Throughout human history and across multiple locations, when faced with significant economic, societal or political challenges, people gather to protest against the problems they face. Their demands differ and their goals are distinct but what they always want is to have their voice heard, and in the best-case scenario – cause a change. Similarities abound, from the Arab Spring that started in Tunisia in December 2010, Indignados in Spain in 2011, protests in Brazil and Turkey in 2013, to the recent developments in Poland, the US, and Romania – just to mention a few.
On February 12, Mexicans in 18 cities took to the streets to air their grievances against President Donald Trump. They waved Mexican flags or carried banners such as “Mexicans demand respect, we want bridges not walls,” or “Gracias, Trump, for unifying Mexico!” At first glance, it could look like Mexicans have united to oppose the common “enemy”. However, not everyone is on board. Some accused Peña Nieto of using the non-partisan marches to try to bolster his own popularity.
It is true that Mexican are not fans of President Donald Trump. In his electoral campaign, he called them “drug dealers”, “rapist” and “criminals”. Just after being elected, the US President ordered the construction of a wall along the southern border. Mexicans are also against President Trump because his policies personally affect each and every Mexican who has a family member either living in the United States (30% of the population) or working in maquiladoras.
It is also no secret that Trump’s policies could send the Mexican economy into a deep crisis. The tight economic ties that Mexico has with its northern neighbour make it highly vulnerable. First, the US withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would be disruptive and damaging. Although estimates of NAFTA’s direct impact vary, the objectives set out in the deal have broadly been achieved. The US decision to back out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in which Mexico was also a part, has already scared policymakers. Once signed, TPP would not only expand the NAFTA model to Asian and Latin American countries but also update and improve the provisions in NAFTA.
Second, the proposals to tax the remittances sent to Mexico would deprive millions of families of a stable source of income and the Mexican government of foreign exchange. It is worth mentioning that the remittances, record high in 2016 worth 27 billion USD, constitute the third source of the foreign exchange to Mexico.
Finally, forcing Mexicans living in the USA to go back home would cause a lot of trouble for the Mexican government. Despite the stable GDP growth at average 2.5% since 2012, the unemployment rate (officially 4.4% but it could be as high as 25%) and income inequality levels (the average Gini coefficient reaches 0.45) are high. The same is true of income inequality. The OECD estimates that the richest 10% earn 20 times more than poorest 10%. Not to mention the high criminality rate related to the war with the drug cartels. Only 40% of Mexicans feel safe while walking at night in their city (to compare to 61% in Slovakia and 68% in Poland).
Therefore, it is important to underline that, on February 12, not many protesters turned out (40 thousand in comparison to 123 million inhabitants) and—for sure—many are not united. Besides the pro-government crowd encouraged in part by an ad campaign by Televisa (the ruling party’s PRI tube) and Twitter mobilisation under #VibraMexico (eng. #Mexico Vibrates), the protesters were marching against the Mexican government. People carried banners saying“STOPTrump” and “PeñaOUT”. Briefly, after the launch of #VibraMexico, Twitter users started to use #VibroContraPeña (#I vibrate against Peña) and #NoEsTrumpEsPeña (#It’s not Trump is Peña).
Mexicans do not support their incumbent President. Enrique Peña Nieto only has a 12% approval rating – the lowest of any Mexican president since polls were first collected in 1995. The low rate of approval is not a consequence of the invitation to then-candidate Trump to Mexico during his campaign but relates foremost to the high level of corruption in the country, a hike of the gas prices, and the most importantly the students’ disappearance from the southern city of Iguala in September 2014. The so-called “Caso Ayotzinapa” remains an open wound in Mexico and clear evidence of the country’s failure to protect its citizens and to stop impunity within its corrupt criminal justice system.
#VibraMexico movement was supposed to express the dissatisfaction with how Mexico is being treated by the United States and give the President stronger bargaining power in future negotiations. Instead, it showed that walls already exist within Mexico, as citizens remain divided and distrustful of their government. The sad truth is that if the United States decides to build the wall along its southern border, no Mexican politician or movement can stop it.