These are times in which the entire people of Mexico — all 120 million — must rally behind President Enrique Peña Nieto to put up a solid front against the Donald Trump administration, whose redneck rhetoric and voting constituency has, not just Mexico, but, the whole world under alarm.
Yet the people of Mexico are not rallying behind its president. The latest polls place his popularity at the lowest ebb in his term in office — at 12 percent for and 88 percent against — according to the latest poll issued by usually pro-Peña Nieto daily middle-class newspaper Reforma last week.
The saddest fact is that Peña Nieto has lost most of his credibility due to his own words.
“The fish dies by the mouth,” says the old Mexican adage, and this is what Mexicans are witnessing right now with shock and awe.
Mexicans have listened to and believed in his ordinate manner of speech and in all the good things his governance period (2012-2018) would bring to the nation. He touted his Energy Reform would bring lower vehicle and electricity fuel prices. The result is that literally millions of people at this moment are on the streets protesting against the Energy Reform and Peña Nieto’s “lies.” Under his mandate, prices of fuels and electricity have soared and the president is hoping that people tire out of demonstrating, as he is not listening and will not bring the fuel prices down. No wonder he’s unpopular! But wait: there may be new fuel increases in February. Ouch to the people’s pocket!
To these protesters, the president’s call for unity in the upcoming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went unnoticed. To these people, what is important is that their already meager wages are being turned into dust by the president’s — and his cabinet’s — policies.
What grabbed their attention is that in one of the negotiating clauses, Peña Nieto says that the upcoming agreement “must guarantee better wages for Mexican workers.”
A fact in NAFTA remains that either Canada or the USA ever meddle in the low wages paid in Mexico. It is the work of the Mexican government policies to maintain low wages — cost competitive, some proponents say — and makes it clear that President Peña Nieto was not listening to the debates of the U.S. elections when Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump bitterly complained about U.S. companies moving to Mexico “to pay 25 cents an hour,” as Senator Sanders constantly repeated.
Just recently over the New Year, fuel hikes the ludicrous and cynical Congress Minimum Wage Committee was bragging that they had established a minimum wage of 80 pesos per eight hours of work. With the dollar at over 21 pesos, a minimum wage worker makes not 25, but 50 U.S. cents an hour. A dream salary for employers likes Wal-Mart and McDonalds, but very bad for the purchasing power of those workers.
Will the president ask Trump to hike the wages in Mexico? That’s what he made it sound like in his upcoming NAFTA wheeling and dealing. The answer must come from within the Mexican government.
Another thing is that those who will be in charge of negotiations, namely Economy Secretary Ildefonso Guajardo, claim that if it is not convenient, Mexico will walk out of negotiations. Mexico can do that, but will it be convenient?
Another issue at hand is the relationship with Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a commitment to stand by Mexico and preserve and expand the current North American Free Trade Agreement. But as I’ve always said, the biggest problem between Canada and Mexico is the distance between them, and that means the United States. In case of a commercial rupture, the United States and Canada can easily go back to the old Free Trade Agreement that was standing until 1989, when NAFTA negotiations began.
About the only hope of success President Peña Nieto has is to convince in the upcoming gathering with President Trump to try tone down his anti-Mexico bellicose rhetoric backed by a voting minority in the United States who managed to garner the Electoral College votes in favor or Trump, but who are still a minority.
At this point President Peña Nieto is pretty much alone — with his unconvincing Cabinet — and his speeches are made to convince Mexican people to rally behind him.
But the truth is the disapproval of his government by an unquestionably large majority is well earned.
For Mexico’s sake, I stand behind President Enrique Peña even in disagreement.