Mexicans to stage largest protests against Trump and his border wall plan

People gather at El Zocalo square during a protest against the increase in the price of gasoline and US President Donald Trump's plan of building a wall between Mexico and the US, in Mexico City on Jan 31, 2017.
People gather at El Zocalo square during a protest against the increase in the price of gasoline and US President Donald Trump's plan of building a wall between Mexico and the US, in Mexico City on Jan 31, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

MEXICO CITY (AFP) - Mexicans are planning their largest protests yet Sunday (Feb 12) against US President Donald Trump, hitting back at his anti-Mexican rhetoric and vows to make the country pay for his "big, beautiful" border wall.

Marches are planned in some 20 cities across the country, including the capital, Mexico City, with throngs of people expected to turn out dressed in white and waving the red, white and green of the Mexican flag.

Dozens of universities, business associations and civic organisations are backing the protests, which start at 12 pm (2am Monday Singapore time).

"It's time we citizens combine forces and unite our voices to show our indignation and rejection of President Trump, while contributing to the search for concrete solutions," said the coalition behind the marches.

US-Mexican relations have plunged to their lowest point in decades since Trump took office on Jan 20.

Trump, who launched his presidential campaign calling Mexican immigrants "criminals" and "rapists," has infuriated the United States's southern neighbour with his plan to stop illegal immigration by building a wall on the border - and in particular with his vows to make Mexico pay for it.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto canceled a Jan 31 trip to Washington over Trump's insistence that Mexico pay for the wall.

Trump has also wrought havoc on the Mexican economy with his threats to terminate the country's privileged trade relationship with the United States, blaming Mexico for the loss of American jobs.

The Mexican peso has taken a beating nearly every time Trump insisted on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), attacked car-makers and other companies that manufacture in Mexico, or vowed to slap steep tariffs on Mexican-made goods.

Mexico sends 80 per cent of its exports to the United States - nearly $300 billion in goods in 2015.

The confrontation has stoked patriotic pride in Mexico, where US companies like Starbucks, Coca-Cola and McDonald's are the targets of boycott campaigns and many people have taken to putting the Mexican flag in their profile pictures on social media.

That new nationalism appears to be giving a boost to Mexican presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, whom some political analysts call a "leftist Donald Trump" for his populist, anti-establishment rhetoric.

Lopez Obrador - widely known by his initials, AMLO - was the runner-up in the past two presidential elections.

He is leading in opinion polls for presidential elections in 2018 - and appears to be benefiting from Trump's anti-Mexican vitriol, which has badly dented the popularity of Pena Nieto and the ruling PRI party, seen by many as too conciliatory toward a bullying neighbor.

Ironically, a Lopez Obrador victory next year could work to Trump's disadvantage, giving him a far more hardline counterpart to work with.

As Sunday's protests unfold in Mexico, Lopez Obrador will be visiting the United States to address both Mexicans and Americans in Los Angeles about Trump's "poisonous" rhetoric.

"This campaign... of xenophobia, of causing hate, must be confronted," he said before leaving.

"We Mexicans are being persecuted. It's all a political strategy, so I will go to the United States precisely because of this."