MEXICO CITY -- One thing that Presidents Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico share is they are hardly considered heroes in their homeland.
Both have low domestic approval ratings that sometimes stand in sharp contrast to their images abroad.
Obama flew to Mexico on Wednesday for a daylong summit with Peña Nieto and their Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, the almost-annual meeting of North America’s three leaders that has been taking place since 2005.
This year's meeting is being held in Toluca, the rather nondescript capital of Mexico State just west of Mexico City, where Peña Nieto served as governor until his run for the presidency in 2012.
Despite the to-be-expected protests from the left -- one man Wednesday dressed up as Mexican national patriarch Miguel Hidalgo and shouted “out with foreigners” in the middle of Toluca; another burned an American flag - Obama gets relatively high marks among Mexicans.
In a survey this month by the Strategic Cabinet firm, 63.5% of Mexicans polled had a favorable opinion of Obama, down from 74.1% last April. [Link in Spanish]
Compare that to the 40% approval rating that Gallup gives Obama in the U.S., near the lowest of his presidency.
Peña Nieto fares even worse. He seems to be the darling of Wall Street and some East Coast press (including a flattering cover this week on international editions of Time magazine), but his disapproval rating at home has soared from 18% in December 2012 (the month he took office) to 61%, according to the Beltran & Associates polling firm.
With the Mexican government sprucing up Toluca and sending a massive security detachment in advance of summit, some Mexican Twitter users were circulating a tongue-in-cheek graphic that pleaded for Obama to stay - and even take over as mayor:
"Barack Obama for Municipal President of Toluca," the graphic said, before noting his "achievements" over the last 15 days--including new plants and gardens in the old downtown area, new street paving projects, an increase in tourist revenue, and "more security with police and new circulating patrols."
"Thank you very much," it concludes, in English. "Please don't go."
All in good humor, of course, but it was easy to detect the acerbic undercurrent: a sense that Mexican authorities were applying Potemkin makeup to Toluca. Mexico State is the densest and most populous of the 31 Mexican states, and one that is suffering from its share of serious trouble.
Federal statistics show that the state's 3,897 homicides last year led the nation.
Where Obama does come under pointed criticism in Mexico is his failure to push through immigration reform and his record-setting rate of deportations. Many deportees are Mexican.
“Almost 2 million expelled migrants during the Obama administration, a third of them Mexican,” complained Ricardo Monreal, a leftist congressman. “Why is that not a theme in the Toluca summit?”
Cecilia Sanchez of the Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times