Between a Wall and a Hard Place

How Trump Is Disrupting Mexican Politics

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at a meeting of OPENAL in Mexico City, February 2017. Edgar Garrido / Reuters

On June 11, the U.S. national soccer team will play a World Cup qualifier in Mexico. If any event can act as a gauge of current Mexican sentiment toward its northern neighbor, it will be this. Matches between the United States and El Tri, Mexico’s national team, are always raucous affairs, but this time around, the political climate between the two countries will take things to a whole new level.

In Mexico, U.S. President Donald Trump’s vow to “build a wall” along the U.S.-Mexican border, and to have Mexico pay for it, as well as his fiery rhetoric about illegal migrants and enhanced deportation measures, has created a rare moment of unity behind Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. That’s something the U.S. team will see in full form during its trip to Mexico City.

Mass protests in several Mexican cities on February 12, including around 20,000 people in the capital of Mexico City alone, have been the most public displays of the nation’s rejection of Trump’s putative policies. Meanwhile, the Mexican government’s official response to the Trump administration has been carefully, if forcefully, worded, even if former President Vicente Fox has, perhaps, better captured the current national mood with a series of expletive-laden tweets against any wall-building plans.


How long Mexican unity can last is another matter. Whatever a Mexican official’s opinion of Peña Nieto, even the slightest indication that he or she does not stand firmly behind him in his rejection of Trump’s demands would be tantamount to career suicide in the current climate. The president’s approval ratings rebounded five points in January (although they remain stuck below 20 percent overall) after his rejection of a bilateral meeting with his U.S. counterpart in protest against the latter’s public declarations on Mexico. As one important sign of cross-party cooperation, the main opposition National Action Party (PAN) was happy for one of its own, Gerónimo Gutiérrez,

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