A new Mexican Ambassador faces old challenges?

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    Enrique Bravo

    In the past few weeks, Mexico and the United States have reshuffled the top diplomats responsible for managing their bilateral relationship. The U.S. Senate finally confirmed the not-so-recent appointment of Roberta Jacobson as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Ambassador Jacobson’s arrival in Mexico City will raise the level of bilateral dialogue in Mexico’s capital, and this is very good news. But perhaps the more relevant changes are coming from the Mexican side.

    At the beginning of April the Mexican government announced the appointment of Carlos Sada, who has held several diplomatic positions in the US, as new Ambassador to the United States, and of José Paulo Carreño, former head of Marca Pais (the office within the Presidency in charge of coordinating efforts to shape Mexico’s image abroad) as new Undersecretary for North America. These two appointments accompanied the designation of 28 new consuls in Mexico’s 49-consulate network in the U.S.

    All these new appointments come at a critical moment for Mexico’s reputation in the U.S. It is not breaking news to say that Mexico has an image problem in the U.S., but lately there seems to be little discussion as to what caused it, and what needs to be done to address it.

    Judging from the Mexican government’s response, Mexico is placing blame at the feet of Republican presidential contenders (particularly Donald Trump, but not exclusively) who have been campaigning with an anti-Mexican tone during the current U.S. primary election season. In response to this abrasive discourse, the Mexican government has announced it is changing gears and taking action. “Mexico will not be the punching bag of people in the U.S. pursuing their own political interests,” Sada said recently in an interview.

    But is Mexico’s image problem really a consequence only -or even mainly- of Trump diatribes? The latest bout of bad press for the Mexican Government regarding the highly controversial investigations of the disappeared students from Ayotzinapa indicates otherwise. This round of negative coverage follows previous instances of tough questions from the U.S. press and political actors regarding corruption and human rights violations in Mexico, suggesting that Mexico’s internal politics continue to have at least something to do with its image problem abroad. These problems – which are arguably more within the Mexican government’s power to address than unabashed Republican candidates’ sputter – seem to remain unacknowledged in the government’s bilateral discourse.

    Donald Trump’s brazen statements -and the anti-Mexican sentiment they are fueling- are certainly a major challenge for the Mexican Foreign Secretariat and the Mexican Ambassador to Washington. But it seems that the country’s image problem also originates in how the Mexican Government is responding to domestic challenges, and how that response is perceived by news-consuming Americans. This more sophisticated diagnosis therefore requires more complex solutions. Mexico’s maintenance of the bilateral relationship with the U.S. must include much more than an effective public relations campaign aimed at American citizens.

    Ambassador Sada is scheduled to arrive in Washington in the coming days, so perhaps we should give him some advice. What can Ambassador Sada, a talented and experienced Mexican diplomat, who knows the U.S. and its Mexican communities very well, do about this image problem? Can hard data, facts, and evidence of the size and relevance of our bilateral relationship change the mind of those in the U.S. who have a negative opinion of Mexico and Mexicans in the U.S., as the Mexican Government seems to believe?

    • This topic was modified 4 years, 5 months ago by Enrique Bravo.
    Colin Hale

    This seems to be the perpetual question for the US-Mexico relationship.

    In 2014, I did my own unofficial media analysis of news stories on Mexico from the four major newspapers and four major news networks in the US. In total, nearly 1200 articles over an 18-month period. Nearly two-thirds of the articles were negative, focusing on violence, economic despair, crime, narcos, etc. Words such as “Drugs,” “corruption,” “violence,” and “trafficking” were common. The most-used positive word – “aircraft,” was used in less than 200 articles.

    Clearly, both sides of the border have a role to play in perpetuating this image. American media – particularly from outlets or writers that lack the background, resources or nuance to go beyond – will often takes the easy story – the bleed-lead strategy – as opposed to providing real insight into a country of 120 million people. Certainly, Mexico is to blame for allowing the security situation to deteriorate so poorly – and for the immense levels of deep and violent corruption that only seem to have increased during EPN’s leadership.

    Trump’s idiotic rhetoric on Mexico and Mexicans has only been national and international headlines for a year and a half at most. It is silly – and lame – for Mexican officials to place blame for their own failures at the feet of El Idiota Naranjado.

    Mohammed Barakat

    It seems to me that this election cycle, specifically the republican primary, is yet another chapter in US-Mexico political banter. Politicians tap into long standing xenophobic sentiments that are rooted in the relationship’s complex history. While Trumps ignorant characterization may mark a recent climax of such antics on the US side, drawing on such sentiments for political gain is hardly a new concept for Mexico either. Similar to the brash nationalism Trump seeks to play on by demonizing all things Mexico; political candidates in Mexico have also demonized the US for similar political gain for years. When you consider this in the larger historic frame, it is interesting to see how much more controversial it is that it’s coming from the northern side of the border.

