Last week brought fresh deterioration in diplomatic relations between the US and Mexico after Trump threatened to cancel a White House meeting with Mexican President Pena Nieto, saying if “Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting”. And while Pena Nieto tried to save face by officially cancelling the meeting over twitter, Mexicans are growing increasingly frustrated with a candidate that they see as too soft in combatting an aggressive Trump Presidency. All of which has caused Pena Nieto's approval ratings to plunge to historic lows of just 12%.
But, the growing populist sentiment that is sweeping Mexico and forcing Pena Nieto's ratings to all-time lows, is the same sentiment that has vaulted Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to the top of the list of likely presidential candidates to be elected in 2018. Per Bloomberg, Lopez Obrador is a two-time presidential loser but Trump's aggressive stance toward relations with Mexico and the resulting national rage sweeping the country plays well for the man who has promised to end the "relationship of 'subordination' to the U.S.."
The politician known locally as Amlo is the early frontrunner in Mexico’s 2018 presidential race. By itself, that may not mean much: Polls are unreliable, voting is a long way off, and Lopez Obrador is a two-time election loser in a country that stood aloof from Latin America’s populist turn and instead tethered its economy ever closer to the U.S..
But good luck selling that line to Mexicans right now. The momentum on Amlo’s side is palpable. Amid a spasm of national rage, voters are increasingly sympathetic to the cries of a radical outsider who promises to end a relationship of “subordination” to the U.S. and rebuild the domestic economy. In other words, Trump -- with his brash pledges to rewrite Nafta and stick Mexico with the bill for building the wall -- has created the perfect climate for an anti-Trump south of the border.
Among other things, Lopez Obrador, like Trump, has vowed to pursue more of a protectionist economic agenda saying that "Mexico will consume its own gasoline and food on his watch, instead of importing it."
Lopez Obrador would add the country’s U.S.-friendly energy and agriculture policies to the catalog of woes. He says Mexico will consume its own gasoline and food on his watch, instead of importing it.
That would mean changes to Nafta, probably not the ones Trump has in mind -- assuming the trade pact survives at all. Its impact on Mexico is hotly debated in any case, and both sides can cite data that backs up their arguments.
Nafta has made no inroads into Mexico’s poverty rate. It stood at 53 percent in 2014, pretty much unchanged from two decades earlier when the trade accord went into effect, according to the World Bank. But the country has attracted billions of dollars of foreign investment in that period, turning it into the worlds seventh-largest automaker and creating thousands of jobs.
Lopez Obrador and his supporters take the glass-half-empty view.
“Nafta is a straitjacket that has kept 50 percent of our society in poverty” said Senator Manuel Bartlett of the Labor Party. “This is not about being antagonistic to the United States, it’s about being nationalist in defense of Mexico’s interests.”
All of which bodes well with an electorate overtaken with a sense of national pride and fed up with a weak Pena Nieto which one voter described as a "boot licker" unwilling to "stand up to Trump and tell it like it is."
Popular feeling is running so strong that Mexican politicians have little choice but to fall in line. Online campaigns are calling on Mexicans to vacation at home (“Adios Disneylandia... Hola Mexico”).Local governments and activists demand boycotts of U.S. products. Many Mexicans have draped the national flag across their social media pages.
It just sounds less convincing coming from leaders who’ve made a career out of close U.S. ties. Pena Nieto’s approval rating is 12 percent. Jose Hernandez Solis, a 56-year-old street vendor at an Amlo rally in Mexico City on Monday, certainly wasn’t persuaded.
“The president is a boot-licker,” Solis said. “Lopez Obrador has the guts to stand up to Trump and tell it like it is.” Straight talk, of course, is exactly the reason many U.S. voters gave for backing Trump.
Something tells us that Lopez Obrador is going to be even more reluctant than Pena Nieto to pay for Trump's "fuckin' wall", as Vicente Fox would say. Should be a fun race to the bottom.