Donald Trump’s unexpected meeting Wednesday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto — one of Latin America’s least popular presidents — didn’t go down well among Mexicans.
Within hours of the announcement that the reality TV star and Republican presidential candidate would be meeting with Peña Nieto, activists in Mexico City were preparing to take action.
By mid-morning, protesters were gathering on one of the city’s central arteries, Paseo de la Reforma under the banner “Trump, No Eres Bienvenido,” or “Trump, you’re not welcome.”
The protest began at the monument, El Ángel de la Independencia, where activists condemned Trump for his incendiary comments on Mexican migration to the United States, and his calls for a wall on the countries’ shared border.
Across the country, Mexicans expressed support for the protest and condemned Trump.
— Cuitlahuac Garcia (@CuitlahuacGJ) 31 August 2016
“I don’t understand what he’s even doing here,” said Rubi Garrido, a teacher from Puebla. “It’s foolish for him to come here. Assuming he doesn’t even like us. Assuming we’re criminals, rapists and murderers.”
“I would say he is a persona non grata, and will be welcome when he brings an apology to the Mexican people,” said Elías Niño, an entrepreneur from Guadalajara.
Meanwhile on social media, the anti-Trump hashtag #SrTrumpConTodoRespeto began to trend on Twitter.
#SrTrumpConTodoRespeto Mr. Trump this is for you.
From México??? pic.twitter.com/R8ms3YGTe2
— ஐღ★Merhab✨♡ツ (@BluePinkPurpleS) 31 August 2016
One tweet joked that a wall that returned the U.S.-Mexico border to where it was before 1848 would be acceptable.
— WeraSupernova (@wera) 31 August 2016
Even the Museum of Memory and Tolerance joined in, offering Trump free entry. “We invite you to visit us to remember history and not repeat it,” the museum tweeted.
— Memoria y Tolerancia (@MuseoMyT) 31 August 2016
Despite the avalanche of criticism of Trump, there was still plenty of anger left for Peña Nieto, who is now the country’s least popular president in over two decades.
The Mexican leader’s approval rating has hit a record low of 23 percent, according to the latest poll from Reforma. The figure was the lowest recorded by the newspaper for a sitting president since at least 1995, when Mexico was hit with a crippling currency crisis.
— SourSweet.T. (@SweeThingSilva) 31 August 2016
Peña Nieto’s presidency has been mired in political scandals, ranging from his government’s handling of the killing of 43 student teachers in Guerrero in 2014, to allegations two weeks ago he plagiarized nearly a third of his law thesis as an undergraduate. Meanwhile, his Institutional Revolutionary Party has been accused of failing to tackle corruption and reduce Mexico’s violent crime rate. All the while, Mexico is again facing a slew of economic woes, including yet another round of concerns over the value of the peso.
Yet, on Wednesday morning, nobody was talking about any of this. Instead, the question on everyone’s lips was, “Why is Peña Nieto meeting with Trump at all?”
Vox’s Matthew Yglesias has argued Trump’s motivations could easily be chalked up to a wild attempt to provoke some kind of controversy. After all, riling his base seems to be the only thing that bolsters his lackluster poll figures. “If he does something weird, something crazy might happen as a result — and if something crazy happens, maybe he’ll win,” Yglesias writes.
Peña Nieto’s game isn’t much different, at least according to some observers. As author Don Winslow put it, the only reason Peña Nieto “is meeting with Trump is to distract from his scandals.”
— Don Winslow (@donwinslow) 31 August 2016
In the end, the meeting between Peña Nieto and Trump lasted barely an hour, and concluded with no poignant outcome. The proposed border wall was barely even touched upon, according to reports in Mexican media. Some Mexicans watching on suggested the meeting was pointless to begin with.
“I don’t think Pena’s diplomacy makes a difference to Trump building his wall or not,” Niño said. “Nor do I think he’s concerned about our future.”