Seneca: Pratfalls in Selecting the US Ambassador to Mexico

March 29th, 2009 · 35 Comments

This past week while in Mexico City Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to announce the new US Ambassador to Mexico. Several names had been tossed around in the last few months: Federico Peña (former Clinton Cabinet member), Henry Cisneros (former Clinton HUD Secretary), Frank Herrera (popular San Antonio attorney), Maria Echeveste (former Clinton White House Deputy Chief of Staff) and several other prominent Latinos were mentioned. Hence, when the time came to announce this appointment on Hillary’s maiden trip to Mexico as Secretary, it foundered. The nomination is stalled but not dead. The reasons are telling. But first, there are a series of pratfalls that led to not announcing it and the media buzz about this trip. It should be pointed out that the Obama Administration has correctly concluded that the current volatile situation in Mexico should be of utmost concern to the US. Plainly, there is a horrific condition gripping the Mexican people. The violence stemming from the drug cartels’ attempt to control more territory is spreading and increasing throughout the country, especially along the border areas with the US. The US reaction to this on-going violence is Plan Merida. This is a Plan Colombia style approach to pacifying Mexico. The US will provide well over a half billion dollars annually to Mexico to help counter this national menace where organized criminal groups (drug cartels) are striking at the public security forces, including elements of the Mexican military. This began when Mexican President Calderon sought boldly to drive out or tame these organized criminal gangsters. The criminals struck back with a fury and have for months if not longer laid siege to many municipalities and some larger areas. The constant brutal murder of law enforcement personnel and other innocent people has created a wave of fear and intimidation among many Mexicans and Americans living along the border. The essence of the problem is the running of huge amounts of cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the US making for a multi-billion dollar business on both sides of the border. In turn, the Mexicans have seen a staggering increase in illegal firearms (many highly sophisticated) flowing from the US into Mexico to supply these criminal groups. In sum, this is why the growing interest in Mexico is notable.
With a new US Administration, the selection and appointment of a new Ambassador is in order. Mexico’s well-regarded but haughty Ambassador in Washington, Arturo Sarukhan, was Calderon’s top foreign policy adviser during his presidential campaign. Sarukhan reportedly coveted the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs as a reward. But instead he was named the envoy to Washington. Inside the Beltway this young, hard-charging but brilliant Mexican diplomat began to cut a swath. His commanding presence along with his cultivated Oxonian accent in English makes for a foppish caricature. His attempt to enunciate the English language with a British accent evokes invariably light-hearted commentary. Many suspect it is a Mexican effort to demonstrate to Americans that Mexicans can speak English more eloquently than gringos: The Queen’s English no less. Yet, if a Hispanic US Ambassador to Mexico were to speak a Castillian lisp Spanish, he would be howled out of Mexico. Moreover, Sarukhan was reported to have commented some months ago that Mexico would want the new American Ambassador to be close to President Obama (like the last one, Antonio ‘Tony’ Garza was to the President and the First Lady). But sadly, it is alleged that Sarukhan added ‘…but hopefully not a Latino or a Mexican-American’. If this is true, it is most disconcerting. It is a widely viewed among many US Hispanics that Mexican social and intellectual higher-circles regard Mexican-Americans as merely Pochos (Mexicans who have abandoned the motherland) or Nacos (Mexicans who may be educated and might have moved up in social status but still remain merely jumped-up lower-orders usually with Indian or some aboriginal antecedents; no tienen roce ni cuna: no breeding and manners). Hence, if Sarukhan did indeed say this, it comes as no surprise.

The US has sent Latinos/Hispanics as envoys to Mexico. The first one was John Jova in the 1970’s, a career diplomat born in Long Island of Cuban-Spanish descent. His aristocratic bearing made him most acceptable. The second one was not so fortunate. Julian Nava was chosen by Jimmy Carter towards the end of his Presidential term. Nava, a Mexican-born California college professor, became among the Mexican elites the caricature of the Pocho/Naco coming home. At times his mangled Spanish, sprinkled with Spanglish, and his sometimes maladroit demeanor made him a reason for many Mexicans to insist that sending a Gringo envoy with such a background and behavior is a manifestly insensitive effort by gringos to insult the Mexicans. Plainly, it suggests an insecurity of the Mexicans’ identity conundrum. The third one Reagan sent. John Gavin, the glamorously handsome movie star of yester-year whose mother was a high-born Mexican from Sonora cut his swath. He spoke impeccable Spanish, manifested a self-possessed élan and almost recklessly proceeded to alienate all Mexicans with a sniffy contempt not seen since Lane Wilson the execrable US envoy of the early twentieth century. Most recently W. Bush sent his Texas friend, Tony Garza, a Mexican-American from Brownsville. Garza has no patrician airs, but looked and behaved like a regular gringo. He was not revered like Jova nor disdained like Nava nor loathed like Gavin, but viewed as a light-weight but amiable friend of the First Family and who managed to romance and marry the richest woman in Latin America, a Mexican beer heiress. However, it is known in some Washington circles that Garza did deliver in the end for the Mexicans. When the Plan Merida appeared to be headed for the budget chop at OMB, Garza readily called the White House and successfully persuaded President Bush to restore the Plan Merida funding. This is the kind of envoy the Mexicans hoped that Obama would name. Instead Carlos Pascual, a former career foreign service officer (with a zen-like demeanor) has been selected but not yet given agreement  (approval or acceptance) by the Mexican Government. Pascual, a Cuban-born, Stanford/Harvard educated Hispanic achieved recognition mostly during the Clinton Presidency. He was sent to the CIS countries (former part of the Soviet Union) in the early ’90’s. He apparently has an academic concentration in Russian and related fields. Strobe Talbott, initially the State Department’s CIS head and later Deputy Secretary became aware of Pascual’s linguistic and programmatic accomplishments as a USAID development officer.  Pascual was subsequently detailed to the National Security Council to manage the Russian and CIS portfolio.

