At first, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto was mum on Donald Trump’s harsh views on Mexicans. Then he condemned them from Mexico’s presidential palace. Now he’s sending a new ambassador and a crisis-communications expert to Washington to combat the Republican presidential frontrunner’s rhetoric on US soil.
Peña Nieto announced the diplomatic appointments on April 5, as part of what the Mexican government is calling a “comprehensive strategy” to strengthen the “relations, promotion and image of our country” in the United States. That same day, Trump proposed to block remittances from Mexicans in the US to force the Mexican government to pay for the wall he wants to build along the whole US-Mexico border. He also lambasted Ford’s plan to build a car factory in Mexico, calling it “an absolute disgrace.”
Mexico’s new ambassador to the US will be Carlos Manuel Sada, a career diplomat who runs the country’s consulate in Los Angeles, the American city with the biggest number of Mexican immigrants. He replaces Miguel Basañez Ebergeny, a former academic and political pollster who predicted Trump would eventually apologize to Mexico (link in Spanish.) He lasted seven months on the job.
The other appointee, José Paulo Carreño, will run the North America division of the foreign relations ministry. Carreño, whose previous job was managing a marketing campaign to promote Mexico abroad, has also done public relations for Citigroup and worked in crisis management at PR firm Burson-Marsteller. His new post was previously held by Carlos Pérez Verdía, an economist who spent part of his career at Mexico’s central bank.
Mexico has plenty of diplomatic issues to address in the US, including water disputes and the drug trade. But much of the US-Mexico relationship has been overshadowed by Trump.
The presidential campaign “is bringing to light this feeling against many minorities,” Mexico’s foreign minister, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, said in a radio interview (audio in Spanish) with GrupoFórmula. “We are worried about that rhetoric, which has often made our compatriots and our country a target.”
She said many Americans don’t seem to be aware that more Mexicans are returning home from the US than entering the country illegally. That’s the kind of information her agency wants to spread at every level of American society, from politicians to businesspeople, to the general public.
Sada’s relationships extend to US legislative branch. He previously was in charge of the Mexican embassy’s relations with the US Congress, which “allowed him to be in contact with and understand the legislative bodies in that country,” Mexico’s foreign relations department said in a press release.
His influence will “really help efforts to show that Trump is a liar and completely mistaken,” said Rafael Fernández de Castro, who heads the international relations department at research university Autonomous Technological Instituto of Mexico, or ITAM by its Spanish acronym.
“He has to be taken seriously,” Fernández de Castro said of Trump. “He is affecting bilateral relations.”
It’s unclear how successful the new envoys will be in changing American minds, says Jesús Velasco, an expert on Mexico-US relations at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. They might be able to get more media access, or ratchet back the aggressiveness of news coverage, but conservative TV outlets such as Fox News “have their own vision regardless of who occupies the embassy,” he says.