A former federal district attorney, 51-year-old Mancera took office in 2012 after winning three million votes. Once a champion of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), he says he is happy not to be affiliated with an organization riven by internal disputes.
His background makes him one of the most visible left-wing candidates in the 2018 presidential race, which he is openly interested in entering. Yet despite his own moderate, pro-dialogue attitude, Mancera is now recommending “taking a tougher stance” in view of Donald Trump’s threats against its southern neighbor, which have apparently triggered a new national unity movement in Mexico.
Mexican society needs to understand that it has to change
Question. There is a lot of talk about standing united. But behind who or what?
Answer. The country was at a point where the prevailing feelings were annoyance and anger. That was creating unity. And suddenly this disruptive thing came along and set off a fuse. It’s the people who are showing unity, which can be very important to build things. But I don’t think it will last very long if the government does not work well.
Q. Is President Enrique Peña Nieto overwhelmed by the situation?
A. National unity means the unity of Mexicans, not uniting behind the government. The president has a vote of confidence from many people because he must represent the country in negotiations with Trump. But he has a mandate to be unyielding, strong and dignified. If the president were to make a mistake, he could face an adverse wave of public opinion. My proposal is to not bring back any bad news to Mexico; not to raise the price of fuel again, for instance.
Q. You asked for business leaders to join the renegotiation of NAFTA.
A. Trump is running his country like a businessman. He is thinking how he could acquire a company called Mexico, or how to control it in such a way as to make it his subsidiary. But Mexico is not part of Trump’s holding. Let’s listen to the business community. Many of Mexico’s leading businesspeople are already known to Trump because they are making million-dollar deals and the US needs them.
Q. What guidelines should Mexico follow during the negotiations?
A. We must be very firm and make the most of the situation to position certain issues. If NAFTA is going to be opened up, it must include labor policies – better salaries for Mexican workers – and environmental issues. Peña Nieto must go about it very carefully. Trump’s team talks about negotiating, but he is sending out aggressive messages. We need a group of business leaders to send out aggressive messages of their own.
Trump’s team talks about negotiating, but he is sending out aggressive messages
Q. Should Mexico take a tougher stance?
A. Yes. Trump has realized that Mexico can take a tougher stance. We are not going to say amen to everything.
Q. Does this national unity require a leader?
A. This unity is asking for someone to tell Trump that he will not be allowed to cross the line or to harm Mexicans, whether they live here or in the United States.
Q. Who would you like that leader to be?
A. I’m happy in the role of someone who says what the city needs to say. I have told Peña Nieto that we want a firm president who will defend Mexicans.
Q. What is Mexico City doing to prepare for alleged mass deportations?
A. The city has one fund to cover emergencies and another for social welfare programs. Deported and returning migrants are included in productive processes. That is why we need the businessmen. They have a niche for these deported men and women who can speak English. We should make the most of that. The problem is not a mass expulsion per se, but an expulsion that would include not just Mexicans but also Central American citizens at the border. I don’t think Trump is going to break any deportation records.
Q. After this crisis, what needs to change in Mexico?
A. Mexico will have to turn to other trade partners, and the United States will have to realize how bad it is to lose a strategic partner that offers cheap labor and quality products.
Q. In social terms, will there be any changes?
A. I think that the Mexico City Constitution seeks to stabilize very deep inequalities. When we talked about a minimum wage, everyone was shocked, even though the change comes 30 years late. Mexican society needs to understand that it has to change.
Q. Why did you not win the minimum wage battle despite your good relationship with the business world?
A. We achieved substantial improvements, but now, with higher gasoline prices, part of the effect has been lost. I want to keep insisting on this issue with business leaders.
Q. Has the political system run out of steam?
A. There is a pressing need for change. The Constitution considers the possibility of a coalition government. It is in nobody’s interests to have someone win with 27% of the vote and then be unable to govern. This national unity we are seeing has to lead to a political unity. The limits between the left and the right are still holding society back significantly.
Q. Are you still interested in running for president?
A. Yes, but I am more interested in projects than in parties. I am interested in projects that can rally the whole of society together. I still think I can be an independent backed by different parties.
English version by Susana Urra.