By RICARDO CASTILLO
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been down in the polls for so long that he’d forgotten what it felt like being up. That sensation, however, somewhat eased last week as he delivered a speech politely calling upon U.S. President Donald Trump to reign back his egregious horses.
The reaction to his speech was monumental. Immediately, every Mexican rallied behind him in a show of nationalism seldom witnessed as it would seem that Mexico’s favorite national sport – besides tax evasion –is bickering at each other.
Really, Peña Nieto had not had as good a moment as this one since Aug. 31, 2016, when his then-Treasury Secretary (and definitely still the most important person in his cabinet) and now-Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray talked him into inviting then-candidate Trump to visit Mexico. That was not a bad, but a horrific political mistake.
Immediately, Peña Nieto’s popularity plummeted and, as a result, he had to remove Videgaray out of the Treasury to place Videgaray’s buddy and now presidential candidate José Antonio Meade Kuribreña at the helm of the Treasury, or Hacienda, as it is called in Mexico.
Trump kept on pummeling against Mexicans and Mexico – while hypocritically calling Peña Nieto “a very nice gentleman” – much to the chagrin of the nation, which kept expecting its president to do something about keeping Trump out of the nation’s borders; Peña Nieto stayed mum.
As if Trump’s onslaughts were not enough to keep Peña Nieto’s popularity down, the Mexican president went on to continue carrying out his often unpopular Energy Reform and, in a breach of timing, he decided to liberate the fuels market a year in advance – originally slated for Jan. 1, 2018 – on Jan. 1, 2017.
The anti-Peña Nieto reaction was, to put it mildly, brutal. With higher prices at the gas pumps, throngs of people went berserk nationwide sacking stores, pillaging and plundering businesses without the Peña Nieto administration making any noteworthy efforts to stop the riots.
After the rampages finally subsided, a worse enemy of Mexico – the one we fear the most – stepped in: inflation. In fact, from a near 3 percent it rose up to a whopping 6.8 percent by the end of 2017. And as anyone knows in economics, the effects of inflation, even when subsiding, are indelible.
In the meantime, Trump kept his pummeling machine well-greased and pumping offenses towards Mexicans.
Even in the first three months during the hectic days of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations, Peña Nieto kept a low profile as Tweeting Donald kept on his barrage of threats against the renegotiation.
All went business as usual in the Mexico-U.S. relationship until the first week of April of this year, when Tweeting Donald began warning that Mexico was not doing its job of safeguarding its southern border and that a “caravan made of thousands and thousands” of Central Americans were heading to the U.S. border. This was, of course, the yearly Easter “Migrants’ Viacrucis,” or Path of the Cross. to show Mexico, not the United States, how difficult it is for Central Americans to get to the U.S. border. All in all, this year’s Migrants’ Path of the Cross was made at most by 1,500 people.
But not only did Trump exaggerate the number of migrants making the journey, but also threatened to take away Mexico’s “milk cow,” meaning NAFTA renegotiations, and cancel them altogether, a threat Mexicans have learned to live with and even not care about.
On Tuesday, April 5, Peña Nieto finally took a stand against Trump in a very serious and even – this was astounding – credible way. But not before three out of four of the presidential candidates stopped just short of calling him a wimp and that sort of thing for tolerating Trump’s barrage of threats and insults to Mexicans and Mexico.
Lame duck Peña Nieto seeing the end is near paid heed to the criticism of the candidates and in a most unusual speech, mentioned them by name and agreed that perhaps renegotiating NAFTA under duress was not a good thing for the nation. Plus, Peña Nieto also reacted to Trump’s ordering some U.S. border states’ national guards to help in border surveillance duties, which in Mexico was seen as close to preparations for yet another U.S. invasion.
The presidential candidates fell in behind a call by the Mexican Senate to ask the U.S. president to stop his belligerent statements and show the same respect for Mexico – and Mexicans – the Mexico shows for the United States.
Here’s a direct quote of Peña Nieto’s message to the nation last Tuesday, April 5:
“President Trump: If you want to reach agreements with Mexico, we’re ready, as we have shown up until now, always willing to hold a dialogue with seriousness, in good faith and with a constructive spirit.
“If your recent statements derive from a frustration for matters of internal policies regarding your laws or Congress, address them, not the Mexicans. We’re not going to allow for negative rhetoric to define our actions. We will only act in the best interests of Mexicans.
“Evoking the words of a great president of the United States of America (referring to John F. Kennedy): ‘Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.’
“We’re convinced that, in coming to an agreement, as friends, partners and good neighbors, things will fare much better for both countries than with confrontations. We are ready to negotiate, yes, but always on the basis of mutual respect.”
The message could not be clearer, and in fact, ever since last Tuesday, we’ve not seen Tweeting Donald do what he does (best-worst?) all the time: one phrase statements.
As for Peña Nieto, he’s momentarily enjoying an upwards sugar surge on behalf of the people of Mexico who have been disappointed with their president, but who are also very conscious of the fact that Mexico – not the American dream – is the only thing they’ve got. As one of the candidates (AMLO) put it: “The nation comes first.