MEXICO CITY — In America’s modern history, few U.S. presidents have come to power as openly hostile to their southern neighbor as Donald Trump. His opening campaign salvos — describing Mexican immigrants as criminals or rapists — seemed almost tame by the time he clinched victory, after so many threats to cut off jobs going to Mexico, deport millions of unauthorized immigrants and build a wall on the border.
His victory stunned, saddened and worried Mexicans, forcing the country’s highest government officials Wednesday morning to call for calm and pledge to work with the United States. The wave of national anxiety sent financial markets here into turmoil as a new, uncertain era in relations with the United States began.
“We will have for the next four years, at least, a president of the United States who actively campaigned and centrally campaigned against Mexico’s interests. Full stop. Period,” said Jorge Castañeda, a former Mexican foreign minister. “It’s an unmitigated disaster for Mexico.”
Mexicans are unnerved about the lasting economic damage that a Trump presidency might bring. Those concerns are focused most on his promises to rewrite the trade deal that has undergirded Mexico’s economic progress over the past two decades.
Mexico’s top economic officials, Finance Minister José Antonio Meade and Central Bank governor Agustín Carstens, tried to calm fears here. In a morning news conference, Meade said the U.S. election increased uncertainty in world financial markets and heightened the volatility of Mexico’s currency. But he added that Mexico was in a strong economic position.
“It’s important to remember that the functioning of markets has remained orderly,” Meade said. “The result of the election doesn’t imply an immediate impact in the norms that regulate the commerce of goods and services, financial flows or the capacity of people to travel between both countries.”
Mexico’s Central Bank has regularly raised interest rates over the past year in an attempt to contain the peso’s losses and tamp down inflation. The peso, which was trading around 18 to the dollar on Tuesday, dropped to more than 20 to the dollar after Trump’s win appeared imminent.
President Enrique Peña Nieto tweeted his congratulations to the United States on its electoral process Wednesday and expressed to Trump “the will to work together in favor of bilateral relations.”
For many Mexicans, Trump was something of a joke when he became a presidential candidate last year. They built piñatas out of his image and fashioned his face into Halloween masks. Only after he won the Republican nomination did a sense of urgency set in among the business and political elite.
Fears of a Trump victory and possible damage to the Mexican economy prompted Peña Nieto to invite the candidate to Mexico City in September to improve ties. That meeting caused a huge backlash as Mexicans protested their leader’s welcoming treatment of the Republican candidate.
As the results of the presidential election came in Tuesday night, Mexicans watched with growing horror as Trump captured state after state. Mexico’s foreign minister, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, rushed to the presidential palace, Los Pinos, to discuss the results with Peña Nieto. The headline of an editorial Wednesday in one of Mexico’s leading newspapers, El Universal, simply read: “A dark future.”
“The American people chose yesterday the path of racism, hate and intolerance,” it began.
The most urgent questions here centered on the potential gap between Trump’s words and his actions as president. Andrés Rozental, a former Mexican ambassador to Britain, said that promises Trump made to energize working-class and rural white voters who feel they have suffered from international trade might soften once he takes office.
“It’s clear that much of what happened yesterday, and much of what brought Mr. Trump to the White House, relates to deep-
seated anger and deep-seated fear of the outside — the outside includes, very immediately, Mexico,” Rozental said. “I think the most important thing right now in Mexico, for the government and all of us, is to find the ways we can deal with this reality.”
“We are neighbors; we need to have a relationship; we need to make it as constructive as we can,” he added.
Others found no reason to be optimistic.
“The new mistake that people here are going to be making, along with many of their American friends in Washington, is a not-to-worry attitude,” said Castañeda, the former foreign minister. He added that Trump “will deliver on some of his promises some of the time, like all politicians.”
Beyond the short-term market volatility, some Mexican economists predict a recession if Trump pursues the plans he has outlined. Trump has regularly disparaged the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994 and has helped Mexican exports grow while attracting far more foreign investment into the country. More than $1 billion worth of exports and imports cross the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border every day.
“I think there will be some tinkering with the U.S. approach to international trade, but I don’t see wholesale reversal of U.S. trade policies. There’s too much at stake here, and any change on that scale would take years and years,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “I think we’re looking at the beginnings of a conversation about where we want to be as a country in our international trade relationships. So we’re moving away from a model of free trade and back to a paradigm of managed trade.”
Mexicans are also worried about Trump’s threats to deport millions of illegal immigrants from the United States.
“This is a very difficult situation; we have to prepare ourselves,” said Jeffrey Weldon, a political scientist at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico.
Raúl Benítez Manaut, a professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, noted that the Trump victory followed the British vote to leave the European Union and the Colombian vote to scrap a peace plan with left-wing guerrillas. “The traditional parties don’t respond to the needs of the people,” he said.
The election also reshuffled the deck on Mexico’s domestic politics. The country’s parties are just getting into campaign mode with a presidential election two years out. Many observers speculated that a nationalist backlash could be expressed in that vote.
“Politically, this will energize politicians tapping into a traditional strain of anti-Washington feelings in Mexico, as leaders are compelled to stand for the dignity of Mexicans in both countries,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society, who was an adviser to the Clinton administration in the late 1990s.
Gabriela Martinez in Mexico City contributed to this report.