In 2000 before the Clinton Administration ended, Pascual was made Ambassador to the Ukraine. After a successful stint there, he returned in the first term of the George W. Bush Administration, and Colin Powell selected him as the first Director of the State Department’s Reconstruction Office. This office primarily focused on strengthening emerging democracies and faltering states. He later left State and the Foreign Service to replace Jim Steinberg at the Brookings Institute as Vice President International Affairs when Steinberg became head of the LBJ School at the University of Texas. Strobe Talbott had become Brookings’s President. Now in the Obama Administration Steinberg is Deputy Secretary of State (the old Talbott position). Susan Rice, also formerly at Brookings and an Obama confidante, is US Ambassador to the UN. Pascual is seen by his Brookings colleagues as a perfect fit for Mexico with his programmatic talents and his glowing accomplishments. Yet he has no Mexico or Latin American experience or connection except for being born in Cuba and may speak Spanish as good as Ukrainian. Clearly, the Brookings group promoted him into this job as a fellow member of the Institute’s guild. However, it is generally perceived that both Hillary and the White House leaped like trouts when Pascual’s name came before them with hefty recommendations from Brookings along with a Hispanic last name to boot. But the Obamites failed to appreciate the significance of a recent dust up in senior Mexican official circles caused by the public assertion or suggestion  by some high ranking US officials that Mexico was either a ‘failed state’ or fast headed towards that status. Now the selection of the former head of the ‘failed states’ bureau at State Department as the US Ambassador caused the Mexicans to scratch their heads or recoil in frustration. Hence, why did Hillary not make the scheduled announcement after she met with President Calderon? Moreover, Pascual does not have any notable direct links to President Obama. Adding to the Mexican concern is their natural distrust of Cuban Americans because of the Miami crowd’s animosity over the years towards Mexico for being the only Latin country to preserve continuously diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro. Certainly, Pascual does not appear to share the Miami Calle Ocho syndrome. Any President reserves the right to send whomever he desires to be his envoy. But the acceptance (agreement) by the receiving country has to be manifested. In this case, the US did not think this carefully through. Moreover, the Latino political leadership in Washington was either unaware of the appointment or equally ignorant of the consequences. Now the challenge for the talented Pascual, assuming he gets Mexican approval, will be to manage the disjointed Plan Merida program and be as successful as in the Ukraine. The problem will be that the Mexicans, unlike the Ukrainians, will not drop to their knees or kiss up to the US. The Ukrainians had good reason: they sought US protection from the Russians next door. Hence, their servility to the Americans was evident. The Mexicans with their historical and morbid suspicion of American intentions and actions will be harder to read, distant at times, unrelentingly independent, reluctant to be led or guided by the US…the question arises, ‘Is Pascual really a fit or a misjudgment by the Obamites and the Brookings crowd?’ He may have to choose between trying to conduct the bilateral relationship or just managing the US Plan Merida programmatic cast of thousands who will appear throughout Mexico. Sarukhan, who is already conducting the basic thrust of the bilateral relationship in Washington, will ultimately prefer having Pascual do the programmatic drudgery and he (Sarukhan) carry out the more glamorous weight of the bilateral relationship fraught with diplomatic sensitivity, sovereignty issues, political suspicions, the treatment of Mexican illegals in the US and the NAFTA political and bureaucratic thickets. Sarukhan has quickly mastered that a country knows when its relationship with the US is equal and mature. This is discernible when the bilateral relationship is conducted in Washington by the foreign country’s ambassador and not in the capital of his country with the American would-be pro-consul. The US can send as envoys retired politicians, used car salesmen, fat cat businessmen, and political party donors to countries like France, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the Scandinavian countries, Japan, Spain and sometimes even to Russia and China. These countries in return send the US their top professional diplomats or statesmen to conduct the bilateral relationship directly with the White House, State Department and the myriad of US agencies in Washington. The US sends normally career diplomats as chief of mission generally to weaker, less significant countries to conduct the bilateral relationship in those countries. Mexico has joined the ranks of these more mature relationships. Hence, the US Embassy in Mexico is not as influential as in the past, but it remains a huge job.
Where were the Latino advocacy wags and politicos in Washington on this critical selection process? It was noted that several Latino advocacy groups were included in the pre-trip briefing dinner held for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before she set out for Mexico. Apparently, neither the State Department’s talking heads and analysts nor the domestic Latino groups present like the National Council of La Raza added any value to the expected substantive discussion. Plainly, Mexico appears to be treated as an appendage of the domestic Latino concerns not as a foreign policy priority. The appointments of Dan Restrepo, a Colombian American to the National Security Council, Frank Mora, a Cuban American to the Defense Department’s Office on Latin America, Pascual to Mexico and the pending appointment of Arturo Valenzuela, a Chilean American to be the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere appear to be solidifying. These selections have the Latin Americans already wondering if the Obama team is trying to address Latin America or the domestic Latino/Hispanic agenda. If it is the latter: what has been the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ role? And the advocacy groups’ input into such selections would be most interesting to examine. This zany selection process demonstrates that the Obama team has to be more surefooted in vetting not only for qualifications and ethnicity but for political sensitivity.  Moreover, it needs to distinguish better the domestic from the foreign policy concerns. This is a classic case where a perfectly sound and qualified Latino is selected but stumbles for more nuanced and complex reasons.

