Trump backs Mexico into a corner

But Trump has underestimated the response of the Mexican people. Even before Jan. 20, Mexico was already a tinderbox. The drastic reduction of international oil prices along with the collapse in the value of the Mexican peso—50 percent since Peña Nieto took power in 2012—has led to a serious fiscal crisis along with a jump in inflation. The government has responded with the highly questionable strategy of squeezing consumers through new taxes on gasoline and hiking the prices on public utilities, such as electricity.

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. On Jan. 1, the day the new gas and electricity prices came into effect, tens of thousands of angry citizens took to the streets throughout the country. Since then there have been marches and protests almost every day. Just about every city, small, medium or large, has participated in the mobilizations and the protests have quickly morphed from being about gas and electricity prices to a broader set of demands.

Mexicans blame Peña Nieto’s privatizing oil reforms for the weakness of Mexican oil production and thereby the increase in oil prices. Corruption scandals have drawn close to the president’s inner circle, including former governors Humberto Moreira and Javier Duarte, fueling further outrage. Recent polls place his approval rating at 12 percent, the lowest for any Mexican president in modern history. Mexicans are demanding a full overhaul of the entire political system.

This is the context that explains Peña Nieto’s surprising cancellation of next Tuesday’s meeting with Trump in the White House.