Earlier in the day, Donald Trump threatened to cancel the planned visit by Peña Nieto if his government wouldn’t pay for the border wall the new US president wants to build between the two countries.“The U.S. has a 60 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico,” Trump wrote via Twitter on Thursday. “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.”
The meeting between the two leaders was aimed at discussing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but the decision to cancel will now open up a deep diplomatic crisis between the two nations. The public humiliation of Trump’s tweets, as well as his signing on Wednesday of an executive order to give the go-ahead for the building of the wall, was such that, despite his initial reticence, Peña Nieto decided to cancel the visit.
Relations between the US and Mexico have not been in such a critical situation for decades.
Before Thursday, and despite mounting pressure, Peña Nieto had yet to personally confirm whether his controversial scheduled visit to Washington on Tuesday would go ahead. “It is my duty to confront problems and face up to challenges,” he said on Wednesday night in a message broadcast on the social networks.
The president had been under pressure from all sides to cancel the meeting following Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that work is to begin immediately on a wall along the US border with Mexico. “I will have to make decisions about the next steps to take,” added Peña Nieto.
But Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, speaking in a television interview, had appeared to confirm that the visit will go ahead. “The work meeting between the presidents in Washington continues to be confirmed. I want to be very clear, for now, the meeting stands,” he said on the Televisa channel on Wednesday.
China overtook Mexico as the largest source of migrants into the United States in 2013
In his video, which was posted on Twitter and Facebook, Peña Nieto said he regretted Trump’s decision to go ahead with construction of a wall. “Mexico does not believe in walls,” he added, saying that his country “will not” pay for the work. He also sent out a message of support to Mexicans living in the United States: “The 50 Mexican consulates will defend the rights of migrants. Our communities are not alone.”
Mexicans across the political and cultural divide are united in their opposition to Trump’s plans, with many having called on Peña Nieto to cancel his visit.
“President Trump: your wall is an offense to us,” said Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the head of the leftist Morena movement and a candidate in next year’s presidential elections. He had called on Mexicans to support Peña Nieto ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.
One of the few politicians who was backing the visit, he asked the president to represent “our people with dignity and all human beings who dream of a just world,” and to “elevate the decorum and image of Mexico.”
Cuahtémoc Cárdenas, Mexico’s veteran left-wing leader, had called on Peña Nieto to cancel the visit, pointing out that Videgaray and Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo were snubbed when they visited Washington on Wednesday to begin high-level negotiations over NAFTA.
Former President Vicente Fox, of the conservative PAN party, called on Peña Nieto to take a tough line with Trump. “Mexico is not going to pay for that fucking wall,” he said.
Other senior figures from PAN said that Peña Nieto should reconsider the visit. Roberto Gil, a former Senate house speaker said it made “no sense” to attend the meeting. “Trump made it clear that the conversation with Mexico will be on his terms,” he said.
Trump’s visit was a particularly embarrassing moment for a president whose popularity has plummeted, The then-Republican presidential candidate not only refused to apologize for his innumerable insults about Mexicans during the US presidential campaign or his plans to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, but he also turned the meeting with Peña Nieto into a campaign stunt. Hours after returning to the United States he spoke at a rally in Arizona, telling the crowd: “Mexico will pay for the wall: 100%. They don’t know it yet, but they will pay for the wall.”
Writing in the daily Reforma, Luis Ernesto Derbez, a former economy minister, said that Peña Nieto risked being humiliated if he met Trump, pointing out that Mitt Romney, a fierce critic of the property magnate during the election campaign, agreed to talk with him after the election about a possible post in the new administration and was then sidelined.
Enrique Krauze, one of the country’s most-respected intellectuals, called on Peña Nieto to stand up to Trump and refuse to negotiate, reminding him of the war between the two countries in the mid-19th century. “Mexico did not negotiate the forced sale of territories to the USA. Mexico refused to sell them. And we defended ourselves. That is the way to act.”
English version by Nick Lyne.