Photos: Secretary Clinton in Mexico, Mexican Ambassador to US Arturo Sarukhan, and Carlos Pascual

Tags: Barack Obama · Congressional Hispanic Caucus · Cuba · drug war · Federico Peña · GWB · Henry Cisneros · Hillary Clinton · Immigration · Latin American Foreign Policy · Mexico · National Council of La Raza · Seneca

35 responses so far ↓

  • 1 india blanca // Mar 29, 2009 at 11:01 am

    “These selections have the Latin Americans already wondering if the Obama team is trying to address Latin America or the domestic Latino/Hispanic agenda…the Obama team has to be more surefooted in vetting not only for qualifications and ethnicity but for political sensitivity. Moreover, it needs to distinguish better the domestic from the foreign policy concerns”( Seneca). Once again Seneca nails the crux of the issue. One has to wonder if the Obama team lacks the sophistication and/or the experience to tackle the delicate and complex nature of choosing the most effective candidates to represent our interest abroad. I guess one can understand appointing friends and colleagues to certain small countries outside our area of influence and outside our area of interest….Yet, when it comes to nominating our ambassadors to countries, such as Mexico, which are top priority due to urgent considerations such as the tug of war between the Mexican government and the Drug Cartels Organized Crime Enterprise being waged in such close proximity to our borders; we must understand the importance of such appointments and the need to be thorough and congruent….I am concerned that the paternalistic overtones of naming Latinos to governmental positions of any kind without serious thought, not only needlessly creates embarrassing situations but in the end affects our future opportunities…as Latinos we must demand to be promoted for our proven skills, potential and experience not simply by our ethnicity…we are a talented group of individuals who deserve to be given posts where we are an effective fit so we can excel for the benefit of our country, our countrymen and our raza….

  • 2 Ricardo Alday // Mar 29, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    For the record: Ambassador Sarukhan has never said that Mexico would not like a “Latino or a Mexican-American” for the top job at the US Embassy in Mexico City, as your posting incorrectly suggests. Therefore, there is no reason for disconcert. What he has said when asked about the issue, is that “hispanic or mexican-american descent is NOT a prerequisite for Mexico” in choosing a US Ambassador.

    Regarding your theory about the Ambassador’s accent in the English language, I must mention, also for the record, that he lived in Wales from the ages of five to eleven.

    Ricardo Alday, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in the United States.

  • 3 Michaelr // Mar 29, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    And really what does it matter where the ambassador actually came from? What do you really expect from a Third World Latin American country whose agenda has always been to protect and insulate those 38 Mexican families dictating policy to that bordello pretending to portray itself as a legitimate political body? The Mexican social caste system guarantees that the 67-70% of the Mexican population that lives in abject poverty will never have a voice in their political system, and whose only option will be to continually risk their lives to cross the border in order to feed their families. Why aren’t those social snobs pretending to portray Mexican public servants openly discussing those poverty issues, instead of seeking to fully implement Plan Mexico? Are they feeling confident of their abilities to speak out because they see the Congressional Hispanic Caucus conveying public behavior similar to them? All the media focused on Mexico’s internal drug war, looks more like Hillary Clinton drumming up support to fully implement Plan Mexico without actually mentioning it by name. How Hillary of her!

  • 4 Bearguez // Mar 29, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Financing Mexico’s further evolution into a police state (Plan Mexico) will only further escalate the immigration problem into the United States. Is that something we want to see? Felipe Calderon’s drug war is all about protecting the Oliver North/ Contra’s cocaine network and eliminating its emerging internal Mexican competition. The Mexican body politic as displayed by PAN and PRI has always prostituted itself to American corporate and government interests, and neglected the Mexican people in general. But what do you expect from a Latin American Third World political mentality obsessed with superficiality, public theft, and consumerism? Sounds like the same value system practiced by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. More proof that legalizing narcotics would save a lot of lives and spread the wealth more evenly amongst communities.

