Shock, sadness, anger and fear spread across Mexico on Wednesday as the nation woke up to the reality of a U.S. president who has threatened to deport millions of its countrymen, rip up trade deals and make it pay for a wall along the American border. The electoral victory of Donald J. Trump was already shaking the Mexican economy before dawn, with the peso weakening in after market and Asian trading by 13 percent—its most rapid loss since the 1994 “Tequila crisis,” which decimated the country. Mexico’s stock exchange then opened to fall 4 percent.
But market losses paled next to the long-term risk of facing a highly antagonistic U.S. government for the first time in generations. “The United States became a superpower after the Second World War and since then we have never had to face it being openly hostile towards us,” says Alejandro Hope, a former member of Mexico’s federal intelligence agency. “It is far more powerful than us, and it holds all the cards. If Trump takes a very aggressive stance to Mexico it could do overwhelming damage.”
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Trade between the two nations has mushroomed since the passage North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, and last year Mexico exported $316 billion worth of goods and services to the U.S., accounting for almost a third of its $1.1 trillion economy. But Trump has promised to rewrite or scrap NAFTA to try and bring manufacturing jobs back north. There are also 11 million Mexicans living in the United States, about half without papers, and they sent back almost $25 billion in remittances last year. But Trump promised to step up deportations, at one point calling for a new “deportation force.”
“I feel uncertainty and indignation about where this will lead,” said Sandra Ramirez, a social worker in Ciudad Juarez, which borders El Paso, Texas. “The election of Trump reflects an intolerant society with a racism that has been woken up.” Like many in Juarez, Ramirez crosses the border back and forth into El Paso on an almost daily basis. But she fears that Trump’s presidency could lead to much harsher inspections on the border as happened in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when fear of terrorists crossing over from Mexico created backups that made many suspend going into the U.S.
The Mexican government tried to give reassurances that it was ready for the Trump effect. “Mexico is in a position of strength to confront the new environment,” Finance Secretary Jose Antonio Meade said in a joint news conference with the head of the central bank. Meanwhile, President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that he was open to working with Trump. “I trust that Mexico and the United States will go on strengthening their links of cooperation and mutual respect,” he wrote. In August, Trump went to Pena Nieto’s presidential palace in Mexico, a meeting that garnered widespread criticism here for pandering to a candidate seen as offending Mexicans. In a survey before the election, 83 percent of Mexicans said they had an unfavorable view of Trump.
However, some Mexicans have more nuanced views to the Trump victory. Bernardo Estevez, who runs an orange juice stand near the Mexico City center, says he respects Trump’s nationalism. “He wears the t-shirt of his nation and he says that he is going to look after his people and screw everybody else,” Estevez says. “Here our politicians just steal from us and take the money out of the country.” Mexico has suffered a series of high profile corruption cases, including that of the governor of Veracruz State Gov. Javier Duarte who went on the run last month following embezzlement allegations, and is alleged to have more than 100 houses in the United States.
Others believe that Trump’s bark may be worse than his bite. Academic Jorge Chabat, who specializes on U.S.-Mexico relations, says that Trump will be constrained by both the courts and U.S. businesses. “He will be the president of the United States but not the owner of it and not the king of a small country in Africa who can do whatever he likes,” Chabat says. “If he sticks a 35 percent duty on goods coming from Mexico, the first to complain will be the businesses in Texas and California who benefit from cheap Mexican imports.”
Another figure who weighed in on the Trump victory was presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist who hopes to replace Pena Nieto when his term runs out in 2018. Lopez Obrador, who champions an anti-establishment nationalism that some have compared with Trump’s discourse, released a video telling Mexicans not to worry. “You must not forget that Mexico, because of the efforts and sacrifices of our founding fathers, is a country that is free, independent, sovereign,” he said. “It is not a colony. It is not a protectorate. It doesn’t depend on any foreign government.”