    That’s not to downplay the real negative consequences of what Trump and other GOP candidates have preached on a national stage, but more so to place it into context. Do we hold the US to a higher standard when it comes to dangerous political rhetoric as it relates to our Mexican neighbors? Or do we (Americans) pay far less attention to Mexican politicians who also spew hateful and dangerous rhetoric towards us? I think this is an interesting way to highlight how much more attention the US presidential election receives to any other election- especially ones in Mexico. About a year ago a friend of mine from Mexico was grilling me on this election season so fervently to the point where I had to ask him why he was so worked up about it already. He quickly responded, “Well sure man, this is the most important election in the world!” This is yet another imbalance to take note of as we continue to discuss and consider the US-Mexico relationship.

    Nastasha Everheart

    When considering how to navigate his new role, it will be important for Ambassador Sada to acknowledge the issues facing his government and work within the bounds of his position to effect positive change both domestically in Mexico and in terms of how the U.S. interacts with its neighbor to the south. But we must remember that as a diplomat, Ambassador Sada’s domestic influence is limited; he must work indirectly to strengthen the U.S. relationship in favor of positive developments at home.

    He can lay the groundwork for this in three ways:

    (1) Speak the same language as the U.S. government. Not English or Spanish—the language I am talking about is diplomacy. A content analysis (akin to what Colin mentions above) of official U.S. government statements on the bilateral relationship would likely show terms like “partnership,” “engagement,” and “dialogue.” Ambassador Sada would be apt to use that rhetoric to his advantage and politely request that the U.S. treats Mexico in a way that aligns with its own already-articulated vision for the relationship.

    (2) Engage with your counterpart constantly. In the same way that Ambassador Sada was deeply engaged in the U.S.-Mexico relationship prior to his appointment, Roberta Jacobson brings a legacy of bilateral engagement to the table as Ambassador to Mexico. Her achievements at WHA include transformational change of the U.S. relationship with Cuba and emphasis on the HLED and educational exchanges with Mexico. For her accomplishments in the region, she should be viewed as a strong ally for Ambassador Sada.

    (3) Look beyond the beltway. While it is easy to be distracted by the negative rhetoric on Mexico coming from the U.S. presidential primaries, other parts of the country are having productive conversations about the U.S.-Mexico relationship that expand beyond immigrants, walls, drugs, and corruption. Having spent the last several years in Los Angeles, Ambassador Sada is well aware that the West Coast in particular has a nuanced view of the great potential of this relationship. His public diplomacy efforts in Washington should draw that experience to broaden public conversations about Mexico.

    Above all, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect partnership. Ambassador Sada is a representative a country that faces a myriad of issues at home and abroad—but this does not mean that he cannot or should not do everything in his power to effect positive change. I am confident he will do so.

    Pablo Medina

    Without a doubt, the new Mexican Ambassador faces challenging times, which I would say shouldn’t be entirely blamed to the Trump phenomenon. The government has taken a beating in the international media for the Ayotzinapa case, in which I still maintain that the PRD’s outfoxed the PRI’s federal government. And I say this as someone that dislikes all political parties in Mexico. In other words, it’s giving our friend Donald too much credit for the negative PR storm currently being endured by Mexico.

    Nevertheless, disregarding the real threat that President Trump would pose to Mexico is a must. When people laugh about the feasability of Mexico paying for the building of the wall, or when former Mexican president Vicente Fox tweets a mispelled insult “We aren’t paying for the fo..ing (sic) wall”, we endure the myth that this would be done through something akin of a cash request to Banco de Mexico.

    Mexico is forecasted to import more than 5 bcfd of natural gas from the United States in the next ten years. From a diverse range of angles this makes a lot of sense; having access to some of the cheapest gas on Earth is a blessing. What if the next US president would enact a tariff for gas exports to Mexico? Sure, it might require majorities in both chambers and the private sector would definitely complain, particularly those exporting the gas and the auto industry present in Mexico. Nonetheless, this could very well happen or at least we can’t certainly deny this as a potential risk.

    When Porfirio Diaz alledgedly said: “Pobre Mexico, tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de Estados Unidos” he explained a lot about the US-Mexico relationship. What did he explain? Well that depends on the reader, but what is undeniable is the sense of ambiguity and the paradox of two neighbours that depend on each other in more so than they’d rather admit.

    What can we expect from the next US president? No one knows but Mexico certainly needs to take the risk of a status-quo shattering US President seriously, regardless of what happens within Mexico.

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