  • 5 india blanca // Mar 29, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    I agree that legalizing narcotics would save a lot of lives…and become a business like any other regulated and taxed…and hopefully that would mean that in some way the revenue would trickle down to benefit more people…but I think we need to be mature when addressing this issue so that our voices are taken into account…when we start talking about the Oliver North Contra Cocaine network we diminish our credibility and any weight that we can bear upon the discussion…though it is most likely true that at some point that network entered into agreements with the underworld in order to advance the Contra cause it would be unrealistic to believe it is still in place…no one doubts that some other quasi official network must be in place in order for the huge amount of drugs to get into this country “undetected”…yet, we need to keep up with the times in our assertions for us to be part of the discussion….by the way it is interesting to see the spokesperson for the Mexican Embassy in DC address the peripheral issues of Seneca’s observations in such a timely fashion…I am very glad to see they are reading…I think it pays a well deserved tribute to Seneca’s blog…

  • 6 theKaiser // Mar 29, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Not Henry the Horse…Cisneros is nothing more than a slimeball. If you follow his political and professional career, you will see a pattern of public deceit and profiteering at the expense of the public. Look at his work with Countrywide (in the formation and distribution of subprime mortgage plans) and as Mayor of San Antonio, and you will see a man who never met a developer he didn’t like. Of course he’s one hundred times smarter than Antonio Villaraigosa, and three hundred times smarter than Joe Baca, but who isn’t? Aren’t there any American Latino politicians who aren’t obsessed with galas, consumerism, and self-service? Anna the Apologist, your commentary next…

  • 7 webmaster // Mar 29, 2009 at 4:03 pm


    I’m thinking that Henry Cisneros might appear too “aboriginal” or too “pocho”, although he does have solid educational credentials.

    Plus, what are HC’s foreign policy credentials?

    And I agree with india blanca. Both countries need to have a serious discussion about legalizing narcotics because with the recession and increased desperation, I don’t see this drug war ending any time soon. We can tax and regulate them and take out the violent criminal element.

    I wonder who will have the cojones to revisit the legalization argument first… any takers???

  • 8 Bearguez // Mar 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    If you think the cocaine network begun by Oliver North, while he labored for the NSA on behalf of the Contras disappeared, you need to get rid of your Seeing Eye dog. The Kerry Senatorial investigative committee documented its existence in the 1980s, up through the 1990s, and it was further explored by academics Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall in their book, “Cocaine Politics.” There are hundreds of books related to Oliver North’s active participation in the trafficking of cocaine using U.S. military bases in Panama, and inside the United States. Read Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance,” Alexander Cockburn’s “Whiteout,” Nick Schou’s “Kill The Messenger,” and Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine, and you can get a better idea of the world around you. In the last twenty years, Mexican politicians and law-enforcement have replaced many of the players who used to exist in Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala. The Mexican political elite are now trying to eliminate its cocaine competition within Mexican law-enforcement. And Plan Mexico was the Bush Administration’s strategy to help them accomplish that.

  • 9 india blanca // Mar 29, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Bearguez…This is 2009, as authoritative as you may sound, you are basing your analysis on the work of others…read my post carefully…and remember you never know who exists behind a pseudonym…I stand by my previous comment…

  • 10 Bearguez // Mar 29, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Then I’ve wasted time generating dialogue with you.

  • 11 Anna // Mar 29, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    Re: “The US reaction to this on-going violence is Plan Merida.”

    Is that the reaction or the cause? The violence didn’t seem to escalate until the Merida Plan/Plan Mexico went into effect.

    As for who they will choose to be ambassador, it will be somebody who represents the goals of the corporations and the ruling class. That’s why they don’t want a Mexican-American.

    Mexico came within 1% of electing a liberal, and many say that the liberal candidate actually won the election. The corporations are going to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

  • 12 Michaelr // Mar 29, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    That’s the cause. It is now a fight to the death. Either Felipe Calderon and his PAN Party government wipes out their cartel competition, or Mexico degenerates further into chaos and total lawlessness. This is one of the reasons why the Bush 2 Administration was so eager to escalate support for Plan Mexico, and began shipping weapons immediately. Nevertheless, migration, legal or illegal to the United States from Mexico is no longer exclusive to poverty level Mexican citizens. Lopez Obrador is more further to the political left than most traditional liberals.

  • 13 Mexitli // Mar 30, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    “We can tax and regulate them and take out the violent criminal element.”

    I wouldnt tax them. I am against giving money to the government. I do favor de-criminalization, which is not the same as legalization and the re-instituting of medical maintenance. Then we could spend the money we currently use to incarcerate addicts on educating children about the consequences of experimenting with drugs.

    @ Anna,

    The violence began when the gringos cut off the Columbian – Miami corridor. Then it escalated when an already overwhelmed Mexican gov was forced to fight meth manufacturing. Meth was made here in the U.S. until they got greater control of the pseudoephedrine. Which left a vacuum for Mexican cartels to exploit.

