Trump's image-changing Mexico visit turns ugly

The Republican presidential nominee's trip seen initially as a game changer was scarred by reports that he lied.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Donald Trump and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto arrive for a press conference at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City.

Updated Sep 3, 2016

The US presidential hopeful Donald Trump flew to Mexico City on Wednesday and met Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in a surprise visit seen by many as an attempt by the outlandish Republican candidate to soften his image.

So did he succeed? The Washington Post thinks not.

The newspaper ran a story headlined "Donald Trump's Mexico visit ends with Mexico basically accusing him of lying."

Trump has in past called for building a wall between the two countries to stop flow of Mexican migrants into the US.

It has continued to be a major rallying point throughout his election bid. He has also often asserted that he'd make Mexico pay for the wall once he is elected.

The two had a private meeting and later addressed a joint press conference.

When a reporter asked Trump if the question of who is going to pay for the wall came up, he said the wall was discussed but not his demand that Mexico also pays for it.

But just hours later, Mexican President Nieto was tweeting that the subject regarding the payment was indeed discussed and he had made clear that Mexico won't pay for it.

People were quick to point out that it was unlikely for Trump not to have brought up the issue of payment. 

Overall, Trump's visit was viewed positively – especially as it was a stark departure from the real estate tycoon's previous outbursts in which he had called Mexicans "rapists" and "criminals." 

Trump said he considered Nieto a friend and referred to Mexican Americans as "hard-working people."

Republican candidate's visit also attained significance as it came hours before a key speech Trump was to make on his often-criticised immigration policy.

That Nieto invited and received Trump despite facing criticism at home was also a bit out of place. Nieto had earlier likened Trump to Adolf Hitler.

Outside on the streets of Mexico City, people came out to protests with placards emblazoned with captions such as "You are not Wall-come" and "Trump and Pena out."

A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against the visit of US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Mexico City. Source: Reuters

"Trump has badmouthed Mexicans, it's appalling that the president has invited him," said Abril Marquez, a 23-year-old law student holding a sign saying "Trump, you're not welcome!"

Traditionally bitter political adversaries in Mexico have been united in their rejection of Trump, making Wednesday's hastily-arranged encounter a gamble with few obvious benefits for Nieto.

Trump also took a softer approach to his opposition of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he had blamed for eating up jobs of US citizens.

"Though he mostly stuck (to) his positions on renegotiating NAFTA and halting illegal immigration, he was also conciliatory," CNN noted.

"He spoke of the flight of jobs not from the United States but also from Mexico and Central America to overseas economies."

The Mexican President also seems to have sensed Trump's change of heart as was apparent form his remarks at the press conference.

"The Mexican people has felt aggrieved by comments that have been made, but I was sure his interest in building a relationship is genuine," Nieto said.

A completely different approach taken by Trump could possibly help him at the elections due in November this year.

"If the goal of Mr Trump's visit to Mexico City was to represent his nation on the world stage without the kind of embarrassment or controversy that Hillary Clinton warns would be certain if he is elected, then his last minute trip was a success," BBC's Anthony Zurcher said.

Democratic contender Clinton, who leads the opinion polls, was skeptical about Trump's visit, saying he could not undo his harsh language against Mexico.

"It certainly takes more than trying to make up for more than a year of insults and insinuations by dropping in on our neighbors for a few hours and then flying home again," she told a convention of military veterans in Cincinnati.

Author: Saad Hasan

TRTWorld and agencies