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Mexican Lawmakers Grapple with Trump, and What Comes Next

The Mexican president admitted 'there are challenging times and intense work ahead' on Monday, four days after he canceled his visit with Trump.
Image: Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and President Trump in Mexico City on Aug. 31, 2016.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and President Trump in Mexico City on Aug. 31, 2016. Trump visited the country as a candidate after his controversial comments about building a wall.Dario Lopez-Mills / AP

MEXICO CITY - The Mexican government has been holding meetings and wrestling with how to handle its northern neighbor and its new president, Donald Trump, who has vowed to build a wall between the two countries.

“I recognize there are challenging times and intense work ahead,” Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said in a statement Monday night, four days after he canceled his scheduled visit with Trump in Washington.

“The challenges are there. But we are ready to face them,” he added.

Challenges like the border wall that Trump insists will be paid for by Mexico.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and President Trump in Mexico City on Aug. 31, 2016. Trump visited the country as a candidate after his controversial comments about building a wall.Dario Lopez-Mills / AP

At a meeting Monday in the country's Senate building, Mexico’s foreign minister reiterated that was not going to happen.

“We reject any notion that Mexico will be paying for the wall,” said Luis Videgaray Caso, secretary of foreign affairs.

The tone from Mexican authorities recently has been more conciliatory.

On Friday, when Peña Nieto and Trump were battling through Twitter and the meeting was called off, one Mexican senator suggested to MSNBC that the country stop buying corn from the U.S. Corn Belt and stop collaborating on security.

Also Friday, former Mexico Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jorge Castañeda Gutman warned that evening that Trump was "playing with fire" and said steps Mexico could take could include expelling U.S. drug enforcement agents and easing up on control of immigration flows on its southern border.

But on Monday, Videgaray stressed the importance of coming up with a solution that benefits both countries.

“We have not broken with the U.S.,” he said “we continue to work toward a common dialogue.”

Related: Trump Shares Call With Mexican President Amid Border Tensions

Closed door meetings between government officials are possible in the next few days, after Peña Nieto and Trump spoke over the phone on Friday, Videgaray said.

Mexican lawmakers’ immediate plan of action is to allocate $50 million to strengthen the country’s consulates in the U.S. in order to “protect the rights of Mexican migrants,” by hiring staff to provide information and legal assistance.

The Peña Nieto administration is preparing for the return of tens of thousands of Mexican nationals after Trump signed two executive orders that would speed the deportation of undocumented immigrants and wall off the 2,000-mile border between the two countries.

For Trump, staying true to his campaign promise to have Mexico pay for the wall is proving easier said than done. Several proposals to fund the estimated $15 billion to $25 billion cost of building it have been floated. Among them, a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports and a hefty tax on the money Mexicans in the U.S. send home, known as remittances.

The latest suggestion came from White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus who said on Sunday on CBS’s 'Face the Nation' that a tax on drug cartels is also being considered in a “buffet of options.” Priebus didn't further explain how the tax on cartels would work.

Related: Trump Floats 20 Percent Tax on Mexican Imports to Pay for Border Wall

His comments landed on the front pages of Mexico’s top-circulation newspapers the next day. “They are considering having cartels pay for the wall!!” one headline read. “Can you imagine?” a talk radio host blared. “Now they’re going to ask the narcos to pay for the wall.”

While some make fun of Trump’s plans, others are not taking the news lightly.

A social media boycott of American companies in Mexico that started with #adiosstarbucks, #adiosMcDonalds and #adiosWalmart has now expanded to include #adiosDisney against vacationing in the U.S.

A new Corona beer ad promotes tourism in Latin America instead. The video boasts that América (with an accent) is “already great."

Mexicans can still be seen at Starbucks, but the message is clear: Don't visit the United States and don't buy American.

Then there are the anti-Trump ads in the newspaper calling for Mexicans to unite against Trump. One full-page ad in Reforma read: 'The US president is being led by xenophobic, racist and misogynist sentiments…No to the wall'.

The pressure is now on Peña Nieto, who seems to be getting a boost in support after his canceled visit, to manage Mexicans’ frustrations.

“It’s important for our president to be a true leader and channel this in a smart way…It’s not good to undermine businesses that provide jobs in Mexico,” said Alfonso Villalba, a corporate lawyer. “Mr. Peña is in a debate: to be really macho or to be more diplomatic.”

After a week of tensions that had the potential of turning into a full-blown trade war, it seems Mexico is ready to exhale. The question is whether Trump will let it.

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