Mexico goes on the offensive against Donald Trump

After replacing its ambassador, southern neighbor is seeking to highlight influence on US economy

Jan Martínez Ahrens
Donald Trump on the campaign trail in Wisconsin.
Donald Trump on the campaign trail in Wisconsin.SCOTT OLSON (AFP)

Mexico has decided to confront the Donald Trump phenomenon. The time for silence, for biting one’s tongue and waiting for the storm to pass is over. The administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto has shifted its strategy, and is now making significant changes in diplomacy in response to the Republican presidential hopeful’s xenophobic campaign. The move is part of a plan to reverse the unprecedented levels of political tension between Mexico and the United States.

About 50 million immigrants, their children and grandchildren make up 15 percent of the US population

“There is fear among our community in the United States that the exacerbation may get out of control and lead to hostilities,” says Mexico’s Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu. “That’s why we have rethought our strategy.”

Mexico has swiftly replaced its ambassador in the United States and its undersecretary for North America. Theses changes represent a desire to show the enormous power Mexico has in the United States. About 50 million immigrants, their children and grandchildren make up 15 percent of the US population. Mexico is the United States’ second-largest trade partner, the largest importer of goods from California, Arizona and Texas, and the second-largest market for products from 20 other US states. Almost six million jobs depend on business with Mexico, and trade relations between the two countries is worth a million dollars every minute.

After months of insults from Trump, it has become clear that silence worked in his favor

After months of insults from Trump, it has become clear that silence worked in his favor. Now Mexicans have decided the time has come to make sure their potential is appreciated. Sources close to the president say just flexing its muscle as a demographic with significant electoral power in the United States and a coordinated high level response can stop the Trump phenomenon.

By showing its teeth the Mexican government is warning Americans that Trump is a threat to their interests, and responds to concerns at home. Mexico will hold gubernatorial elections in June in 12 localities and the federal administration’s silence has started to feel like a weakness that may affect the 2018 presidential race.

Mexico is a country where patriotic sentiment acts like political glue; opposition groups have gathered around their president. Despite Peña Nieto’s lack of intervention in the Trump case, the opposition has not criticized him on foreign policy. And now they are closing ranks around him as he prepares to change course.

In defense of Fox and Calderón

Former Mexican Presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón have redoubled their attacks against the real estate mogul. Even Peña Nieto and his strongman, Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray, have marked out their territory. “We have to inform, project and communicate,” Ruiz Massieu says.

Changes in Mexico’s diplomatic corps have strengthened its front lines. The new Mexican ambassador in the United States, Carlos Manuel Sada Solana, is an experienced civil servant who knows the United States well and understands the strengths of the Mexican community he will need to mobilize. He has served as consul general in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles – three hubs for Mexican immigrants. He is a respected voice capable of answering to Trump – something his predecessor, former Tufts University professor Miguel Basáñez, failed to do. Basáñez served as ambassador for just eight months. His thunderous silence was deeply discouraging for Mexicans living in the United States.

The other pillar of the new policy is Paulo Carreño King. As undersecretary for North America, a key post in a country where 80 percent of its exports go to the United States, King will have to articulate a communication strategy and make sure Mexico does not commit mistakes that fuel the Trump machine. His previous posts attest to his ability in this arena. King, a quick strategist, was tasked with building up Mexico as a brand and handling relations with the international press for the executive office – an assignment that gave him great government contacts and a good understanding of the media machine.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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