As negotiators were mixing it up in Washington last week over the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Mexico City hoping for its demise.
The marchers, representing subsistence farmers, leftist unions and a variety of social groups, had a fairly simple message: Dump NAFTA and focus more on the internal economy in a nation where half the population has remained poor during 23 years of open trade with the U.S. and Canada.
"NAFTA is hurting you! Mexico is better off without free-trade agreements," read one sign carried during the rally. "For a new economic direction for Mexico."
President Donald Trump's narrative of Mexico as the big winner under NAFTA — so big that the U.S. needs to tilt the accord back toward American interests — is news to most Mexicans who have seen wages stagnate amid sluggish economic growth.
A July survey by the Mexican polling firm Consulta Mitofsky found 46 percent of Mexicans think the U.S. has received most of the benefits of the pact, followed by Mexico at 12 percent and Canada at 6 percent.
Mexican auto workers have fared better than campesinos, or farm workers, under the pact as foreign factories now dot the landscape, hugging rail hubs and port routes that take finished vehicles across the border to the U.S. and as far away as China. But the $2-an-hour wages these workers earn building the cars of other people's dreams still leave many dependent on public transportation and government-subsidized housing.
As $1 billion factories from German luxury brands join the made-in-Mexico club, workers often express bewilderment at downward pressure on wages, even as they add greater value for automakers.
"If you're making premium cars, you should get premium wages," said one Audi worker disgusted with Mexico's toothless unions.
To be sure, only a small minority of Mexicans want to scuttle NAFTA entirely: 15 percent in the Mitofsky poll and 23 percent in an earlier survey by the Parametria polling firm.
By measurements big and small, Mexicans have a precarious relationship with the free-trade pact, recognizing that export jobs have kept the unemployment rate low in recent years but with essentially no upward mobility.
A lot of the opposition to NAFTA comes from poor Mexican farmers who have seen local markets flooded by basic grains and other farming goods from the U.S. They are the flip side to American manufacturing workers who blame Mexico for taking their jobs away.