Mexicans hold massive anti-Trump protest
AFP, Sunday 12 Feb 2017

Mexicans held what is shaping up to be their largest protest yet against US President Donald Trump, hitting back Sunday at his anti-Mexican rhetoric and vows to make the country pay for his "big, beautiful" border wall.

Marches got under way in some 20 cities across the country, including the capital, Mexico City, where thousands of people were expected to flood a central avenue dressed in white and waving the red, white and green of the Mexican flag.

Dozens of universities, business associations and civic organizations are backing the protest.

"It's time we citizens combine forces and unite our voices to show our indignation and rejection of President Trump, while contributing to the search for concrete solutions," said the coalition behind the marches.

US-Mexican relations have plunged to their lowest point in decades since Trump took office on January 20.

Trump, who launched his presidential campaign calling Mexican immigrants "criminals" and "rapists," has infuriated the United States' southern neighbor with his plan to stop illegal immigration by building a wall on the border -- and in particular with his vows to make Mexico pay for it.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto canceled a January 31 trip to Washington over Trump's insistence that Mexico pay for the wall.

Trump has also wrought havoc on the Mexican economy with his threats to terminate the country's privileged trade relationship with the United States, blaming Mexico for the loss of American jobs.

The Mexican peso has taken a beating nearly every time Trump insisted on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), attacked car-makers and other companies that manufacture in Mexico, or vowed to slap steep tariffs on Mexican-made goods.

Mexico sends 80 percent of its exports to the United States -- nearly $300 billion in goods in 2015.

The confrontation has stoked patriotic pride in Mexico, where US companies like Starbucks, Coca-Cola and McDonald's are the targets of boycott campaigns and many people have taken to putting the Mexican flag in their profile pictures on social media.

Not everyone is on board with Sunday's protests, however.

Some accused Pena Nieto of using the ostensibly non-partisan marches to try to bolster his own popularity -- which has taken a beating over perceptions he has been too conciliatory toward a bullying neighbor.

When the rector of the country's largest university, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, backed the marches, many students and professors voiced outrage.

The hashtag "#It'sNotTrumpIt'sPena" is trending on Twitter in Mexico. And prominent Catholic priest Alejandro Solalinde tweeted that Mexicans have less to fear from Trump than "their own tyrants."

The new nationalism appears to be giving a boost to Mexican presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, whom some political analysts call a "leftist Donald Trump" for his populist, anti-establishment rhetoric.

Lopez Obrador -- widely known by his initials, AMLO -- was the runner-up in the past two presidential elections.

He is leading in opinion polls for presidential elections in 2018 -- and appears to be benefiting from Trump's anti-Mexican vitriol, which has badly dented not only Pena Nieto, who is ineligible for re-election, but also the ruling PRI party.

Ironically, a Lopez Obrador victory next year could work to Trump's disadvantage, giving him a far more hardline counterpart to work with.

As Sunday's protests unfold in Mexico, Lopez Obrador will be visiting the United States to address both Mexicans and Americans in Los Angeles about Trump's "poisonous" rhetoric.

"This campaign... of xenophobia, of causing hate, must be confronted," he said before leaving.

"We Mexicans are being persecuted. It's all a political strategy."