External Affairs

Spooked by Trump, Mexico Wants to Mobilise its US Diaspora the Indian Way

Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu with DMRC MD Mangu Singh riding on a metro train in New Delhi on Saturday. Credit: PTI

Mexican foreign minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu (right) and Mexican ambassador Melba Pría with DMRC MD Mangu Singh riding on a metro train in New Delhi on Saturday. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Last year in June, US republican presidential candidate Donald Trump began his campaign by trashing Mexico, describing Mexicans as “rapists” and promised to build a “great wall” on the southern border. Trump’s views evoked outrage, but his prospects were not taken seriously enough to elicit a response across the border.

Nine months later, the mood in Mexico city has soured. Trump is the front-runner to win the Republican ticket as per most poll numbers, and he continues to target Mexico and Mexicans at virtually every rally and campaign event.

Mexico’s foreign minister believes that it’s time for the Mexican community in US “speak up” to inform their fellow Americans about their stellar contribution – and she wants to “learn” from New Delhi’s “engagement” with its diaspora on how to do that.

“One of the challenges that we have had that has come to light in the electoral process is that we have not been able to communicate on what the Mexican and Mexican-American community contributes to the well-being, economic growth and social advancement of the United States,” Ruiz Massieu told a small group of Indian journalists on the last day of her two day visit to the Indian capital.

A trained lawyer, Ruiz Massieu sat at the head of a long on the top floor of Taj Man Singh. Across her, picture windows framed the green vista of central Delhi, with Raisina hill at its apex.

“Also, we have not been very assertive and effective in informing the American public in general about the importance of the bilateral relationship,” she admitted.

The Mexican government had been reticent about commenting on the increasing intensity of Trump’s anti-Mexican sentiments – but there has been a visible change in last fortnight.

Former presidents Vincente Fox and Felipe Calderón led the Mexican verbal lashing of Trump, with Ruiz Massieu terming his remarks “ignorant and racist”.

Earlier this week, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto for the first time called out Trump, asserting that there was “no scenario” in which Mexico would pay for the New York real estate tycoon’s pet project.

Peña Nieto then went on to compare the “ominous situation” arising from Trump’s rhetoric to the rise of Hitler and Mussolini.

The Mexican foreign minister said that the government not only has a responsibility to keep the diaspora safe, but also to make them as “agents that voice information about the relationship”.

And the “truth”, Ruiz Massieu submits, is that “every minute” there is bilateral trade of $1 million. While the Mexican-American community runs 600 firms, the bilateral trade is responsible for six million direct jobs in United States.

Power of the diaspora

“We found that people that people who are catalogued as qualified diaspora, who work in universities, work in companies, who don’t need the kind of protection services that other types of migration do, are very good agents for informing the American public in general of the true nature of the relationship,” said Ruiz Massieu.

Claudia Ruiz Massieu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mexico speaks during a CII meeting in New Delhi on Friday. Credit: PTI Photo by Vijay Kumar Joshi

Claudia Ruiz Massieu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mexico speaks during a CII meeting in New Delhi on Friday. Credit: PTI Photo by Vijay Kumar Joshi

There are 11 million Mexicans living in US, who were born in Mexico. But, there is also a larger Mexican-American community of about 35 million who are 2nd and 3rd generation members.

“Among the qualified diaspora living in US, the Indian community is the largest, and Mexicans are the second largest. We have not been as effective as India in engaging with the community and in making them part of the effort to project our country,” said Ruiz Massieu.

Over the years, Indian-Americans, over 2 million strong, have not just become the most prosperous migrant group in the US, but are also politically influential.

“The way the Indian community in the US is perceived due to their contribution that they do everyday to the community – that is a source of strength for India and India’s image abroad. That is the sort of the thing that we want to engage in, to make our community abroad part of our projection and part of our policy and strategy to promote our values, our strengths and opportunities,” said Ruiz Massieu, who became foreign minister in August 2015.

During her meeting with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday afternoon, diaspora engagement was very much on the table. Ruiz Massieu noted that “minister Swaraj found it very interesting”.

Swaraj had led the initiative to merge the Overseas Affairs ministry into the External Affairs ministry, reasoning that with Indian missions carrying out implementation, a separate structure for MOIA was infructuous.

Incidentally, chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian became the first Indian official to publicly comment on Trump, after the Republican promised to scrap non-immigrant H1B visas for professionals.

“My concern is that Donald Trump in the last debate said H1B, whatever it is, I use it but I don’t like it. I want to scrap all H1B. That’s very worrying for export-led growth going forward,” Subramanian said at a conference on Saturday.

A Modi visit on the cards

Ruiz Massieu was also in town to set the ball rolling for a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There has been no bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Mexico since Rajiv Gandhi’s sojourn in 1986. Four years ago, PM Manmohan Singh did visit Mexico, but it was to attend the G20 summit.

President Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa was in India in 2007, so a trip by an Indian head of government is long overdue.

Similarly, there has been no visit by an external affairs minister since 1981. Ruiz Massieu will host Swaraj sometime in September.

“This will be to revise projects and set forth a roadmap which will lead to the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Mexico by the end of this year or early next year,” she said.

The Mexican minister, who is from a well-known political family, was also bullish about the need to increase bilateral trade, which stood at $6.2 billion and mainly comprised of energy imports by India.

“This does not reflect the size of the economies and the potential,” she asserted.

On the investment front, she also laid out the red carpet for Indian firms, as she talked about the “privileged geography” of her country. There are around 60 Indian firms in Mexico with investments of around $2 billion in sectors like IT and automotives. For India, Mexico is the largest Latin American investor with a portfolio of around $800 million.

Talking about her meeting with PM Modi on Friday, Ruiz Massieu spoke about the Indian leader’s interest in the common theme to assimilate rural migrants into the urban landscape.

“We talked about President Peña’s new policy on urban policy, affordable policy… We talked about innovation, entrepreneurship, to create more inclusive growth,” she said.

Interestingly, one subject that wasn’t broached in either of her meetings was United Nations Security Council reforms.

“To tell you the truth, we did not talk about it in the meeting. But, we have had an ongoing discussion on this over the years. Both of us are clear about each other’s position,” she said.

India, as part of the G-4 group, has called for expansion in both permanent and non-permanent seats, with flexibility on the use of veto. Mexico is on the other side of the fence. As part of the Uniting For Consensus group with Pakistan, it wants an expansion of only non-permanent seats with a longer tenure.

Asked whether it was unusual that UNSC reforms did not figure in talks, Massieu smiled, “We had so much to talk about… We were trying to identify the many things that can lead to results rapidly in order to host PM Modi and then lead to a reciprocal visit by President Pena”.