By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
“In my entire career as a diplomat, I have never seen anything like it,” groused one ambassador at the Thai national day reception Monday, Dec. 3, referring to the diplomatic protocol – or lack thereof – during the inauguration ceremony of Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), on Saturday, Dec. 1.
“I have to say it was unique, although hardly appropriate,” chimed in another envoy.
“Well, it broke with every convention of diplomatic protocol I ever knew,” said yet another ambassador, “but I do have to say that the food was delicious.”
What the abovementioned ambassadors (and a slew of others) were referring to was the fact that they were treated with less-than-diplomatic courtesy when they attended the inauguration.
“In the first place, we, as ambassadors, were not allowed to accompany our heads of delegations during the inaugural ceremony, which breaks with traditional protocol,” one explained.
Instead, the ambassadors and other heads of diplomatic missions accredited in Mexico (who were all formally invited to the ceremony) were corralled into a small, windowless room at the San Lázaro Congressional Palace with a blurry television and insufficient seats, where they were allowed to watch a dim broadcast of the ceremony transmitted live from the congressional floor.
During the entire three-hour ceremony, many of the ambassadors were forced to sit on the floor in the overcrowded room, where they were offered plastic bottles of water as their only refreshment.
“Frankly, I could have gotten a much better view had I watched it at my home on my own HD television,” one said, laughingly, “and I could have had something to eat or drink while I watched it.”
Later, at the National Palace, the ambassadors were assigned seats at 60 dining tables for guests of the inaugural lunch.
Unfortunately, whoever was supposed to oversee the diplomatic protocol of the lunch had never come across Mary Jane McCaffree’s “Complete Handbook of Diplomatic, Official and Social Usage,” and had never heard of precedence, a strict sequential ambassadorial order which defines an envoy’s hierarchy and priority based on their seniority in the presentation of their diplomatic credentials.
The order of precedence, which is the bible for seating of all diplomats and emissaries, requires that the ambassador with the most seniority in the host country be seated in the most prestigious position, followed by the envoy with the second-most seniority, and so on and so on.
Suffice it to say that at AMLO’s presidential inaugural lunch, Chinese Ambassador Qiu Xiaoqi, who currently ranks Number 7 in Mexico’s diplomatic precedence (and who, I must add, was NOT one of the envoys who spoke to Pulse News Mexico about the inauguration), was shoved over to table 46, while ambassadors of much lower ranking were in tables 6 and 8.
The lack of any semblance of diplomatic or presidential protocol even extended to head table, where López Obrador had seated on his right (the highest position of honor in a formal table) a former head of state (who has not been in office for more than a year), while current presidents were shuffled around haphazardly to lower-ranking seats, and even lower-ranking tables.
Spanish King Felipe VI, meanwhile, was seated at table 7.
“We did not even get a chance to shake the new president’s hand and congratulate him,” an ambassador said. “We are direct emissaries from our heads of state to the Mexican head of state, so we are expected to have the opportunity to congratulate him.”
According to some of the diplomats who attended the meal, the organizers had to call on the guests more than four times to please take their seats so that the waiters could serve the meal, which consisted of huitlacoche soup, beef mixiote (a hunk of meat based in achiote sauce and wrapped in a corn husk before being baked in a dirt pit), and black sapote fruit for dessert (although most guests reportedly left before the final course was served).
In keeping with AMLO’s new austerity program, no wine or other alcoholic beverages were served, but fresh fruit waters were plentiful.
“I was concerned about the issue of security,” said another ambassador. “People were just standing up and rushing around from table to table and even up to AMLO so they could take selfies with the new Mexican president. No one seemed to be keeping any type of order. It was haphazard.”
“I know that many of the officials and organizers of the inauguration are unfamiliar with diplomatic protocol,” another ambassador said, “but what they do not seem to understand is that when they treat an ambassador in a disrespectful or offensive manner, they are not only insulting that ambassador, but also the country they represent.”