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Mexico’s president to meet with Donald Trump amid populist pressure at home

world Updated: Jan 22, 2017 10:30 IST
Reuters, Ixmiquilpan (Mexico)
US-Mexico ties

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto makes a toast during a meeting with members of the diplomatic corps in Mexico City.(Reuters)

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and US President Donald Trump will meet at the end of this month to discuss trade, immigration and security issues, as the Latin American leader faces increased populist pressure at home.

Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer told a news conference on Saturday that the two leaders will meet on January 31, the week after senior officials of both administrations hold bilateral talks in Washington.

Trump is committed to renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) and would move to withdraw if no “fair deal” is forthcoming, according to the White House website.

Meanwhile, Mexican 2018 presidential frontrunner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced plans to tour major US cities in February, raising the pressure on Mexico’s government to assert itself with the Trump administration.

“Enough of being passive,” Lopez Obrador of the leftist Morena party said in a statement. “We should put a national emergency plan in place to face the damage and reverse the protectionist policies of Donald Trump.”

The populist Lopez Obrador is leading in most early polls ahead of Mexico’s 2018 presidential elections. Morena, which he founded after breaking with Mexico’s main leftist party, has vowed to fight corruption, disrupt a sweeping reform of the key energy sector and promote a more nationalist vision for the country.

Many in Mexico are worried about another Trump promise, that he will make Mexico pay for a border wall, possibly by blocking wire transfers out of the United States from Mexican nationals.

“We shouldn’t pay for the wall,” said Christina Validez, waiting to pick up a wire transfer from her husband in the United States at a bank in Ixmiquilpan.

“It’s the other way around, all United States presidents should be grateful that all the migrants have helped the economy.”

The area around Ixmiquilpan, in the central state of Hidalgo and home to some 94,000 people, received about $100 million in foreign remittances in 2015, according to data from Mexico’s central bank, more than 10 times the municipal government’s annual budget.

Stores in the town owned by Wal-Mart and retailer Femsa were recently forced to close by angry protesters. Two weeks later, the shops are still shuttered.

Violence following a double-digit hike in gasoline prices this month highlighted Pena Nieto’s deepening unpopularity and rising sentiment against multinational companies.

On Friday, people gathered outside a Ford Motor Co showroom in the capital to protest the company’s cancellation of a $1.6 billion investment in an auto plant in Mexico after months of pressure from Trump.

On his U.S. tour, Lopez Obrador - a former Mexico City mayor who finished second to Pena Nieto in the 2012 presidential vote - will meet people of Mexican origin living in major cities, starting February 12 in Los Angeles, then to Chicago, Phoenix and others.

Pena Nieto said earlier on Saturday that he highlighted the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship on a call with Trump.

“We don’t know if the government is defending us, if it’s with us or not,” said Margarita Escamilla, a legal resident in the United States from Ixmiquilpan visiting family.

Lopez Obrador “is like all of them, saying he’s going to defend migrants but who knows ... they promise and promise and it stays the same,” she said.