  • 14 DelToro // Mar 30, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Hmmmm. Lets see the US begins to experience a down turn in the economy and can’t afford to keep buying recreational drugs at the previous rate. Meanwhile the $$$$ isn’t being sent back to Mexico like it was over the last few years. The Mexican gvmt. continues a policy of allowing 70-80% of its citizens to live below poverty levels. I wonder if the lack of buying the drugs would cause the cartels to begin fighting for more of a share of a shrinking market? HMMMM. I wonder if not creating a viable economy and relying on the safety valve of deporting your poverty has helped exacerbate the problem? Hmmm? I wonder if the systematic disarming of your law abiding civilian population has put them at greater risk of being defenseless in their own country? HMMM. I wonder when Mexico and the Hillary/Kerry’s of the world will stop blaming the US for all of Mexico’s problems and begin to address the real issues? Hmmm. I wonder if this could be the precursor for a “We have to make them citizens” sham like “We have to centrally control all the business” in the US to save it? I wonder if Anna will disagree with my assesment?

  • 15 Pati Politics // Mar 30, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    It’s interesting that the author of this blog touches on the “Mexicans’ identity conundrum.” You see this with the ruling class in Mexico who are very Spanish and shun indigenous or the Mestizo identity. “Mexico’s well-regarded but haughty Ambassador” Sarukhan is Russian Armenian -so in a way, it should come as no surprise that they don’t want a Mexican-American ambassador representing the US. And then the Mexican embassy rep can’t even take a joke or a little light hearted speculation on the Armenian guy’s English accent (see comment 2). Let’s be real, how many Mexicans speak in the Queen’s English?

    Anna, you seem to imply that a Mexican-American would not represent corporate America or the ruling class. Where do you get that idea? There are plenty of Mexican-Americans who have sold themselves completely to the corporate elite. Just look at who funds their campaigns, PACs, and non-profit groups.

  • 16 Mexitli // Mar 30, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Even the Spanish are “Mestizos.” They used that term in Spain before they ever came to the western hemisphere. As Roberto Rodriguez once told me: “The whole world is Mestizo.”

    Lots of Armenians fled to Mexico to escape the Armenian holocaust. This is a good thing, just like the Lebanese, Asians, Africans etc that immigrated to Mexico. It makes Mexico all the richer.

    As for how many Mexican speak the queen’s English? I know of one, My daughter, who is published in both the Japanese and English languages and who teaches English Lit at one of CA’s most prestigious universities. (brag, brag)

    “American” is a nationality. Mexican is an ethnicity. Euros came here, drew a line in the sand and now we are American hyphen? I don’t think so. Nationality hyphen ethnicity does not make sense. Although I will concede that culturally we are at least marginally different than our so. of the border cousins.

    It’s like “that one” said… “American” society made him black. And American society is what makes us Mexican.

    Lastly, representing corp America and accepting contributions (or selling out) are two very different things.

    How many Mexican Americans sit on the board of fortune 500 companies?

    Last I heard, ZERO.

  • 17 webmaster // Mar 30, 2009 at 9:53 pm


    I think that Monica Lozano sits on the boards of Bank of America and Walt Disney. That’s just one off the top of my head. I’m sure that she isn’t alone, but my point is… it is probably more than ZERO.

    But to bring this back to the topic, I think that Pati and Seneca are trying to point out this upper crust, social behavior with the Mexican Ambassador to US plays into the identity dilemma. By Queen’s English, he’s referring to a highbrow British accent that not even most people in GB speak with. It comes from the Monarch’s use of the English language through the centuries. There are distinct English accents in the UK, like cockney. A lot of the variation in the English language accent has to do with region and class.

    I would find it most odd to be at a prestigious CA university and to listen to a professor speak the Queen’s English, especially if she were born in the US. But if your daughter finds that most effective, more power to her…

  • 18 Anna // Mar 30, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Re: “I think that Pati and Seneca are trying to point out this upper crust, social behavior with the Mexican Ambassador to US plays into the identity dilemma.”

    Whose identity? I think just Seneca’s.

    What difference does it make what kind of accent this guy has? As somebody said earlier, he grew up in the UK, which explains it. I guess Seneca would feel more comfortable with him if he talked like theeees? lol

  • 19 india blanca // Mar 31, 2009 at 2:32 am

    Anybody care to get back to discussing the crux of Seneca’s insightful piece?….
    “In this case, the US did not think this carefully through. Moreover, the Latino political leadership in Washington was either unaware of the appointment or equally ignorant of the consequences….. the question arises, ‘Is Pascual really a fit or a misjudgment by the Obamites and the Brookings crowd?’…. Where were the Latino advocacy wags and politicos in Washington on this critical selection process? It was noted that several Latino advocacy groups were included in the pre-trip briefing dinner held for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before she set out for Mexico. Apparently, neither the State Department’s talking heads and analysts nor the domestic Latino groups present like the National Council of La Raza added any value to the expected substantive discussion. Plainly, Mexico appears to be treated as an appendage of the domestic Latino concerns not as a foreign policy priority….. the Latin Americans already wondering if the Obama team is trying to address Latin America or the domestic Latino/Hispanic agenda. If it is the latter: what has been the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ role? And the advocacy groups’ input into such selections would be most interesting to examine. This zany selection process demonstrates that the Obama team has to be more surefooted in vetting not only for qualifications and ethnicity but for political sensitivity. Moreover, it needs to distinguish better the domestic from the foreign policy concerns. This is a classic case where a perfectly sound and qualified Latino is selected but stumbles for more nuanced and complex reasons.”
    Important questions and issues to ponder…

  • 20 BettyM // Mar 31, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    I was not aware that the selection/appointment of the Ambassador to Mexico would be so complex. I almost feel sorry for the person who is appointed – they had better be perfect.

