By MARK STEVENSON
MEXICO CITY — President Enrique Pena Nieto awoke to a storm of criticism from Mexicans over his decision to meet Wednesday with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is widely reviled in Mexico for referring to its migrants as “rapists” and criminals.
Former first lady Margarita Zavala, herself a potential presidential candidate, aimed a tweet at Trump, saying: “Even though you may have been invited, we want you to know you’re not welcome. We Mexicans have dignity, and we reject your hate speech.”
At least two protests were already being planned for downtown Mexico City and Pena Nieto’s office would not say exactly where or when the meeting would be held, possibly in a bid to avoid protests outside the meeting site.
Leading historian Enrique Krauze also addressed a tweet to Trump in English: “Listen … We Mexicans expect nothing less than an apology for calling us ‘criminals and rapists.’”
He compared Pena Nieto’s meeting to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signing of a 1938 peace pact with Germany. “Tyrants are to be confronted, not pacified,” Krauze told the Televisa TV network.
Even Pena Nieto has made such such comparisons. Asked about Trump in March, Pena Nieto complained to the Excelsior newspaper about “these strident expressions that seek to propose very simple solutions.” He said that sort of language has led to “very fateful scenes in the history of humanity.”
“That’s the way Mussolini arrived and the way Hitler arrived,” Pena Nieto said.
Many Mexicans felt the Republican had left Pena Nieto flat-footed by accepting an invitation the Mexican president had made simply for appearances’ sake.
The newspaper El Universal wrote in an editorial that Trump “caught Mexican diplomats off guard” by accepting the invitation, and “got one step ahead of them.”
“They wanted to invite Hillary (Clinton), but that meant inviting both of them and nobody thought Trump would accept first,” said Mexico City-based security analyst Alejandro Hope. “What’s in it for Mexico? Here there’s nothing to gain. The upside is all for Trump.”
Historically, the golden rule of Mexico’s foreign policy has been to avoid being seen as taking sides in U.S. politics; hence the two invitations, even though Mexico favors Hillary Clinton’s position on a path to citizenship for migrants.
Pena Nieto acknowledged he had invited both candidates, and said he did it because “I believe in dialogue to promote Mexico’s interests and above all to protect Mexicans everywhere.”
Mexicans have already made — and beaten to pulp — pinatas of Donald Trump. They created a video game in which players can throw soccer balls, cactus leaves and tequila bottles at a cartoon image of Trump.