MEXICO CITY — Mexicans took to the streets of their capital and other cities Sunday afternoon to denounce President Trump’s depictions of them as rapists and robbers, as well as to demand “the respecting of Mexico.”
But that was by no means the only item on the agenda. Many marchers were protesting their own unpopular president and political class rather than Trump — even as the U.S. leader proceeds with plans to build a border wall and continues to target the country’s currency and economy with barbed tweets.
“Donald Trump is a global threat,” said Jaime Sánchez, one of an estimated 11,000 marchers making their way to the Angel of Independence monument here. “But we also have threats in Mexico, starting with the government.”
Vibra Mexico (roughly, “Mexico Moves”), a self-described nonpartisan and respectful protest organized by more than 70 civic groups, universities and nongovernment organizations, had marshaled a protest aimed at condemning Trump’s treatment of Mexico but also demanding more of Mexican politicians.
Such a balance proved difficult to maintain Sunday as some protesters carried signs comparing Trump to Hitler and chanted, “No wall!” while others shouted, “Peña out!” — a reference to the country’s unpopular leader, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose approval hovers at 12 percent.
Even with the perceived Trump threat looming, hashtags criticizing the Vibra México protest were trending on Twitter, and march organizers pleaded with protesters to recognize Trump as the primary worry.
“Mexicans are outraged by many things. We’re outraged by poverty, we’re outraged by inequality, we’re outraged by impunity,” said Enrique Graue, rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the country’s largest public university and part of the Vibra Mexico coalition. “The point is: What outrages us most? At this time, we’re most outraged by the treatment Mexico has received from the U.S. president.”
Organizers of a rival march in Mexico City, calling itself Mexicanos Unidos, or “Mexicans United,” agree, although they explicitly called for supporting Peña Nieto — a stance that earned them a volley of insults as they also tried to congregate at the angel monument, Mexican news organizations reported.
Polls show a deep dislike of Trump south of the border, but many Mexicans voice greater discontent about domestic problems than about disrespect from a foreign leader.
Trump’s election coincided with mass protests in Mexico over a 20 percent hike in the government-set gasoline price, accusations that governors in eight states were pilfering the public purse and stories of politicians paying themselves inexplicable bonuses.
Analysts are skeptical that castigating a foreign villain will change many Mexicans’ minds about their political class, who are being held responsible for the country’s weakness as it confronts Trump and his threats.
“Trump is being presented as Mexico’s main problem. The main problem for most Mexicans is Peña Nieto,” said Ilán Semo, a history professor at the Ibero-American University. “They won’t back the current regime because there’s a feeling that Peña Nieto and his team are going to use the nationalist script to try to rebuild some sort of consensus.”
Vibra Mexico organizers stressed that their march is open to everyone. They also have called on the president to ensure transparency in his negotiations with Trump, and they demanded that his government “come to terms with inequality, corruption, impunity and human rights abuses.”
But it’s been a tough sell, and organizers have had to fend off allegations that they are not interested in protesting injustices at home. Some supporters have tried shaming people into the streets; historian and public intellectual Enrique Krauze tweeted, “Not marching projects passivity, indifference and even cowardice.”
“DON’T FORGET: Mexico lost the war of 1847 and half its territory due to all the internal divisions,” tweeted Krauze, who has called Trump the biggest foreign threat to Mexico since President James K. Polk, instigator of the Mexican-American War.
The admonitions highlight the consensus coalescing among Mexico’s elite on the topic of Trump, with media, the business class and religious leaders calling for unity. Billionaire Carlos Slim — who dined with Trump at the president’s Florida retreat, Mar-a-Lago, in December — said at a rare news conference, “We have to back [Peña Nieto]. All of the country has to do so in the face of a special risk in U.S. relations we have not seen in 100 years.”
Much of the anti-Trump talk has come from politicians, whose high-profile stunts have included bashing Trump piñatas and proposing a boycott on Ford vehicles after the automaker withdrew a $1.6 billion investment in Mexico.
“[Trump’s] not only ignorant. He’s not only an imperialist. He’s not even a good Christian,” shouted Hugo Eric Flores, leader of Encuentro Social, a party founded by evangelical pastors, at an Inauguration Day protest.
Despite the widespread skepticism of anything advocated by politicians, there are signs the anti-Trump view is spreading.
The story of a woman turning in her tourist visa to the U.S. Consulate in Hermosillo was widely lauded. On Feb. 5, Tijuana residents observed #UnasHorasPorMexico (“A few hours for Mexico”), boycotting U.S. companies and staying on the Mexican side of the border. Plans for other boycotts — notably, “Adiós Starbucks” — have trended on Twitter.
Yet many Mexicans still express fond feelings for the United States and say their protests are anti-Trump, not anti-American.
“We’re speaking out against Trump,” said Mario Silvan, a lawyer, “and not the American people.”