Skip to navigationSkip to content
White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner arrives at a press conference offered by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray in Mexico City
AP Photo/Moises Castillo
Diplomat extraordinaire or enabler?
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE SITTER

Mexico promised Jared Kushner, 37, the same honor it gave Nelson Mandela

Ana Campoy
By Ana Campoy

Latin America reporter

Jared Kushner will receive the highest honor the Mexican government can bestow on a foreigner for service to the Mexican people. In Kushner’s case, that service was keeping his mercurial father-in-law in check.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Ministry didn’t mention Donald Trump in its Wednesday announcement of the recognition, the Order of the Aztec Eagle. But the implication is clear in the official explanation of why Kushner, who is married to Ivanka Trump, deserves it.

“There’s no doubt, without Kushner’s participation today we would not have a free trade agreement between Mexico, the US and Canada,” foreign minister Luis Videgaray told Mexican media. The three countries are expected to sign the new version of NAFTA, now known as USMCA, at the upcoming G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, where Kushner will also receive the Aztec Eagle award.

Kushner has been a deft, if unorthodox, presidential tantrum manager. But does that qualify as an awardable diplomatic achievement? You be the judge.

Kushner’s NAFTA intervention

Kushner quickly became the Trump administration’s point person on any Mexico policy matter, sidelining diplomats at the State Department, according to the New Yorker.

Behind-the-scenes reports back up Videgaray’s praise for Kushner’s role in the NAFTA negotiations. Working with Videgaray, the 37-year-old political neophyte helped tone down the language of a presidential speech on the border wall. At the time, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto was under mounting pressure from indignant Mexicans to hit back at Trump.

Negotiation leaders found Kushner to be “a good listener and courteous intermediary who quickly intuits the core of their issues and can facilitate meetings throughout the administration,” the Washington Post reported.

A Trump enabler?

Of course, NAFTA wouldn’t have been at risk if Trump hadn’t threatened to kill it, in the first place. And is Kushner doing anything to actually confront his father-in-law’s controversial policies?

New York Time’s columnist Frank Bruni doesn’t think so. In a recent column, he suggested the first son-in-law is trying to pass his contributions to the failures of the Trump’s administration as improvements to a situation that was already falling apart. “We’re not to fault Jared. We’re to fete him,” he wrote.

A humiliating move

Even if Kushner’s interventions ensure “an important stability element for the national economy, and provide certainty to millions of Mexican workers,” as the Foreign Relations Ministry claims in its statement, was it really necessary for outgoing president Enrique Peña Nieto to publicly recognize him on the same level as Nelson Mandela?

The award, announced just a few days after the US doused immigrants in Tijuana with tear gas, has incensed many Mexicans. “The aztec eagle to Kushner? Really? That’s how the government of indignity bids goodbye. Perfect crown to its indecency,” tweeted a widely followed Mexican scholar.

More like the order of the chicken, suggested a political cartoonist for Mexican newspaper El Financiero.

At least the medal has united Mexicans—in anger against president Peña Nieto, wrote another commentator. “So long cowboy!” he tweeted.

Peña Nieto is already so unpopular, he might have calculated that he didn’t have much to lose by honoring Kushner at such a delicate moment. Or perhaps he simply couldn’t read the room.

Whatever the reason behind the award, critics are taking it as a sign of a rather Trumpian erosion of standards and disregard for protocol. It doesn’t help that Videgaray, who serves on the board that gives out the Aztec Eagle medal, also happens to be friends with Kushner. The two reportedly became close as they worked to stabilize US-Mexican relations.

“The fact that [Kushner] has a work and family relationship with Trump is not a valid motive to criticize him,” Videgaray said in the media interview.

Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.