World

With Trump reshaping Mexican foreign policy, Obama applies some damage control

Donald Trump hasn't even clinched the presidential nomination yet, but he's already shaping U.S. and even Mexican foreign policy, though perhaps not in the way he hoped or expected.

Fuelled by the Republican frontrunner's incendiary comments about migration and the southern neighbor, the governments of the United States and especially Mexico have, in recent months, stepped up their efforts to improve their relationship.

While both Mexican and U.S. officials alternate between mocking, deriding and angrily dismissing Trump's comments, high-profile visits of Mexican officials to Washington D.C. have been more frequent in recent months, according to both Mexican and U.S. media reports.

Mexico in particular appears to have lauched a charm offensive.

Foreign secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu replaced Mexico's ambassador in Washington with the highly skilled and experienced Carlos Sada, until then consul in Los Angeles, and named a young carreer diplomat, Paulo Carreño King, the new subsecretary for North American affairs.

“Trump has brought the U.S. and the Mexican government together”, Genaro Lozano, a political commentator for Mexico City's Reforma newspaper tells FOX News Latino. He believes the polemic presidential campaign in the United States may have pushed Mexico into re-thinking the way it deals with its northern neighbor.

“Under the current administration of president Enrique Peña Nieto, there wasn't a real policy towards the United States. The relationship was stuck and the attitude was mostly one of reaction”, he tells FNL. “But I think nominating a new ambassador and subsecretary for North American affairs is a strategic move.”

Trump launched his bid for the presidency last year with a controversial speech, in which he called Mexican migrants 'rapists' and 'murders'. He presented what is argueably still his most polemic proposal: to build a massive wall on the U.S-Mexican border, and have Mexico pay for it.

The billionaire real estate mogul has toned down his rhetoric somewhat in recent weeks, as his electoral scuffle for a presidential ticket has become grittier and an outright nomination less likely due to a series of defeats against direct rival Ted Cruz.

The Border Wall proposal still stands, however. Early this month, Trump said he would cut off the flow of billions of dollars Mexican immigrants send to their families each year if Mexico refuses to pay for the wall's construction, a move that could potentially ruin the Mexican economy, of which the remissions are one the most important sources of foreign income.

But Mexicans have been unanymous and vocal in their rejection of the Border Wall. Two former presidents, Felipe Calderón and Vicente Fox, have both said publicly they would not pay a cent for its construction, with Fox even using an expletive on live television to emphasize his anger.

U.S. officials also joined the fray. Early this month, president Barack Obama mocked Trump's border wall, wishing the billionaire 'good luck with that' and calling some of his proposals 'whacky'. And in February, while attending a bilateral conference in Mexico City, vice-president Joseph Biden went even further, calling Trump's rethoric “dangerous, damaging and incredibly ill-advised”.

Mexican government officials initially kept mostly silent over Trump's comments and proposals, but come early this year began to react, often in angry rebuttal.

Last month, president Enrique Peña Nieto said Trump's comments 'damage the relationship' between both countries, while finance secretary Luis Videgaray adamantly echoed the ex-presidents' opinion that Mexico would not pay for a border wall under any circumstance. The harshest words were uttered by foreign secretary Ruiz Massieu, however, who has called Trump's policy proposals 'racist' and 'ignorant' and his border wall proposal 'absurd'.

“Mexico's government was very late to react to Trump's discourse”, Jesús Esquivel, the long-time correspondent in Washington D.C. for Proceso, one of Mexico's most prestigious weeklies, tells FNL. “It wasn't until Trump's cascade of criticism of Mexico that the foreign secretary went to Washington to ask how likely it was that Trump would become the candidate.”

Esquivel says the ramifications of Trump's candidacy have mostly spurred Mexico into revisiting its relationship with the U.S. “Mexico isn't a priority for the United States”, he says, pointing out that there hasn't been a U.S. ambassador in Mexico for months.

President Obama nominated Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson to replace Earl Anthony Wayne, who left office July last year, but opposition in the Senate so far blocked her appointment.

“If Obama had a real interest in Mexico, he would have nominated someone who would have gotten the necessary votes”, Esquivel says.

Mexico, on the other hand, did recently appoint Carlos Sada as its new ambassador in Washington, replacing Miguel Basáñez, who had only held office for seven months. Critics describe Basáñez as a 'weak' ambassador, who ultimately proved unfit for the important post in Washington.

“Basáñez simply didn't work out as ambassador”, says Genaro Lozano. “He was very much second-class. His successor Carlos Sada is a far more effective diplomat. He comes from the consulate in Los Angeles, which competes with the embassy in diplomatic importance.”

With Sada's nomination, Lozano expects Mexico to launch another charm offensive this summer, something which Mexico, which traditionally tends to stay on the sidelines where the relationship with the U.S. is concerned, rarely does.

“I believe directly criticizing an internal election in the United States is a somewhat unfortunate strategy”, he tells FNL. “The foreign relations secretariat now seems to want to launch a publicity campaign this summer, focusing on how beneficial the bilateral relationship is to both countries and how much 25 million Mexican-Americans have contributed to U.S. society. It would be campaign that would influence the way people think, and I believe that's a the way Mexico's government should go. It should not feel it has to respond directly to Trump.”

Jan-Albert Hootsen is a freelance writer based in Mexico City. Follow him on Twitter: @Jayhootsen