Trump Backlash Turns Mexicans Against Nafta

  • Anger at the U.S. president, and also at Mexico’s politicians
  • A new lapel pin says ‘United For Mexico. Buy Mexican Goods’

Why Mexicans Think Nafta Should be Scrapped Entirely

The Zocalo, a vast square in the heart of Mexico City, has been a gathering place since the days of the Spanish conquistadors. Walk through it today and you’ll encounter, as expected, intense hatred of Donald Trump.

But what you’ll also find is that Mexicans are just as furious at their own government for letting the U.S. president push their country around. What’s more, many proclaim to be fed up with Nafta. Trump’s pledge to rewrite the trade pact doesn’t go far enough for them. It should be scrapped entirely.

“We will be better off,” said Eduardo Avila, on a break from his job as a driver. He dug into the pocket of his jeans jacket to show off the lapel pin and ribbon he’d just bought, both emblazoned with a suddenly popular slogan: “United For Mexico. Buy Mexican Goods.”

Trump and his tough talk, Avila said, might just be the shot in the arm that Mexico needs to recognize its potential. “The U.S. is not the only country in this world -- why are we clinging to them like an umbilical cord?”

The reality is harsh: The U.S. is by far Mexico’s biggest trading partner, with some $584 billion in tariff-free goods crossing the border every year. Trump has called Nafta “the worst trade deal in history,” but it has been a boon for Mexico, attracting billions in foreign investment, creating a booming auto industry and diversifying revenue sources for the once oil-dependent economy. In border towns far from Mexico City, Nafta has created thousands of jobs.

Read more: What if Nafta is reopened?

None of that matters to Alejandro Sanchez, a vendor on the outskirts of the Zocalo. He welcomes what before Trump’s election was the unthinkable: an end to decades of friendship and economic cooperation with the U.S. 

“They can raise the tallest wall in the world, in fact they should. They can keep their burgers and fast food, their junk culture,” he said, peering out from behind stacks of magazines, coloring books and cigarette packets. “I think most of us feel the same way -- this is an opportunity. We are such a big country that this will help us activate our domestic economy.”

Give Trump credit, he added. “This man did something right. He united us.”

Protesters in the Zocalo demand the resignation of Pena Nieto, on Jan. 8.

Photographer: Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images

Mexicans had already been pretty much on the same page about their leader, Enrique Pena Nieto, whose approval ratings are the lowest of any president ever tracked by Reforma newspaper. That’s in no small part because the government raised gasoline prices by 20 percent at the start of the year and promised another hike in February, setting off street protests.

Pena Nieto was criticized for meeting with Trump before the U.S. election. Now he’s not getting much credit from the people for canceling a visit to Washington last week after the American president said he’d follow through on campaign pledges to find a way to make Mexico to pay for a border wall.

‘Angry and Disappointed’

In the Zocalo, Trump and Pena Nieto are in a dead heat for most hated president.

“Both of them should be thrown in the trash,” Avila said. “The wall is what matters least. It’s politicians on this side of the border that bother me. How could they allow this person to humiliate us this way?”

It was a lament heard time and again all afternoon. Only the tone and some of the smaller details varied.

Nohemi Sanchez, a recent college graduate, expressed it this way: “We send our best products and produce abroad, and they leave the worst for us. This is what angers me, really -- that our government doesn’t work in favor of our interests. We’re a country rich in natural resources but Mexico doesn’t do anything.”

Sitting a few feet away, Yareli Flores was listening intently to Sanchez. Music from organ grinders and the shouts of ice-cream vendors echoed around them. After a couple of minutes, Flores, a monument restorer on her lunch break, chimed in. She’s glad, she stated, that her 5-year-old daughter is too young to understand what’s happening.

“I’m angry and disappointed,” she said. With U.S. politicians or those in Mexico? “All of them. They’ve all disappointed me.”

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