Fed up with the front-runner for the Republican presidential
nomination labeling Mexico as a cradle of drug-runners, job poachers
and rapists, the government is sending in respected diplomat Carlos
Sada to lead a fightback.
Mexico's new ambassador in Washington, Sada acknowledges his country
has neglected its image across the border and aims to fix that with
PR and media campaigns, and by lobbying prominent U.S. companies,
lawmakers and civic leaders.
"We need to do a more thorough job so that people understand what
(Mexico) contributes," he said after he was sworn in at Mexico's
Senate on Thursday.
Sada's strategy includes underscoring Mexico's importance to the
U.S. economy, although it centers on defending the rights of Mexican
citizens in the United States and promoting Mexican culture.
That focus has fed doubts over whether the government is trying hard
enough to win over its most important audience: American voters.
"It's vital to improve Mexico's image and protect our people, but
that's not enough to change the hateful trend that Trump and other
xenophobes before him have stirred up," said Gabriela Cuevas, an
opposition lawmaker who chairs the Senate's foreign relations
"They don't understand the extent of the damage Trump has done," she
said, urging the government to be more aggressive in mobilizing
powerful U.S. interests against Trump's attacks.
Claiming Mexico is "killing" the United States on trade, Trump has
threatened to disrupt bilateral commerce worth some $500 billion a
year, and promises to deport millions of undocumented migrants from
Mexico and Central America.
To finance a border wall to keep migrants out, he has
controversially proposed blocking billions of dollars in remittances
sent home by Mexicans in the United States.
The measures would pose a serious threat to Mexico's economy, but
for months Mexico's government disregarded Trump, hoping his
candidacy would fizzle out.
"It's the ostrich policy: head in the sand," said Agustin Barrios
Gomez, the head of Fundacion Imagen Mexico, a group dedicated to
promoting Mexico's image abroad.
Mexican officials say U.S. politicians and officials urged it to
keep a low profile to avoid aggravating tensions, and played down
the real estate magnate's chances.
"The Republicans told us, 'We'll deal with Trump'," one senior
Mexican government official said, speaking on condition of
When Mexico eventually did respond, President Enrique Pena Nieto
compared the brash billionaire' s campaign to the rise of Hitler and
Mexican officials wince with embarrassment when reminded of the
comment, arguing it was tactless and went too far.
[to top of second column]
As Trump railed against Mexico, the government should have made a
concerted effort to remind key players in the United States that the
two nations' economic interests are closely intertwined, diplomats
and business leaders say.
But over a dozen serving and former senior Mexican officials and
lawmakers consulted by Reuters said it did not.
"They haven't so far, but I do see the intention to do it again,"
said Jaime Serra, a former trade minister who headed Mexico's
negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with
the United States and Canada in the early 1990s.
Trump has not been the only one to criticize Mexico.
His Republican rival Ted Cruz also supports a border wall, and backs
mass deportations of illegal immigrants.
Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders has, like Trump, taken a
protectionist line on jobs and says NAFTA was a mistake.
Mexico's cause was not helped by Pena Nieto leaving his diplomatic
mission in Washington without an ambassador for six months just as
Trump was warming up.
And his eventual choice surprised many: Miguel Basanez, an old
friend who had never worked in the diplomatic service.
"It was a bad decision from the start," said a senior lawmaker
inside Pena Nieto's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or
PRI. "They didn't grasp the size of the problem."
Basanez was cast aside this month, just seven months into the job.
For Basanez and now Sada, the task of promoting Mexico in the United
States is complicated by problems at home.
Mexico's reputation has been hurt by relentless drugs violence,
conflict-of-interest scandals in government and the apparent
massacre of 43 trainee teachers by a drug cartel working with local
"To change the image, you have to change the reality," said Andres
Rozental, a former deputy foreign minister responsible for North
America. "Unfortunately, Mexico's internal reality at this point in
time has a lot of negatives."
(Additional reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; Editing by Kieran
[© 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2016 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.