Mexico’s presidential front-runner launched his campaign close to the U.S. border on Sunday, demanding respect for Mexicans hours after U.S. President Donald Trump again threatened to scrap a key trade pact and erect a wall between the countries.
Striking a nationalistic tone, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador signaled that if he won the July 1 election, he would be less accommodating toward Trump than the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which has lagged in opinion polls over its failure to contain violence and corruption.
“Mexico and its people will not be the pinata of any foreign government,” Lopez Obrador said in a speech to thousands of people who jeered and swore at the mention of Trump. The U.S. president is almost universally disliked in Mexico.
“It’s not with walls or use of force that you resolve social problems.”
Symbolically, the three-month campaign began in Ciudad Juarez, whose namesake, Benito Juarez, was a 19th century Mexican president from indigenous roots whose exiled government resisted a French colonialist intervention from the unruly city that borders El Paso, Texas.
Trump on Sunday morning reiterated his threat that has hung over the campaign, to cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement among Mexico, Canada and the United States, tying its future to its efforts to stop migrants going north.
“Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border,” he said in a tweet.
Lopez Obrador criticized President Enrique Pena Nieto for export-focused economic policies that he said benefited the few, and promised a strategy to build up Mexico’s internal markets.
He decried the paltry minimum wage in Mexico, which is less than 90 pesos ($4.96) a day, and the huge salary differences between U.S. and Mexican auto industry workers, challenging Trump’s narrative that Mexico has benefited most from NAFTA.
While he reaffirmed his backing for the pact, he said talks to renegotiate the agreement should be suspended until after the election, and that any new deal should address wages and immigration.
“I liked that he said we won’t be Trump’s servants, nobody has said it like that,” Abelardo Ochoa, 32, said at the rally. “We work so hard here to earn well, but you cross the border and it’s something else.”