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Mexico is feeling jitters over the prospect of a Trump victory

Mexico is feeling jitters over the prospect of a Trump victory
A man tries on a Donald Trump mask at a market in Mexico City on Nov. 6, 2016. (Mario Guzman / European Pressphoto Agency)

On the eve of  U.S. elections, the prospect of a Donald Trump victory is roiling Mexico's national currency, unsettling markets and sending deep jitters throughout Mexican society.

While U.S. presidential races always generate interest in Mexico — which has deep economic, social and historic ties to its giant northern neighbor — the Republican candidate's incendiary rhetoric has produced a singularly anxious focus.

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Trump's Mexico-related policy-pronouncements — including his vows to nix trade deals, build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and deport illegal immigrants — have yielded deep disquiet here, both with officials and average Mexicans.

"If Trump wins, there will be very difficult times for Mexico," predicted Brenda Cortes, 23, a student, in a typical comment among people interviewed in the capital in recent days. "Our government is not ready for this man."

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Following a Catholic Church service in the city of Puebla on Sunday, a priest asked parishioners to say a "Hail Mary" that Trump would be defeated, arguing that his victory would cause great economic hardship for Mexicans.

Mexico's central bank has announced that it is making unspecified "contingency plans" in the event of a Trump victory.

"The result of the election will have consequences that I hope will be positive but could be negative," Agustin Carstens, governor of the Bank of Mexico, told the Milenio news outlet last week.

In a previous interview with Radio Formula, Carstens characterized as "Category 5" hurricane the prospect of a Trump triumph compared to a victory for Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

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"It would be a hurricane of considerably more intensity, especially if he follows through with what has been mentioned in his campaign," Carstens said.

The value of the peso has slid toward a record low of 20 to the dollar in recent weeks during periods when Trump was rising in U.S. electoral polls. By contrast, Trump declines in polling have bolstered the peso. The Mexican stock market has also oscillated according to Trump's polling numbers.

The fears here may be overblown, some experts said, because the deep links between the U.S. and Mexican economies would make it difficult for a President Trump to impose his controversial proposals.

"The reality on the ground will catch up to anyone the moment they step into the White House," said Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexican Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington. "Many of the things said on the campaign trail will probably have to stay on the campaign trail because of the reality of the interdependence of the U.S.-Mexico relationship."

That does not appear to have tempered the disdain for Trump. The ranks of well-known Mexicans who have publicly backed Clinton include Vicente Fernandez, the ranchera music icon, who in September released a corrido, or ballad, endorsing Clinton and urging U.S. Latinos to vote for her.

Last year, many Mexicans who had never heard of Trump were outraged when the real estate magnate launched his campaign  assailing Mexican immigrants to the United States as "rapists," drug runners and criminals.

In his visit to Mexico in August to meet President Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump struck a more conciliatory tone. He extolled Mexican Americans as "spectacular, hard-working people" and "beyond reproach."

Still, his image in Mexico did not seem to improve. Trump pinatas remain a popular item here.

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"Things will only get worse here if Trump wins and there are massive deportations," predicted Amalia Ruiz, 41, a mother of four who says she survives largely on cash sent home by her husband, an undocumented dishwasher in California.

"What are the deportees going to do?" asked  Ruiz, interviewed outside a Western Union office, where many pick up money wired from loved ones in the United States. "Here there is no work."

Trump has threatened to cut off those remittances in a bid to pressure Mexico to pay for his proposed wall. That threat has resonated among the many Mexican families dependent on that money.

Remittances to Mexico amounted to almost $25 billion in 2015, overtaking oil as the nation's second-largest generator of foreign income, after manufactured goods. Any major reduction in the flow could cause a brutal jolt to an already sluggish Mexican economy.

Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

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