  • 21 Pati Politics // Mar 31, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    I’ll take a stab at India Blanca’s effort to steer this discussion back to the issues Seneca was addressing.

    My thought is that aside from immigration, the Hispanic Caucus and advocacy groups really don’t engage in foreign affairs. Now the Cuban-American lobby is definitely more vocal in their foreign policy issues, but Latino-Americans as a whole don’t seem to be.

    When I visit the Congressional Hispanic Caucus website, I don’t see a foreign policy section. Actually when you scroll across the top to “news,” “about the CHC,” or “task forces,” nothing appears. They have a Facebook icon, but there is nothing on that site that indicates that they have a foreign policy agenda.

    Maybe I’m missing something?

  • 22 Anna // Mar 31, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Re: “Plainly, Mexico appears to be treated as an appendage of the domestic Latino concerns not as a foreign policy priority….. the Latin Americans already wondering if the Obama team is trying to address Latin America or the domestic Latino/Hispanic agenda.”

    Could you be more specific? What is the evidence that Mexico is being trated as an “appendage of domestic Latinos concerns” and “not as foreign policy priority”? And which Latin Americans are wondering if this is true?

  • 23 The Editor // Mar 31, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    Seneca’s insight is refreshing on many levels and pushes the envolope of typical Latino Issues discussions.

    Deconstructing his analysis:
    First, this guy Arturo Sarukhan is a true Mexican elite, of foreign descent, very Mexican, but a snob nevertheless.

    Second, Seneca’s point, about the Latino caucus seeming like deer in headlights with regards to the Mexico ambassador post, is revealing, but not shocking. Such consideration of politics is not on the agenda, revealing a weakness or inadequacy. Politics at this level is considered to rarified to tread. The underlaying fear may be that no hyphenated Mexican can ever feel at home in Mexico ever again, reinforcing the fact that we are more American in all nuances and sensibilities of culture language and politics. It is ironic that a Russian-Armenian raised in Wales is more Mexican than a Mexican in the U.S.

    Third, Clinton isn’t so much dithering about her selection for a perfect ambassodor candidate as she is assessing a global approach, that is, appoint someone with exposure to a limted wavelenght versus someone with broad spectrum experience (Cisneros vs. Pascual). In fact, Mexico’s diplomatic service does have a long standing bias against any Mexican-American appointment as U.S. ambassodor to Mexico, despite spin to the contrary by Mexico’s N.Y. consulate office. It is a justified one, though. In effect, Mexico’s elite have managed to paint a cartoon picture of Mexican American politics and history; Mexico’s elite consider “pocho” history, what we call Mexican American studies, to be a sub-culture, not mainstream, engendering a natural tendancy to feel superior and justifying the snobery. Arturo Sarukhan is actually a very sensible man, for this time and place, and position and culture, which are on level with any blue-bloods in the U.S., and blue-bloods only deal with blue bloods, not half-breeds.

    The caricature can also be turned on Mexico’s elite. What’s implied in all we know about Arturo’s Mexican agenda, aside from geo-political puffery, for a U.S. ambassodor to Mexico is that such candidate best be from an equal class as he, match his social and family status with a wordly education, all of it equaling wealth, such a telenovel affair.

    Seneca is spot on in his observations.

  • 24 Michaelr // Mar 31, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is not interested in foreign or domestic policy issues. Supporting higher educational issues, civil rights issues, or any cultural advancement issues is beyond the combined mindset of this group. The vast majority of CHC is often interested and assertive only in cases where the opportunity of exploiting their Latino constituents arises. This is why the Mexican government isn’t interested working with any of the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. They don’t have any political influence in Washington, and don’t do anything but collect fat paychecks and have galas and awards dinners where Joe Baca’s daughter howls. According to their amateur looking website, you would never think this group of federal public office profiteers has a formal agenda. They don’t list any political accomplishments because they really don’t have any political accomplishments to brag about. Yet, there’s an intense effort to connect with anybody on Facebook. Now that’s truly in the public’s interest…wouldn’t you say?

  • 25 Anna // Apr 1, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    To The Editor:

    I think people on this board are giving too much consideration to what the Mexican elite. Who cares what they think. They took a country rich in material resources and human capital, and they ran it into the ground. They are not in a position to dictate anything to anybody. Who cares if you’re wealthy in a country where you can’t go anywhere without an armed guard. Thank God, I’m an American.

    Frankly, we have more political capital than they do, but we don’t know it. We spend time on Fabian Nunez, etc instead of real issues.

    If we pressed for a Mexican-American Ambassador, we could get one appointed. Who cares about NCLR. Groups like this are annointed by white people and they are supposed to be surrogates for millions of people. You know what? We all have a phone and email and we can contact our members of Congress and the Senate and tell them what we think. This would be effective if most of us actually did it.

    Also, there have been been two Mexican-American Ambassadors to Mexico. John Gavin, appointed by Ronald Reagan, and Tony Garza, appointed by Bush. Both Republicans.

