By RICARDO CASTILLO
There is no custom in Mexico of having one publication declare a worthwhile personality “the man” (now “person”) of the year like there is in the United States, where Time magazine has been doing for nearly 100 years.
But recently, several Mexican journalists have speculated that if there were such a notion in Mexico, who would be named the personality worthy of filling the void of the absent person of the year slot.
Several, not one, have come up with a potential name: Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón. It was mentioned on the political analysis television program called “Tercer Grado” (“Third Degree,” on Televisa’s Channel 2, on Wednesday, Dec. 18) by several of the participants – all well-known television personalities – and now and then in apparently panegyric articles such as the one in Excelsior by a “journalist” (sounds more like a public relations promoter) name Lucy Meza. But those are not the only mentions of Ebrard for Mexican of the Year.
Before going on with Ebrard’s “candidacy” for the non-existent post, and as an advance footnote on the issue, the last time anybody in Mexico was named Man of the Year by Time magazine was in February 2014, when then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto received the honor. By that time, Peña Nieto still retained some popularity, but even then, his detractors’ (mainly Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO) outcry ruined his glory. Even worse, the headline over Peña Nieto’s picture was “Saving Mexico.”
There were two oddities about the Time magazine edition: First, it was dated February 2014. Previous to that edition, Time had named the ebola medics of Africa as the 2013 personalities of the year as published in December 2013.
The second oddity came when it was known that Time magazine also published what it called “an international edition,” in English which circulated mostly in Mexico. This same outfit with the Time logo would later publish a cover cartoon of AMLO disguised as popular children’s comic hero character “El Chapulín Colorado” (the “Red Grasshopper”), underlining AMLO’s envy of Peña Nieto. To make a long and gossip-filled story short, it was paid advertising, though the magazine did not declare it as such.
Since then, as far as I know, none of Mexican national heroes — the Red Grasshopper included — wants to hear anything from Time magazine — or any other foreign publications for that matter — doing them the honor of naming them person of the year. Since the Peña Nieto incident, being named Person of the Year came to be viewed as the kiss of death, which is the worst curse that can be bestowed at a Mexican politico.
But back to Ebrard’s mention as to who really was the person of the year for 2019 in Mexico. Obvious, some mention AMLO, but just by the fact that he is president he is automatically eliminated. There are other mentions of outstanding personalities in the AMLO’s cabinet, but again, for this year alone, the name that stands out is that of Ebrard.
This is not to say that Ebrard evokes sympathy among all. There are throngs of Mexicans – particularly, in Mexico City – who abhor him. During AMLO mayorial period (2000-2005), Ebrard was a successful chief of police until then-President Vicente Fox fired him over a gory incident at a city neighborhood that involved the lynching of two federal policemen.
Then, as city mayor from 2006 to 2012 – the first person to serve a full term – Ebrard turned the city upsidedown trying to improve the flow of traffic. Taxi drivers still curse him. But his seal of the administration was leaving behind the new subway line known as Línea 12, in which Ebrard sent subway technology reeling into the past. Mexico, since 1968, had modern rubber tire trains. Ebrard’s Línea 12 went back to the days of railroad tracks and steel wheels, representing a true leap backwards, plus it came with a huge over-cost, tainting his name and image with the stench of corruption mud.
This is what Mexico City dwellers remember about Ebrard, and why many most definitely do not agree with his name being considered – even faintly – for the inexistent title of person of the year.
But then, the Ebrard of 2019 seems to have little or nothing to do with the former powerful city mayor.
In fact, as Foreign Relations secretary, Ebrard has had a particularly hectic year.
On the positive side, Ebrard showed his diplomatic savvy in handling the crisis created by U.S. President Donald Trump, when Trump threatened to slap the nation’s imports with a total of 25 percent countervailing tariffs, for not guarding the Guatemalan border.
In many a way, Trump had a point. Back in May, he claimed that the United States had been trying “for 24 years” to stop the flow of migrants from Central America pouring across the border, to no avail, since Mexican presidents from Ernesto Zedillo through to Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, did nothing to stop it. Had Trump not threatened the tax on Mexican exports, you can be sure current AMLO would have pursued the same open-borders course.
Both AMLO and Ebrard understood the seriousness of Trump’s threat, and acted accordingly, assigning 27,000 members of the newly formed National Guard to border-keeping duties to stop the overflow of migrants from Central America – and from many other nations – who wanted to cross through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. It represented a 180 degree turnaround of Mexico’s policy on Central American migrants.
That done, Trump dropped his threat to tax Mexican exports, which indeed, sent shudders up the spines of all Mexicans familiar with the economic intercourse between the two nations.
Then came the definite approval by the U.S. House of Representatives of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), in which Ebrard – along with his aide Jesús Seade – spent tons of time literally negotiating between Republican Trump and the House Democratic, literally pleading with them to keep the USMCA out of the inevitable 2020 electoral politicking coming up in the Washington. Thus far, Ebrard has managed to do that.
And it is those two actiones taken by Ebrard that make him – in the eyes of many a journalist – worthy of the title of Mexican of the Year.
The point being, for practical purposes, Ebrard’s future looks brilliant, regardless of a somewhat shadowy past.