WASHINGTON – Former Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala, a member of the National Action Party (PAN) and a presidential hopeful, warned on Tuesday that US President Donald Trump’s speech last week could spark a populist reaction in Mexico.
In a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington, the wife of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that Trump’s address before a joint session of Congress last week was isolationist and divisive and “is having an effect on everyone’s future,” including Mexico, which in 2018 is holding a presidential election.
Zavala said that the discontent over corruption, security and the economy in Mexico have been exacerbated by Trump’s rhetoric but “one cannot fall into demagoguery because it’s dangerous for everyone.”
“The rhetoric of hate,” she said, “can work, but we must be more astute” and be talking about “rational” policies.
In Mexico, she said, “we need a change, but it must be a responsible change and a change in rational public policies.”
The former first lady, who recently announced that she is exploring a presidential run, asked for Mexico not to fall into demagoguery, as has occurred in the US, with the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union and with the resurgence of the extreme right in Europe.
Public opinion surveys in Mexico have shown an increase in popularity for the head of the National Regeneration Movement, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, considered by analysts to be the populist alternative in the 2018 election, since Trump’s election win.
Zavala pointed to Venezuela as an example of what populism can lead to in a rich country that slides into “confrontation and authoritarianism.”
The former first lady criticized Trump’s speech attacking the trade ties with Mexico and calling for building a wall along the US-Mexico border as a solution to the problem of illegal migration and drug trafficking.
She said that problems such as the increase in illegal migration from Central America are not solved with walls, but rather with interaction and measures that help local communities.
Zavala noted that the level of trade integration between Mexico and the US is one of the highest in the world and that, if Trump wants to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement he should take this into account.
Trump’s proposals to turn his back on Mexico, she added, “have led us as a people to make decisions, to look inside and see how we’re resolving our problems, because others will not do it for us.”