Sunday, June 16, 2024

Colorado politician with Hispanic roots nominated US ambassador to Mexico

United States President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he would nominate Ken Salazar, former senator for Colorado and ex-secretary of the interior in the Obama administration, as the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

Salazar, also a former attorney general of Colorado and co-chair of Biden’s Latino Leadership Committee during his presidential campaign, will succeed Christopher Landau as the United States’ top diplomat in Mexico if his appointment is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

It will be the first diplomatic post for the 66-year-old descendant of Spanish immigrants who grew up in a large family in the San Luis Valley in Colorado.

Salazar, an opponent of former president Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies, will take up the ambassador’s position at a time when Mexico and the United States are making greater efforts to work together to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S. and to address the root causes of migration in northern Central American countries. However, there are also difficulties in the bilateral relationship, including Mexico’s treatment of United States energy investors and President López Obrador’s anger at the U.S. government’s funding of Mexican civil society organizations he considers political opponents.

Arturo Sarukhán, a former Mexican ambassador to the United States who has worked closely with the ambassadorial nominee, told the newspaper El Universal that Salazar, as the top U.S. diplomat in Mexico, will have a direct line to President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House, adding that is “something that hasn’t happened for a long time.”

Joe Biden and Ken Salazar
Salazar and US President Joe Biden worked together in President Barack Obama’s administration, and Salazar was co-chair on the Biden campaign’s Latino Leadership Committee.

Sarukhán, ambassador to the U.S. during Felipe Calderón’s 2006–2012 presidency, described Salazar as “a reserved man who listens … and analyzes issues before speaking out about them.”

“Some would say he is reserved, but, rather, I believe that he is a keen observer who prefers to think twice before giving his opinion and taking a position. He has a great political nose,” he added.

“As a senator, he played a key role in the debates about migration reform and … the trafficking of weapons to Mexico. As interior secretary, he played a central role in the establishment of the Big Bend-Boquillas binational park and in the sensitive negotiations about water in the Colorado River and the agreement about exploration and exploitation of cross-border [oil] reserves in the Gulf of Mexico. And he knows agricultural trade and cross-border environmental impact issues very well,” Sarukhán said.

Enrique Berruga, a former Mexico representative to the United Nations, said the nomination of Salazar — whom he described as a person with “a very high political profile — is a sign that the relationship with Mexico is a priority for the U.S. government. His closeness to Biden and Harris will mean that he doesn’t have to “navigate the bureaucracy to have access to them when he needs it,” Berruga said, predicting also that Salazar will place particular emphasis on environmental issues in Mexico.

United States Mexico expert Duncan Wood, vice president for strategy and new initiatives at the Washington-based Wilson Center and a senior adviser to the center’s Mexico Institute, said that Salazar will be in a strong position to shape relations between Mexico and the U.S. due to his proximity to Biden.

“The ambassadors that have the greatest impact on the bilateral relationship are those who really speak with the voice of the president” and that will be the case with Salazar, Wood said.

Former Mexican ambassador to the US Arturo Sarukhán
Former Mexican ambassador to the US Arturo Sarukhán believes Salazar will have a direct line to the White House, “something that hasn’t happened for a long time.”

The challenge will be convincing Mexican government officials to collaborate with him, he added. The United States government is “trying to build a very positive relationship” with Mexico but whether that occurs depends on “the willingness of President López Obrador and his cabinet,” said Wood, who predicted in March that the president’s “exaggerated nationalism” in pursuit of energy sovereignty would lead to clashes with the U.S.

Salazar has to send a message to the Mexican government that the United States “expects a much more cooperative attitude,” he said.

United States Senator John Hickenlooper indicated that he believes that Salazar is up to the task of bringing the U.S. and Mexican governments closer together.

“Of all the people I worked with in politics, Ken Salazar has, perhaps, the greatest ability to bring people together that are seriously crosswise,” he said on Tuesday. “I would love to see him as ambassador to Mexico.”

Berruga, however, believes that cultivating a closer relationship between López Obrador and Biden, who haven’t met face to face since the latter took office, will not be easy and is unlikely to happen.

“I think that the relationship will remain distant and [making it closer] is beyond … the ambassador, whoever he is. It’s not a problem with Ken.”

With reports from El Universal 

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