Posted on February 10, 2017

The Walls Within: Mexico Struggles for Unity Against Trump

David Agren, The Guardian, February 10, 2017

At his taco stand in a Mexico City food court, Ismael Apátiga expresses disdain for Donald Trump and the US president’s plans to force Mexico to pay for a border wall.

But his antipathy towards Trump does not translate into support for his own president, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose approval rating is hovering at a record low of around 12%.

“I back Peña because of the wall,” Apátiga, “But I won’t back him on anything else.”

Trump has already sent the Mexican peso into a nosedive and rattled the country’s economy. He has humiliated Peña Nieto and insulted Mexicans, and his bullyboy tactics have united Mexicans like few other figures or institutions apart from the national football side and Our Lady of Guadalupe, the country’s patron saint.

But even in agreement, Mexicans are clashing over how to come together.

Mexican elites appear to have established a consensus over an appropriate response: intellectuals, the political and business classes and the media have rallied around the unpopular president.

But ordinary Mexicans seem more circumspect: ready to rally around the flag in the face of the Trump threat – but unwilling to write their president a blank cheque.

Analysts say the persistent divisions – even at a time of national crisis –demonstrate a deep dismay with domestic affairs, along with a lingering distrust of authority figures.

Organisers of national non-partisan marches against Trump were forced to plead with the population to put aside parochial interests and recognise the threat from the north.

“Marching projects to the world an image of solidarity against Trump; not marching projects passivity, indifference and even cowardice,” tweeted historian Enrique Krauze, who has attacked Trump as the worst threat to Mexico since the Mexican-American war of the 1840s.

Intellectuals, broadcasters, politicians, and even the church have called for unity and thrown their weight behind Peña Nieto. The country’s richest man, Carlos Slim, convened a rare press conference, telling reporters: “We have to back him.”

“Media, businessmen and the elites see a power vacuum. They’re the ones who are trying to reassure Mexicans that everything will be OK, because the president is in no position to do that currently,” said Esteban Illades, editor of the Mexican magazine Nexos. “That’s how shaky everything is.”

Calls for unity ring hollow in a country riddled with corruption, battered by organised crime and recently shaken by protests over a sudden hike in the government-set price of gasoline.

Some Mexicans express scepticism about the prospects for unity under a government that has seemed unable to tackle crime and human rights abuses or improve living conditions for ordinary people.

Others argue that instead of railing against Trump, Mexicans should find common cause in fighting problems closer to home.

Peña Nieto has spoken often of unity, and won plaudits for cancelling his scheduled trip to Washington.

His office released a video of soldiers and citizens rushing in to prevent the giant Mexican flag flying in Zócalo Square, in the heart of Mexico City, from touching the ground. “Soldiers and civilians joined forces,” the video said. “Facing with big challenges, united we are stronger.”

But other displays of solidarity have looked more like relics from the days of one-party rule, when business, union and political elites propped up the president in times of crisis.

“Unity is understood as easy applause for the president,” said Pedro Kumamoto, an independent lawmaker in western Jalisco state. “If we want unity, we can start by curbing corruption, meaning many of the president’s collaborators leave his cabinet.”