E. EDUARDO CASTILLO, AP
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s president says he’s informed the White House he has canceled a trip to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump amid tension over a border wall.
Trump had tweeted Thursday morning that if Mexico is unwilling to pay for a wall along the U.S. border, “then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”
The developments come the day after Trump said he will jump-start construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall and cut federal grants for immigrant-protecting “sanctuary cities.”
In a nationally televised speech late Wednesday, President Enrique Pena Nieto condemned the U.S. decision and repeated that Mexico would not pay for the wall despite Trump’s avowals that it would.
“I regret and reject the decision of the U.S. to build the wall,” he said. “I have said time and again, Mexico will not pay for any wall.”
The decision to cancel the visit comes amid growing outrage in Mexico, and a sense among many that Pena Nieto has been too weak in the face of Trump’s tough policy stance.
Trump’s order came the same day Mexico’s foreign relations and economy secretaries arrived in Washington, and its timing was seen by many in Mexico as a slap in the face.
Critics of Pena Nieto – whose approval ratings were just 12 percent in a recent survey, the lowest for any Mexican president in the polling era – have hammered him for his perceived weakness on Trump. Opposition politicians urged him Wednesday to call off the trip.
“The position is very clear,” said Ricardo Anaya Cortes, president of the conservative opposition National Action Party. “Either one cancels the meeting with Donald Trump, or one attends it to say publicly and with absolute firmness that Mexico rejects the wall and we will not pay a single cent for it.”
Trump has also promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Analyst Jorge Zepeda Patterson had argued that Pena Nieto should keep the meeting as scheduled, saying Mexico should exhaust all possibilities for negotiating to minimize damage. He said Pena Nieto should try to reach an agreement that’s enough to let Trump claim victory and then move on to another foil.
“Trump is more interested in boasting of an immediate success than an ambitious result. He is interested in appearances,” Zepeda said.
The U.S. president has also promised to step up deportations. He launched his campaign with remarks calling immigrants crossing in illegally from Mexico criminals, drug dealers and “rapists.” Trump added that “some” were presumably good people, but the comments nonetheless deeply offended many Mexicans.
Pena Nieto was roundly criticized after inviting candidate Trump to Mexico City last August and disappointed many of his countrymen by not publicly confronting Trump on the wall.
Already Mexico is feeling the effects of the new tone from Washington. The Mexican peso has sharply devalued since Trump was elected, and several high-profile business ventures have been canceled amid threats to impose a border tax on goods made in Mexico and exported to the United States.
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