  • 26 Anna // Apr 2, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Hey Reyfeo:

    Remember I recommended the book 1984 by george Orwell? At the G-20 Summit, the Queen of England gave that book to Mexican president Felipe Calderon:

  • 27 The Editor // Apr 4, 2009 at 9:46 am


    On the contrary, it is not consideration, but context. Once context is understood, we can run circles around it, ie, exposing the sham of the Meican nopaligarchs in general, Arturo’s puffery in particular. My point in the previous post is that the greatest caricature of these nopaligarchs is seen nightly on our TV screens, the greatest social commentary of caricature creating medium is the telenovela.

    Your point is well taken about the previous two M-A ambassador appointments, but John Gavin, come on, who are you kidding? He was only “accepted” by Mexico’s foreign consulate precisely because he was perceived to be different than a typical M-A. He was high-brow, he was glamorous; and had equal status as a telenovela star.

    It is good that Mexico is now considered a “middle-income” country by the IMF and is one of the G-20. But who was first in line for IMF funding to the tune of Billions of dollars? Mexico’s central bank. If nopaligarchs like Arturo Sarukhan and his kind are so high born, then don’t go around with hat in hand asking for bailouts; the peasant and middle class will never see those funds anyway, and I’ll bet anything that the construction of a few more mansions in Polanco, Lomas, or other ritzy places in Mexico D.F. will not be a mere coincidence with receipt of those billions from the IMF.

    To your other point, about “we” asking that a M-A ambassador be appointed, you should see MichaelR’s comment right before yours who nails it on the head. It is quite simply naive the “we” could simply “ask” and one will be appointed.

    The “we” has no such will or foresight, or any kind of political, financial or cultural gravitas, or to put it more diplomatically, as they say in my rancho, collective huevos. We do have people that are highly qualified by education, or by education and wealth, or by education and wealth and connections.

    To talk consideration, let’s consider the highest political ranking U.S. Latino luminaries. Take Villaraigosa, take, Cisneros. Even by the local standards, Tony Villar is a weasel; if we consider him so, do you think the elite snobbery of Mexico will accept him, he who butchers and mangles the Spanish language with such regular aplomb? Now take Cisneros who is universes away from Villaraigosa in terms of intellect and social charm. There are others, though, in business where the case can credibly be made for an appointment as U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

    One that comes to mind is Carlos Gutierrez. Precisely because he fits the Telenovela model of a business tycoon (check!), has international experience (check!), has served in a high government post (check!) is highly educated (check!) is independently wealthy (check!), has a high-brow Latin-American family pedigree (check!); I can confidently speculate that Carlos can best Arturo in any dimplomatic arm-wrestle match up. He’s a Republican and Cuban, but so what. I’m certain the Clinton State Dept will have no issues in presenting Carlos’ diplomatic portfolio before Mexico’s foreign secretariat. After all, he is a U.S. Latino, right?

    A side note: Mexico’s elite considers cuban emigre elites to be of the same social class due to the two W’s: white and wealth. Whereas Mexican-American elites are not considered of the same country club scene. Back to cartoon comparisons: Generally, a cuban elite left an hacienda or a mansion in Havana for another mansion in Miami. Generally, there are not equivalent numbers of wealthy emigres from Mexico, with the only popular image being that of a bracero. So when Villaraigosa, Fabian Nunez or any of their ilk, go on official state visits to Mexico’s capital, the entrenched local mindset automatically perceives them as “sons of braceros”, not country club set. Despite Villaraigosa’s achievements and/or failings as an elite public servant in Latino U.S., it is Mexico’s, or Arturo’s problem, this perception.

    Anna, your critique of giving too much “consideration” to Mexico’s elite is missplaced. Again it is about setting a context.

  • 28 WhatThe.. // Apr 4, 2009 at 10:09 am

    To the Editor: You said it man!

  • 29 Anna // Apr 4, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Re: “It is quite simply naive the “we” could simply “ask” and one will be appointed.”

    No, it isn’t. You think of us as powerless, and I don’t. Unfortunately many of us don’t know we have power and don’t use it. Call the State Department and your representatives and demand that the future Ambassador not be Pascal or any other Cuban.

    Furthermore, you seem to care too much what the so-called elite in Mexico think, and who they will “accept.” As far as I’m concerned, they have no choice. You don’t don’t understand your power as an American.

    I think that’s why Mexico is always trying to discourage immigrants from assimilating and internalizing an American identity. Because when you think of yourself as an American, you know you’re equal and you start demanding things.

    And telenovelas exist to distract the lower classes. Furthermore, they instill hierarchy. They teach you that you are on the bottom and that you’re supposed to be there because of your color/race. One time I was ordering food, and on the TV was on one of the Spanish language TV stations. They kept flashing images of of brown skinned Indian men, and after every one some ugly girl with dyed blonde hair would say “feo.” It happened really fast like they were trying to instill it: feo, feo, feo.

    I was like is this for real? People watch this and they don’t complain? Too much.

    That’s why I think so many on this board think that when a Mexican-American person achieves success or gets into a position of authority, that it’s a joke. The person must be an upstart or a fool or corrupt. Or that he’s just as low class person imitating a successful person.

