Mexicans reel in shock after Donald Trump’s victory

Mexicans had planned to celebrate Donald Trump’s defeat at the Angel of Independence in Mexico City, but the area went eerily silent as results came in

People gather at bars in Mexico City, as US poll results come in, on 8 November 2016. Photo: AFP
People gather at bars in Mexico City, as US poll results come in, on 8 November 2016. Photo: AFP

Mexico: Mexicans watched their televisions in horror as Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the US election, putting into power a man who stirred resentment of them and their relatives in the US and promised to build a wall between the nations after almost a century of peace.

“The world has gone crazy,” said Alessandro Mendoza, watching the results on two giant screens at a packed gathering of Mexican and American businessmen at the American Society. As Trump’s lead mounted, the 29-year-old lawyer from Mexico City, who has cousins in Miami, put his hand to his mouth in surprise and whispered to his friend, “we’re screwed.”

The country has been gripped for months by the election campaign, culminating with a tense night that foreign minister Claudia Ruiz monitored from offices resembling a war room. Thousands of the capital’s residents had planned to celebrate a Trump defeat at the Angel of Independence in the city centere, where soccer fans party after the national team wins. But as the final results came in, the Paseo de la Reforma thoroughfare that runs past the monument was eerily silent.

“Americans have disappointed me,” said Jose Enrique Guillen, a 28-year-old sociology student at the Pinche Gringo bar in the capital. “I feel the hatred. I’m sad and worried.”

Rapist slur

From the moment Trump began his campaign by calling undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists,” the Republican used Mexico as a whipping boy to drive home his concerns about free trade and undocumented workers. Now, after months of beating Trump piñatas, burning his effigies and donning wigs to satirize him in theaters, Mexicans are facing a bleak reality that could damage the nation’s economy and throw the lives of millions of migrants into chaos.

The peso slumped more than 11% at one point to a record low, breaching 20 per dollar for the first time, the worst major casualty of a night that roiled gold, currencies, stocks and financial markets around the world.

“This is the most important event in the US for Mexico since the war of 1846,” when US troops invaded the country, Jose Antonio Crespo, a political analyst at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico City, said before the result. “If Trump is attacking us, and the economy is being affected, the people are involved. We became part of the election.”

Mexico’s involvement in its neighbour’s presidential campaign was unprecedented. Its consulates across the US mounted a campaign to turn legal residents into US citizens, ostensibly to vote against Trump. At home, senators appeared on TV to urge Mexicans in the US to cast their ballots, while presidential hopeful and former first lady Margarita Zavala took to Facebook to chastise Trump. A group called #GringosAVotar called on Americans living in Mexico to send in their votes.

It was all in vain. At the Pinche Gringo, young Mexicans and Americans drank beer underneath red, white and blue balloons, booing each time another state was called for the Republican, while the DJ played a song with a chorus similar to “screw Donald Trump.” As Trump won Utah, a frustrated viewer hurled food at the screen.

“It’s a result that surprised us all,” said Senator Gabriela Cuevas, head of Mexico’s Senate foreign relations committee and a member of the opposition National Action Party. “It’s worrisome that a person who seems to take decisions with little information and with such ignorance will have a majority in both chambers.”

Brexit echo

Trump’s campaign, like Britain’s Brexit vote before it, rode an anti-immigrant wave, with the Republican blaming foreign workers in the country and free-trade agreements for taking American jobs. In addition to building a wall between the US and Mexico, he promised to deport criminal aliens, tighten border controls and institute an “American workers first” labour policy.

Salvador Villegas, 38, a security guard in Mexico City, worried for the 25 family members he has in the US, many of them undocumented. “Life is going to be difficult for them,” he said. “I wouldn’t think of going back there.”

President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration struggled to deal with Trump’s threats to build the wall and make Mexico pay for it, and to renegotiate or end the North American free trade agreement. The president first likened the Republican to Adolf Hitler, but then hosted him at his mansion with only a few days’ notice, to the shock and dismay of many Mexicans.

“Maybe Pena Nieto was right to invite Trump,” said the lawyer Mendoza, gloomily. “I always thought the US was at the vanguard. This makes me wonder.”

Pena Nieto and other members of the government face the task of trying to repair ties with the incoming US administration after months of accusations from both sides. Central bank governor Agustin Carstens has been among the most vocal critics of Trump in Mexico, calling him a category 5 “hurricane” for the economy.

“Mexico has been attacked in many ways” during the campaign, said Marcela Guerra, who heads the nation’s Senate committee on North American relations and is part of the Organization of American States’ first observation mission to a US election. Speaking before the election result, she said Mexico has “a lot to lose.” Bloomberg

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