Mexican ambassador swaps Dublin for LA in Trump-inspired reshuffle
US Letter: Carlos García De Alba calls mogul’s rhetoric unfair but says diplomats must not interfere
Mexico’s ambassador to Ireland, Carlos García De Alba, who is soon to become consul general in Los Angeles. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Carlos García De Alba should be the man most offended by Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to Ireland given what the Republican has said but the Mexican ambassador in Dublin is not responding with the same angry bluster that the presidential candidate regularly uses.
Speaking on a flying visit to Washington earlier this week, De Alba viewed the hard political rhetoric and taunts as “tools” and “tricks” used in a hard-fought election campaign.
“He is trying to draw the attention and get support, and he thinks a good way to get support is to not exactly talk in an objective way,” said the 57-year-old career diplomat.
In a fierce year-long vitriolic campaign, the billionaire New York property developer has claimed that Mexico is sending rapists and criminals to the US and plans to build a wall along that border if elected president (and get Mexico to pay for it) to keep them out.
De Alba calls Trump’s wall idea “not viable,” “very complicated” and “extremely expensive,” and points out that more than 60 per cent of “undocumented” immigrants fly to the US, so a wall will not solve that problem unless you build it thousands of feet in the air.
“Mexico and the US are neighbours forever; geography cannot be changed. It is not a divorce. You cannot change a neighbour as you would a partner in life,” he said.
Trump’s attacks on Mexico have not let up. This week he tied himself up in knots over the Indiana-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over a legal action against his ill-fated “Trump University”, and tried to distance himself from his previous racially tinged remarks about the judge’s Mexican heritage. He had claimed the judge had a “conflict of interest” because he was “Mexican” and he, Trump, wanted to build a wall with Mexico.
A cacophony of Republican criticism, including the branding of his comments as “the textbook definition of a racist comment” by US House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan, brought a rare about-turn.
Trump said his remarks about the judge had been “misconstrued” and that he did “not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial”.
For De Alba and his fellow Mexican public officials, the five months to the presidential election will test their skills. There will be plenty of diplomatic lip-biting.
“He has said things that are not fair and untrue, but we have to be objective professionals – respectful – and we don’t want to interfere in American politics,” he said.
Other prominent Mexicans have not been as restrained. Former Mexican president Vicente Fox has been one of Trump’s highest-profile trolls. He blasted the businessman’s pledge to lump Mexico with the bill for building the border wall, using language more suited to a Trump rally when he told an interviewer in February: “I’m not going to pay for that f**king wall.”
De Alba is more reserved. He gives no opinion about Trump’s planned visit to his golf resort at Doonbeg in Co Clare in the second last week in June. The visit is a matter for the relationship between Ireland and the US, he says.
Trump will soon become a bigger part of the Mexican diplomat’s life though. His five-year term in Dublin is ending soon but not for the United Arab Emirates as he thought.
Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto reshuffled his US diplomatic corps, replacing the ambassador to Washington and dispatching 29 new consuls general across 50 consulates as he faced criticism from people at home that they were not doing enough to counter Trump.
In the coming weeks, De Alba will become Mexico’s consul general in Los Angeles, his eighth foreign posting for Mexico.
He will move from managing a staff of 16 in Dublin to overseeing 250 diplomats in the biggest outpost the country has outside Mexico.
He has already been asked by one reporter about a potential future move within the US given that the man he is replacing in LA, Manuel Sada Solana, was tapped to replace low-profile Miguel Basañez Ebergenyi, the highest-profile casualty of the Trump-inspired reshuffle.
“I have to be prepared – cool, cold-mind, cold-brain,” he said of his new role.
De Alba will move from Ireland, a country where there are just several thousand Mexicans, mostly students, to the second largest Mexican city outside Mexico City.
Of about 11.7 million Mexican-born people in the US, around four million live in Los Angeles County. If the county was a country, it would be the world 21st largest economy and would be bigger than Sweden, Poland and Argentina, according to de Alba. And then there is Trump.
“I will have a lot of work to do,” he said.