By RICARDO CASTILLO
Just prior to his third monumental blunder last week, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray Caso bragged boisterously to the media that his relation with the White House had never been as good as it had been in those now-seemingly far-away days.
Anyone even vaguely familiar with Mexican international relations knows that bilateral relations have been severely strained by U.S. President Donald Trump’s insistance to build a wall along the U.S.- Mexico border.
Then came Videgaray’s third stumble – reminding Mexicans that only a very incompetent public official stumbles twice over the same stone, as Videgaray did when Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had a second unfortunate phone call, in which they were going to set up an agenda for an upcoming meeting. Both presidents on Jan. 27, 2017, and Feb. 20, 2018, ended up in disagreement over Trump’s wall – and who’d pay for it – and, fuming politely, hung up on each other, postponing their proposed meeting for some other time, which given electoral circumstances in Mexico today, may never come.
Then the news on the U.S. webpage Politico broke in Mexico that Secretary Videgaray’s informal liaison in the White House, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had been officially downgraded from having access to “top secret” info to just having access to material classified as “secret.”
Now that Kushner has been officially demoted – though Papa Trump may still share top secrets with him, off the record – his presence at the Oval Office of the White House will surely be restricted, particularly in the case of highly sensitive national security meetings.
Apparently, Videgaray and Kushner had established a good partnering relation for bilateral U.S.-Mexico affairs when Videgaray was Treasury secretary and Kushner was a minor Wall Street mogul. It was so good that the two simply bypassed the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, and even the U.S. State Department’s control of the presidents’ relationship. Personal friendship reigned over official diplomacy.
Last week’s call came after Videgaray had spread public “rumors” that an official visit to the United States by Peña Nieto was in the making. Then came last Sunday’s article in the Washington Post, describing the phone call and leaving everyone in Mexico wondering who were the geniuses who had concocted it? This was particularly true since everyone here knows that Trump has to keep his wall campaign promise – and have Mexico pay for it – and Peña Nieto has to tell him, over and over again, that it’s not Mexico’s wall and that Mexico will never pay for it.
The question nowadays is whether the Kushner-Videgaray relationship will continue to flourish and whether Videgaray will still be able to take advantage of Jared’s closeness to The Don?
It was a clear message to Trump – sent by White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly – that since time immemorial, all previous U.S. presidents have shied away from nepotism – a paradigm Trump has clearly broken, not just in the case of Kushner; but also with his daughter Ivanka, Kushner’s wife.
Things got a bit worse with the insinuation-tainted Washington Post article that said Kushner was having a special relationship with diplomatic representatives who might take advantage of his naiveté over diplomatic relations, particularly those of the State Department with the rest of the world. Also in the Post “indictment” – if you can call it that – were allegations that China, Israel and Saudi Arabia – nations that are not even close to being “enemies” of the United States – had tried to manipulate Kushner into taking advantage of his closeness to Don Donaldo.
Once again the criticism against Videgaray within the ranks of Mexican professional diplomats is that he may be Peña Nieto’s best buddy, but that he’s still a diplomatic greenhorn, whose incessant bragging over the “best relations ever with the White House” collapsed like a house of cards.
In Mexico, Trump’s visit to Peña Nieto – also arranged by the Kushner-Videgaray Duet – on Aug. 31, 2016, is still fresh in everyone’s minds, since Trump was welcomed with nearly a red carpet and, in return for this hospitality, spurted out all his hatred – given to failed business misadventures – against a nation that loves the U.S.A. That arrangement, at the time, cost Videgaray his job as Treasury secretary, but then Peña Nieto resurrected him politically, making him Foreign Relations secretary, after he stumbled over the Trump stone for the first time.
Last Tuesday, the Mexico Foreign Relations Secretariat issued a press release saying that “the encounters with Mr. Kushner in his position of special counsel to the president (of the United States) have been strictly professional, with both parties catering to their own interests, but trying to reach agreements.”
Videgaray is nowadays being hit hard by the anti-Peña Nieto press. Perhaps, as the SRE press release hints, the Kushner-Videgaray relationship was filled with good intentions, but as the old adage goes – and certainly seems to fit in the Videgaray case – the road to hell is paved with good intentions.