The View From Mexico On Donald Trump

Apr 7, 2016
Originally published on April 7, 2016 5:29 pm

It has been a turbulent week for Mexico's diplomats in the U.S. The reason for the shakeup can be summed up in two words: Donald Trump.

This week, the Republican presidential front-runner released details of one of his oft-repeated campaign promises — to make Mexico pay for construction of a border wall.

The plan, which involves blocking billions of dollars that Mexicans working in the U.S. send back home, seemed to shake up Mexico's top officials and cause a break in their months of relative silence about Trump's anti-Mexican comments.

With swift aim, Mexico gave its ambassador in Washington the boot, replacing him with a career diplomat. And a key operative known for his public relations acumen took over one of the highest profile jobs in Mexico's Foreign Ministry.

What is in Trump's plan?

Trump says as president, he would block the estimated $24 billion in remittances that Mexicans in the U.S. send back home until Mexico pays $5 billion to $10 billion for the construction costs of the wall.

Once the money is deposited, he says he would allow the flow of remittances to resume to Mexico again. In his campaign memo outlining the plan, Trump writes, "It's an easy decision for Mexico. Make a one-time payment of $5 - $10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year."

Why did Mexico pull its ambassador from Washington?

Mexico's Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu told Mexico's El Universal newspaper Tuesday that there has been an "exacerbated mood" against Mexicans in the U.S. She said there is fear "that this spirit can grow and overflow and may generate hostilities."

The same day, Ruiz announced the shake-up in Mexico's U.S. diplomatic staff, presumably to encourage a more aggressive response to counter perceived anti-Mexican sentiment in the U.S. after Trump's rhetoric.

Out is current Ambassador Miguel Basañez Ebergenyi, who had held the top diplomatic post only since September. Basañez, an academic who taught at Tufts University, had taken a quiet approach to Trump's comments — even predicting that the Republican front-runner would soon apologize for making disparaging remarks about Mexicans.

Like most Mexican officials until now, Basañez has often said he didn't want to dignify Trump's increasingly hostile comments with a response and wanted to stay out of the domestic U.S. political fray.

In as new ambassador is Carlos Manuel Sada Solana, a career diplomat who is accustomed to posts in North America. He's currently consul general in Los Angeles and previously held the same job in New York, Chicago, San Antonio and Toronto.

Meanwhile, Paulo Carreño will move from the president's communication's staff to become head of North American affairs in the Foreign Ministry. Tasked with improving Mexico's image abroad, Carreño is well-versed in public relations and is not shy at confronting reporters, especially from the foreign press, when he feels Mexico is not portrayed in a positive light.

What is Mexico hoping its new crop of diplomats will achieve?

Mexico wants to protect its image and hit back harder than in the past, and the government appears to be letting the Foreign Ministry take charge of this effort.

Mexico will use its 50 U.S. consulates and its embassy to promote the country and the role of Mexicans in America. It is also offering free citizenship workshops at many of those consulates, to help Mexican immigrants become U.S. citizens — and voters.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The presidential campaign in this country has convinced Mexico that it needs to be more aggressive in its strategy toward the U.S. It has replaced top diplomats to combat what it sees as growing anti-immigrant sentiment fueled by Donald Trump's rise in the Republican contest. Earlier this week, Trump said that Mexico would have to pay for a new wall along the border, or as president, he would block Mexicans in the U.S. from sending money to relatives back home. He's also said he would cancel visas and impose higher tariffs on Mexican imports. NPR's correspondent in Mexico Carrie Kahn joins us now to talk more about this. Hey there, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.

CORNISH: So let's talk about this plan to pressure Mexico to pay for the wall. What kind of reaction has that had down South?

KAHN: I think people here were stunned just by the audacity of the plan, you know, blocking the money that Mexicans working in the U.S. send back home. We're talking about 25 billion - with a B - dollars a year. And that money is a lifeline to many here in Mexico, to poor farmers in Southern Mexico to the aged in cities. All these people depend on, you know, the couple hundred dollars that is sent here to survive.

And those remittances, as they're called - they've also given a huge boost to economic spending and the growth of the middle class in the country. And it must be said that a lot of that money is spent here on companies with U.S. ties like Coca-Cola, Walmart, Costco. Economists just say here that that plan would be devastating but, despite all that, still an officialdom here.

We didn't hear much. I called the president's office. I called the finance ministry. There was no comment. And then finally, the foreign minister spoke up, said more needs to be done, and then she announced those shakeups in the foreign diplomat corps.

CORNISH: Right. The previous ambassador had only been in office for seven months. Tell us about this plan. What is Mexico hoping to achieve with these new diplomats?

KAHN: I think what they want to do is hit back harder than they have. Like you said, the Mexican ambassador was - that is being replaced now - he was very low-key, and he was only there since September. He's an academic. He taught at Tufts. And he famously or infamously said in response to Trump's comments late last summer, the ones where he was talking about Mexicans being rapists and criminals, that he would apologize at one point. And as we know, that apology never came.

But to be fair, he, like most Mexican authorities, really refused to - they did want to comment or what they said dignify Trump's increasingly hostile comments. They wanted to stay out, at least publicly - out of the domestic U.S. political fray. But most of the comments that we've heard down here have been from former Mexican presidents, and they've been very outspoken. And they've - but then the president came out last month, and he said under no circumstances would Mexico pay for a wall.

But I think it was these recent details and that Trump's rising in the race that really prompted Mexicans to take a harder look and to put more outspoken people in these key posts, especially Mexican ambassador in the U.S.

CORNISH: And as we mentioned, its more than one post. Can you talk about one of these other jobs and really what the country expects from these folks?

KAHN: Sure. They've also put a new head of what's called the North American affairs at the Foreign Ministry. And this guy that will be coming into that post - now, he's a very experienced PR operative. He's been working out of the president's press office, and he was charged with improving the Mexican government's image abroad.

And they also plan to use their consulates in U.S. And there's the U.S. embassy, and they really want to promote Mexico and Mexicans more. And now they're also offering free workshops to Mexican immigrants on how to become a U.S. citizen and how to do the whole naturalization process and how to get to vote.

CORNISH: That NPR's Carrie Kahn speaking to us from Mexico. Thanks so much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.