Mexico Appoints New U.S. Ambassador to Quell Negative Talk

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By Emily Pickrell

April 7 — Mexico is hoping to ensure the campaign rhetoric of its northern neighbor won't damage trade relations by swapping out its current ambassador to the U.S. for one with stronger diplomatic ties.

Carlos Manual Sada Solana, a seasoned diplomat and current Los Angeles Consul General, will replace the current ambassador, Miguel Basanez Ebergenyi, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced April 5. The change comes only eight months after Basanez's appointment.

Officially, Sada was selected for his extensive experience in operating in U.S. diplomatic circles, where he has worked both as a congressional liaison and in several major consulates around the country.

“In all of his responsibilities, Sada has distinguished himself by his professionalism, his closeness to Mexican communities abroad, the promotion of Mexican interests and the strengthening of relations between our country and those abroad,” the Ministry of Foreign Relations wrote.

Domestic Pressure

The change is a behind-the-scenes move to refocus the negative conversations that have sprouted up in the U.S. elections regarding Mexico and the U.S. trade relationship, according to Arturo Sarukhan, the former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. from 2007-2013.

“There was a significant level of domestic pressure that the strategy that was being implemented was not the correct one and that there was a cost to not pushing back,” Sarukhan told Bloomberg BNA in an interview.

It is also an effort to both improve the reputation of Mexicans in the U.S. and to protect the bilateral trade relationship, according to Christopher Wilson, the assistant director of the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute.

“They are bringing in someone who is exceptionally skilled to defend Mexico,” Wilson told Bloomberg BNA. “They see Mexico being bashed on trade issues and immigration, with statements about immigrants being rapists and drug dealers. They feel they need to do some crisis management so that there is not lasting damage to the relationship as a result.”

Strong TPP Voice

The new appointment also reflects Mexico's desire to keep the dialogue open on the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, Sarukhan said, which the Pena Nieto administration strongly supports.

“As my congressional liaison when I was Ambassador, Sada knows Congress well, which could be a plus, because there will be some intense debate once the TPP is sent to the Hill,” Sarukhan said. “He will be an important voice in representing Mexico's interests in the debate and discussion of the TPP.”

Sada has also served in several consul general posts in the U.S., and has deep ties with the U.S. diplomatic community.

“I've known Carlos for years—he's a great guy and first rate diplomat,” said Antonio Garza, the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 2002 to 2009. “He's got good instincts, a calm demeanor and really knows the U.S.”

The Mexican Senate will vote on the nomination.

The previous ambassador had attempted to downplay the potential damage that Donald Trump could do to the Mexican relationship with the U.S.

“He will most likely apologize to Mexicans,” Basanez said in August when he was appointed, speculating that Trump had little chance of becoming the Republican nominee.

Proactive Story Teller

Sada will need to take a more proactive approach, Sarukhan said, actively reminding the U.S. that the $600 billion a year of trade with Mexico generates more than 6 million jobs in the U.S. and includes 42 cents of U.S. content for each dollar of Mexican goods imported.

“It is not that the ambassador can change the way Donald Trump talks about Mexico on the campaign trail,” Sarukhan said. “But the ambassador is a story teller, and you push back via narratives of how this relationship does matter for the wellbeing and security of both our peoples, and by using hard data and facts to combat the myths and lies about our bilateral ties.”

He also acknowledged that Sada will have his work cut out for him even after the campaign, mending the fences damaged by threats of arbitrary walls and unilateral tariffs.

“The relationship is strong enough to withstand the demagoguery of Trump,” Sarukhan said. “Nonetheless, the problem is that, regardless of the outcome in November, there will still be scars in terms of how Mexicans and Americans think about one another and the relationship.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Pickrell in Mexico City at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com