Mexico’s president says he rejects the decision by US President Donald Trump to build a border wall and repeated that his country would not pay for it.
President Enrique Pena Nieto did not address reports that he was considering canceling next week’s visit to Washington following Trump’s order to begin construction of the wall between the two countries.
In a recorded address televised nationally, Pena Nieto said “I regret and reject the decision of the US to build the wall.”
Earlier Wednesday, an official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press the administration “is considering” scrapping the Jan. 31 visit.
Trump’s order came the same day Mexico’s foreign relations and economy secretaries arrived in Washington for talks.
Critics of Pena Nieto — whose approval ratings were just 12 percent in a recent survey, the lowest for any Mexican president in the polling era — have hammered him for his perceived weakness on Trump. Opposition politicians urged him Wednesday to call off the trip.
“The position is very clear,” said Ricardo Anaya Cortes, president of the conservative opposition National Action Party. “Either one cancels the meeting with Donald Trump, or one attends it to say publicly and with absolute firmness that Mexico rejects the wall and we will not pay a single cent for it.”
Trump has vowed to force Mexico to pay for the wall, and also to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Pena Nieto and other officials have repeatedly said Mexico will not pay.
Analyst Jorge Zepeda Patterson argued that Pena Nieto should keep the meeting as scheduled, saying Mexico should exhaust all possibilities for negotiating to minimize damage. He said Pena Nieto should try to reach an agreement that’s enough to let Trump claim victory and then move on to another foil.
“Trump is more interested in boasting of an immediate success than an ambitious result. He is interested in appearances,” Zepeda said.
The U.S. president has also promised to step up deportations. He launched his campaign with remarks calling immigrants crossing in illegally from Mexico criminals, drug dealers and “rapists.” Trump added that “some” were presumably good people, but the comments nonetheless deeply offended many Mexicans.
Pena Nieto was roundly criticized after inviting candidate Trump to Mexico City last August and disappointed many of his countrymen by not publicly confronting Trump on the wall.
On Tuesday, ahead of their trip to Washington, the economy and foreign relations secretaries suggested that Mexico could leave NAFTA if negotiations with Washington are unsatisfactory — though that would not be the first choice.
Already Mexico is feeling the effects of the new tone from Washington. The Mexican peso has sharply devalued since Trump was elected, and several high-profile business ventures have been canceled amid threats to impose a border tax on goods made in Mexico and exported to the United States.