By RICARDO CASTILLO
The United States’ new ambassador-designate to Mexico, Christopher Landau, arrived in Mexico City on Friday, Aug. 16, with a warm handshake extended for all Mexicans up front. Landau will indeed need all the hands he can find for shaking because, as the old Mexican adage goes, the oven is too cold to bake bread. (No está el horno para boyos.)
It had been since last Cinco de Mayo, 2018, that former Ambassador Roberta Jacobson turned in her resignation and the ambassadorial post was filled pro tempore by acting Chargé d’Affaires John Creamer. Since then, a lot of water has run under the bridge.
In his appearance before the U.S. Senate. Landau mentioned that he had three top issues to deal with in Mexico: migration, drug trafficking and fair trade. Exactly the same issues that have been the trademark of U.S. President Donald Trump right along, accompanied by a myriad of threats and verbal offenses that have Mexicans at large irked to the core.
It must be said – surprise – that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has kept a low profile in his relationship with Trump, and, thus far, Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard has walked the tightrope of a balanced diplomatic course that in the end kept Trump from carrying out threats such as slapping Mexican exports with a 25 percent tariff if Central American migration was not stopped. Central American migration slowed and there were no tariffs imposed, but the threat sent shudders up the spines of all Mexicans.
But one thing has been the diplomatic course and something else the tone of bilateral relations, which has been carried out by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (due to lack of an ambassador) and Secretary Ebrard. In all fairness, both have done very well.
It would only be suitable for Ambassador Landau to not be press shy – as he obviously was upon arrival – and make public to Mexicans at large his course of action, while properly representing the interests of the United States, and, needless to say, the instructions he’s received from Trump.
Perhaps he’s aware that Trump has very negative press coverage in Mexico – for comparison, just as bad as the one he gets from The Washington Post.
Let’s look back nearly three years to Aug. 31, 2016, when then-candidate Trump visited then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. The meeting was set up by Peña Nieto’s then-Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray and Trump’s son-in-law. Jared Kushner. It was a disaster for Peña Nieto.
In the days following the meeting, Peña Nieto’s popularity plummeted and two weeks later, Videgaray was removed from the Treasury under a barrage of attacks from the press. Fortunately for Videgaray, Trump won the election and he was reinstated in the Peña Nieto cabinet, this time as Foreign Relations secretary, given his close friendship with Kushner.
More recently, Trump has threatened to decertify Mexico should the illicit drug trade not be stopped. This time, AMLO took the threat with a grain of salt and blamed the new Trump tirade on the fact that there is an election campaign going on in the United States and that candidates are allowed to say whatever they want. Still, though not making ripples, the threat is there. But should anything happen – you never know with The Don – it would represent a tough diplomatic hurdle to leapfrog over for Ambassador Landau (and Mexico). The stage is set for it to happen, or not.
Fortunately, Ambassador Landau understands the nature of the bilateral relationship, beginning with the fact that the two nations are married with no divorce options at all. Consequently, all bilateral problems that arise should be solved in the best possible manner and as soon as possible.
In any case, surely when Landau shakes AMLO’s hand the credentials presentation ceremony, the president will do so on behalf of all Mexicans, who definitely are looking forwards to increased trade and friendship.