Mexican Machinations

This week saw the return of Luis Videgaray to the frontline of Mexican politics. On the international scene, Mr Videgaray made a name for himself back in August as the Finance Minister who lobbied for then presidential candidate Donald Trump to visit Mexico during his bid for the White House.

The pow-wow was widely regarded as a fiasco: the failure to stem the flow of inflammatory rhetoric on walls and criminal imports emanating from the Trump campaign made a mockery of Mexican efforts to exert international influence and the very presence of Mr Trump south of the border went down like a cup of cold sick with the domestic press and Mexican people at large. (Fewer than 2% of Mexicans hold a positive view of the incoming American Commander-in-Chief, which is hardly surprising given the tone of his campaign).

Mr Videgaray was replaced less than a week later, and few in Mexico can have been too upset to see him go. Presumably President Enrique Peña Nieto swung the axe with a heavy heart: he and Mr Videgaray go back some way, with the latter serving as Finance Minister for the State of Mexico when Mr Peña Nieto was governor and going on to coordinate his presidential campaign during 2012.

But beyond Mexico’s borders, there was one saddened by the departure. Somewhere in Trump Towers, the Twitter feed whirred into gear, lamenting the loss of Mr Videgaray to the Mexican administration and mourning the premature demise of the “wonderful deals” that a Trump-Videgaray partnership could have brought to fruition.

So one can only imagine the delight in the Trump transition team when Mr Videgaray was named as the new Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs this week.

From a Mexican perspective, the benefits of the appointment are subtle yet tangible. By his own admission, Luis Videgaray is not a diplomat and there will be a lot of “learning on the job” to be done.

But if there is one thing that the composition of the administration currently taking shape in Washington – not to mention the emergence of “UK Special Envoy” Farage – has taught us, it is that close personal relationships will be an important part of influencing US policy initiatives over the next four years.

By appointing as Foreign Affairs Secretary the Mexican politician most closely associated with the incoming US President and his team, the Peña Nieto government looks keen to leverage those personal ties to foster good bilateral relations and establish a clear Mexican position from the get-go.

Mr Videgaray’s return is a bold statement of intent to guide US policy on Mexico and, following August’s debacle, repair the government’s domestic credibility on international affairs. With elections just over the horizon in 2018 and the popularity of the governing PRI at a historic low of 23%, quick wins are needed.

There has been no word – either official or in under 140 characters – from the Trump transition team on Mexico’s new Foreign Affairs Secretary. But if the Trump Twitter feed is to be believed, Mr Videgaray will have a job on his hands in his first few weeks in office: Mexican-American “Car Wars” are just around the corner.


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