    That mentality is left over from the oppression of Mexico. It has to go.

  • 30 Anna // Apr 4, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    More information on Pascual fron an article by Naomi Klein in 2005. Call your reps and tell them not to confirm his nomination.

    The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

    By Naomi Klein – April 15th, 2005

    Last summer, in the lull of the August media doze, the Bush Administration’s doctrine of preventive war took a major leap forward. On August 5, 2004, the White House created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, headed by former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Carlos Pascual. Its mandate is to draw up elaborate “post conflict” plans for up to twenty-five countries that are not, as of yet, in conflict. According to Pascual, it will also be able to coordinate three full-scale reconstruction operations in different countries “at the same time,” each lasting “five to seven years…”

    Gone are the days of waiting for wars to break out and then drawing up ad hoc plans to pick up the pieces. In close cooperation with the National Intelligence Council, Pascual’s office keeps “high risk” countries on a “watch list” and assembles rapid-response teams ready to engage in prewar planning and to “mobilize and deploy quickly” after a conflict has gone down. The teams are made up of private companies, nongovernmental organizations and members of think tanks—some, Pascual told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in October, will have “pre-completed” contracts to rebuild countries that are not yet broken. Doing this paperwork in advance could “cut off three to six months in your response time.”

    Few ideologues can resist the allure of a blank slate—that was colonialism’s seductive promise: “discovering” wide-open new lands where utopia seemed possible. But colonialism is dead, or so we are told; there are no new places to discover, no terra nullius (there never was), no more blank pages on which, as Mao once said, “the newest and most beautiful words can be written.” There is, however, plenty of destruction—countries smashed to rubble, whether by so-called Acts of God or by Acts of Bush (on orders from God). [or acts of Obama] And where there is destruction there is reconstruction, a chance to grab hold of “the terrible barrenness,” as a UN official recently described the devastation in Aceh, and fill it with the most perfect, beautiful plans.

    “We used to have vulgar colonialism,” says Shalmali Guttal, a Bangalore-based researcher with Focus on the Global South. “Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it ‘reconstruction.’”

    It certainly seems that ever-larger portions of the globe are under active reconstruction; being rebuilt by a parallel government made up of a familiar cast of for-profit consulting firms, engineering companies, mega-NGOs, government and UN aid agencies and international financial institutions. And from the people living in these reconstruction sites—Iraq to Aceh, Afghanistan to Haiti—a similar chorus of complaints can be heard. The work is far too slow, if it is happening at all. Foreign consultants live high on cost-plus expense accounts and thousand-dollar-a-day salaries, while locals are shut out of much-needed jobs, training and decision making. Expert “democracy builders” lecture governments on the importance of transparency and “good governance” yet most contractors and NGOs refuse to open their books to those same governments, let alone give them control over how their aid money is spent.

  • 31 webmaster // Apr 4, 2009 at 6:39 pm


    I can understand how some feel that a “colonialized” mentality has been carried across the border…however, I don’t think that we should assume that just because an elected or appointed official is Latino that he or she has our best interests at heart.

    We have blogged about Latinos who are introducing positive legislation (namely Hilda Solis and Raul Grijalva…and sometimes Linda Sanchez), yet people don’t seem to be moved by the positivity. We also try to encourage activism (See DREAM Act Post), etc. I think that we are capable of achieving, but we have to continue questioning authority and not assuming that all Mexican-Americans will represent a more liberal view or that they will even do a great job in X,Y, or Z ambassador post.

    As for your info on Pascual, I have read similar things, more specifically this:

  • 32 Seneca // Apr 5, 2009 at 7:42 am

    The focus of my commentary is to illustrate the many hurdles and missteps taken in selecting a political appointee. In this case, it was doubly complex: the Mexican sensitivities, the domestic Latino interests and role, the supporting institution: the Brookings, the backdrop of the ‘failed states’ discussion with Mexico, and the personality in question. The intent was to show that our community must become aware of such a process , especially if it is involved or associated with such an undertaking. The elitist factor among some movers and shakers in Mexico is merely incidental to understanding the problem in this particular case.

  • 33 india blanca // Apr 5, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    …so glad you stepped in to put us back on track…we need to understand the dynamics of these nominations if we hope to one day become adept enough to influence them

  • 34 Mexitli // Apr 8, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Ms. Webmistress,

    “How many Mexican Americans sit on the board of fortune 500 companies?”

    Last I heard Monica Lazano was on those boards, too.

    If Disney and BoA are fortune 500 companies then OK, I stand corrected.

    Admittedly, I did not make it past Senneca’s first 1 1/2 paragraphs. I’m not a gluten for punishment. too much “take,” or as we say in construction: “crap in, crap out.”

    No offense.

    Conjecture is not fact.

    As for the queen’s English, I doubt that there are any medievalists here in this blog.

    There are only “*” in CA universities and only “*” are non-“white.”

    If you know more than me then OK.

  • 35 theKaiser // Apr 8, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    What is medieval about the Queen’s English? It isn’t a reference to the Middle Ages, nor is it old fashioned, its social class vernacular. If you don’t know what something means don’t broadcast it on Cyberspace.

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