a grain of salt, figuring Mexican creativity, or ingenuity, would render it useless anyway.

"This is just politics, it won't upend life in Mexico," said Mr Ariel Najum, 39, who runs a family business. "You know how Mexicans are: If they go high, we go underneath, with tunnels."