Trump insults Mexico’s president by insisting his country will pay for a border wall at G20 summit
Donald Trump has again humiliated Mexico’s president Enrique Pena Nieto by repeating his claim in the presence of the Mexican leader that America’s southern neighbour would pay for a border wall.
Pena Nieto allowed Trump’s comments to go unchallenged when the two leaders met on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Hamburg on Friday.
Asked by reporters if he expected Mexico to finance a border wall, Trump responded: “Absolutely.” Pena Nieto sat silently next to him.
The meeting, the first between the two leaders since Trump took office, again highlighted Trump’s insensitivities toward Mexico, while Pena Nieto’s passivity brought back bad memories for many Mexicans.
Trump travelled to Mexico City when his campaign was sagging last August, and embarrassed Pena Nieto in the presidential palace by speaking publicly of his plans for fencing of the frontier. The Mexican president was fiercely criticised for failing to contradict Trump.
Earlier this year, the Mexican government announced that the two presidents had agreed not to talk in public about the wall, a deal that Trump has honoured in the breach.
Trump’s apparent inability to talk to Pena Nieto without offending Mexico, and the Mexican president’s apparent unwillingness to push back, have infuriated many Mexicans.
Carlos Bravo Regidor, a professor at the Centre for Teaching and Research in Economics in Mexico City, said: “Trump broke [the] deal they had of not talking about the wall in public. And Pena Nieto should have called him, right there, to his face. He didn’t. Trump is a bully, but Pena Nieto is a coward.”
Jorge Ramos, the Univision anchor whom Trump expelled from a press conference during the campaign, tweeted:
“Trump says again that Mexico will pay for the wall. When will [Pena Nieto] dare to say to his face and in public that Mexico will not pay?”
Leon Krauze, a prominent Mexican journalist, contrasted Pena Nieto’s behaviour with that of the French president Emanuel Macron, who greeted Trump with a white-knuckle handshake . “Macron understood what EPN did not: in the face of Trump’s schoolyard diplomacy, you have to act firmly in public. What counts is what is visible,” he tweeted.
The two presidents were scheduled to meet on January 31 in Washington, but Pena Nieto cancelled the visit after Trump tweeted his Mexican counterpart shouldn’t bother coming if the wall wasn’t on the agenda.
Before Trump’s inauguration, Mexico had feared the worst from a Trump administration, but so far, it has not experienced the disaster many had anticipated.
The Mexican peso tumbled after Trump’s election victory, but has raced back in 2017 as investors increasingly believe the president will be unable to enact his protectionism .
Nafta negotiations are scheduled to start in August and expectations are the trade treaty will be tweaked rather than ripped up, which may explain Pena Nieto’s apparent eagerness to avoid open confrontation.
“This government has decided to defend Nafta at any expense, including our dignity,” said Brenda Estefan, a foreign policy analyst.
Still, many in Mexico expressed exasperation with trying to appease a president some historians have called the biggest foreign threat to Mexico since President James Polk, author of the Mexican-American war in the 19th century.
Pena Nieto tweeted later to say he had had a “productive meeting” with Trump, in which they reviewed “advances in migration, security and economic development”.
In a radio interview, Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, described the meeting as “friendly and respectful” and said the wall was not discussed.
He said of Trump’s comments: “I didn’t hear it. Pena also didn’t hear it”.