MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s president was savaged on social media and in political circles following his joint press conference Wednesday with Donald Trump, with many seeing a national humiliation in his welcoming of a man who has derided migrants as rapists and criminals.
President Enrique Pena Nieto said Mexicans felt “aggrieved” and had disagreements with the Republican presidential candidate, but he never did what people here wanted most: demand that Trump apologize. Adding to the anger, in the press conference Trump repeated his promise to build a border wall between the countries.
“Trump can leave at ease now. The humiliation was complete,” Televisa news anchor Carlos Loret de Mola tweeted, after lamenting that Trump would dare to reiterate his intention to build a wall “in our face and home.”
And writer Angeles Mastretta wrote on her Twitter account that Mexicans saw “what was expected: a president who isn’t capable of demanding apologies … how sad.”
While Trump tried to mend fences by calling Mexican-Americans “spectacular” and “amazing,” and arguing that illegal immigration and the flight of manufacturing jobs were hurting Mexicans as well as Americans, his words did little to win hearts and minds south of the border.
Mexico security analyst Alejandro Hope called the meeting “a disaster.”
“Trump didn’t alter his positions one little bit,” Hope said. “He just dressed them up a little in less incendiary language.” Of Pena Nieto, Hope said “in the end, he gave Trump an opportunity to show off, while getting nothing in return. Good work, guys.”
Pena Nieto later appeared to contradict Trump when he said in a tweet that during their private meeting he told the Republican candidate clearly that Mexico would not pay for the wall. In their joint press conference, Trump had said they did not discuss who would pay for the wall’s construction at which point Pena Nieto said nothing.
Many Mexicans were disappointed and disgusted that Trump was invited at all. After all, Mexicans have already made — and beaten to pulp — pinatas of Trump. They created a video game in which players can throw soccer balls, cactus leaves and tequila bottles at a cartoon image of Trump.
But when the man himself came to Mexico, he was treated with kid gloves and given a warm reception at the presidential residence. The meeting could end up hurting Pena Nieto, whose popularity is already at an all-time low near 20 percent, according to recent polls.
Former President Vicente Fox said that Trump was trying to boost his sagging campaign. “He fooled him (Pena Nieto) … he’s using him to try to recover lost votes.”
Artist Arturo Meade joined one of the few small protests prior to the meeting with his 2 ½-year old son Mariano, and shook his head in disgust.
“This is an insult and a betrayal,” he said. “What can this meeting bring us, except surrealism in all its splendor?”
Many Mexicans felt the Republican candidate had left Pena Nieto flat-footed by accepting an invitation that Pena Nieto had made simply for appearances’ sake.
El Universal newspaper wrote in an editorial that Trump “caught Mexican diplomats off guard” by accepting the invitation.
“They wanted to invite Hillary (Clinton), but that meant inviting both of them and nobody thought Trump would accept first,” said Hope. “What’s in it for Mexico? Here there’s nothing to gain. The upside is all for Trump.”
Historically, the golden rule of Mexico’s foreign policy has been to avoid being seen as taking sides in U.S. politics; hence the two invitations, even though Mexico favors Hillary Clinton’s position on a path to citizenship for migrants.
Pena Nieto acknowledged he had invited both candidates, and said he did it because “I believe in dialogue to promote Mexico’s interests and above all to protect Mexicans everywhere.”
Abraham Garnica, 31, who works as an engineer in Mexico City, was left scratching his head trying to think of a reason why Pena Nieto might have agreed to the meeting.
“They must be afraid he might win, and so they’re saying, ‘Just in case, we’ll shake his hand,'” Garnica said.
Yolanda Herrera, a 66-year-old Mexico City housewife, sought to put the best light on what, to many, felt like a national humiliation.
“Let’s hope that … he sees that he was really wrong about what he said,” Herrera said of Trump. “I think this is a display of the fact that we Mexicans are a very sympathetic people.”