MEXICO CITY — From the moment that the 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Mexico on the night of Sept. 7 to the moment that President Trump called Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to offer his condolences, six days and 13 hours transpired.
For nearly a week, long after it became clear that southern Mexico had suffered a vicious blow, with dozens dead and thousands of homes destroyed, Trump went silent on Mexico, even though Mexico had offered help for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. (The offer was rescinded after the earthquake and a hurricane hit Mexico, since resources were needed there.) Many Mexicans were upset that Trump, who has proposed many policies that would directly affect Mexico, from revising NAFTA to building a wall, would not take the time to contact Mexico.
When Trump got around to it, he offered an unusual explanation for the delay: cellphone reception.
Spoke to President of Mexico to give condolences on terrible earthquake. Unable to reach for 3 days b/c of his cell phone reception at site.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
Leaving aside the fact that world leaders have access to some pretty sophisticated phones, it seems Peña Nieto would have been more reachable than Trump suggested.
Peña Nieto made trips to the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas to see the earthquake damage, but he also spent large chunks of time in Mexico City. On Monday, it wasn’t until the about 1 p.m. that Peña Nieto flew to Chiapas, and he returned the same night. On Tuesday, Peña Nieto inaugurated a road in the state of Mexico, north of the capital, and hundreds of miles away from the earthquake damage. On Wednesday morning, he presided over a military ceremony in Mexico City, then flew to Oaxaca at about 3 p.m., returning after midnight.
But even if Trump missed those Mexico City moments, it’s not clear that Peña Nieto had signal trouble on his travels. Over the weekend, when this reporter was in Juchitán and the neighboring town of Asunción Ixtaltepec, in a part of Oaxaca hit hard by the earthquake, making cellphone calls was not a problem.
Commentators in Mexico were quick to call out Trump for leaning on the cellphone excuse. Some Mexicans mocked him by borrowing Trump’s rhetorical style.
The US president: a man who blames bad phone signal for his lack of empathy with a neighboring country that has suffered a tragedy. SAD!
— León Krauze (@LeonKrauze) September 14, 2017
The US president: a man who is so resourceless that a bad cellphone signal renders him unable to communicate. WEAK! https://t.co/qPuYP4KbAz
— Carlos Bravo Regidor (@carlosbravoreg) September 14, 2017
The phone call between the two leaders took place Thursday at 1 p.m., according to Peña Nieto’s office. In a statement, Peña Nieto said Trump “expressed his condolences and solidarity to Mexico for the damage caused by the earthquake and Hurricane Katia,” while Peña Nieto reiterated his solidarity after Hurricane Irma.
Peña Nieto also took the opportunity to say that finding a permanent solution for the young immigrants in the DACA program is important for his country, as the majority are of Mexican origin.