With the Republican presidential nominee touching down Wednesday afternoon in Mexico City, President Enrique Peña Nieto may be greeting Donald Trump with open arms, but a number of his countrymen are giving the real estate mogul the cold shoulder as he makes a last-minute visit to the country.
Ángel Díaz, 53, sells newspapers on Reforma, one of Mexico City’s principal avenues. He holds a copy of a paper with a headline about Trump's visit and shakes his head.
“I really don’t understand how our president could invite this man,” he told Fox News Latino. “The president should be answering the insults and the lack respect that man has shown us, but instead he’s being friendly. Trump wants to build a wall, almost like the Berlin wall. Nothing good can come of this visit.”
"We don't want him, it was a bad idea to invite him,” Yuriria Villano, a security guard, agreed. “I hope the president tells him that he should respect Mexico and Mexicans, but it's more likely that he'll be friendly."
From taxi drivers and students to former presidents and high-ranking government officials, Mexicans are decrying the trip by the U.S. presidential candidate, who in the past has referred to Mexico as a source of rapists and drug dealers and an unfair trade partner.
They are slamming the already unpopular Peña Nieto for inviting the billionaire businessman to the presidential residence, Los Piños. The meeting was initially scheduled for 2:30 p.m. local time (3:30 Eastern) but according to local media it was delayed.
The outspoken former President Vicente Fox was among the first to offer a reaction.
“First of all let me tell you, he is not welcome to Mexico by 130 million people, we don't like him, we don't want him, we reject his visit,” he tweeted on Wednesday morning.
“I don't understand why President Peña Nieto has offered this opportunity; I think it's nothing more than a political stunt.”
Trump was quick in replying to his comments.
“Former President Vicente Fox, who is railing against my visit to Mexico today, also invited me when he apologized for using the ‘f bomb.’” Trump tweeted.
Fox’s successor, Felipe Calderón, has so far remained silent on the visit but his wife Margarita Zavala de Calderón, a former lawmaker, has not been so restrained.
“Mr. Trump, despite the invitation, know that you are not welcome. Mexicans have dignity and repudiate his hate speech,” she wrote.
Peña Nieto has not been spared criticism for inviting the Republican nominee from either side of the political spectrum.
"You do not understand [Peña Nieto], the presence of [Trump] in Mexico invited by you is behavior unworthy of the Mexican Government,” tweeted Mexican Sen. Miguel Barbosa of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).
— Miguel Barbosa (@MBarbosaMX) August 31, 2016
“In whose head does it occur to invite Donald Trump?,” Ricardo Anaya, president of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), wrote on his Facebook account. “[Trump] is not welcome in Mexico.”
On social media, a protest against the visit was announced for 11 a.m. at the Angel of Independence monument in the center of the city, but a half hour after it was set to begin, very few people had shown up.
Many observers – both in and out of Mexico – say that Peña Nieto’s invitation for Trump to visit is a ploy by a politician with abysmal approval ratings at home. A national newspaper poll this month put Peña Nieto's approval rating at 23 percent, its lowest level since he took office in 2012 –– only slightly better than Trump’s 4 percent favorability rating among Mexicans.
“By meeting with Mr. Trump just hours before he unveils his latest immigration positions, Peña Nieto is allowing himself to become a pawn in this campaign,” said Jason Marczak, Director, Latin America Economic Growth Initiative.
“Despite the consistently crude and offensive comments about Mexico and hard-working Mexican-Americans over the last year, Mexican officials have largely refused to be drawn in to U.S. politics,” he added.
In Mexico, many are puzzled by the timing of the visit. Peña Nieto is set to give his Informe de Gobierno speech tomorrow, the Mexican equivalent to the State of the Union address. During Peña Nieto’s time in office, the Mexican peso has taken a considerable dive and the economy has grown at a snail’s pace. Adding to this is a general feeling of anger among Mexicans toward his handling of the country’s drug war and the numerous scandals surrounding him, including claims that he plagiarized his law school thesis and assertions of corruption surrounding a house that his wife purchased.
So most observers agree that the visit is an enormous gamble.
“The timing of this visit isn’t very good for either party,” Fernando Dworak, a political scientist and teacher at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City, told FNL. “It seems to be very rushed, too improvised, and I don’t see clearly what it is exactly that the president is trying to achieve.”
The invitation to Trump marks a stark reversal in Peña Nieto’s stance toward his campaign. Peña Nieto had previously criticized the candidate for comments about the border wall and immigration and compared him to Adolf Hitler.
“[The meeting] gives an unfortunate sense of legitimacy to viewpoints out of touch with the reality,” Marczak said.
Miguel Ángel Santos, a 28-year-old taxi driver, had a more visceral response to the trip. “I hope they kick [Trump's] ass," 28-year old Miguel Ángel Santos, a chauffeur, told FNL. “But, then, our president isn’t exactly popular either.”
Jan-Albert Hootsen contributed to this report from Mexico City.