Maria Echaveste and the ethnic lion’s den debacle of Mexico

OPINION Maria Echaveste, the illustrious Texas-born daughter of Mexican immigrants, might have been the best ambassador to Mexico that President Barack Obama could have appointed,…

FILE: President Barack Obama , right, and Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto. Maria Echaveste’s withdrawal from the U.S. ambassador to Mexico nomination points to a deeply rooted problem of President Obama with Latin America. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)


Maria Echaveste, the illustrious Texas-born daughter of Mexican immigrants, might have been the best ambassador to Mexico that President Barack Obama could have appointed, if only he had done it six years ago.

On Monday Echaveste withdrew her nomination that the president made last September which wound up disappointingly mired in a GOP-controlled Senate where she became a doomed symbol of the Obama administration’s failure on Latin American foreign policy.

SEE ALSO: 7 questions with former US ambassador to Mexico, Jose Garza

Echaveste, 60, cited a prolonged confirmation process as well as her family’s best interests.

That, of course, is academic-speak from a Stanford University and Berkeley Law School graduate to rhetorically ask what could she possibly accomplish in the year or so, should she eventually be confirmed, in a lame duck administration of a politically weakened president who has turned Mexican policy into a political issue?

The tragedy is not that her appointment was effectively derailed by politics but that Echaveste, considered one of the most brilliant minds among first generation Americans of Mexican descent, was little more than a throwaway nominee.

Why wasn’t she appointed when Obama took office in 2009 amid a honeymoon political climate and a likelihood of serving a full term?

Perhaps that’s because Obama was too pre-occupied giving preference to fellow Harvard graduates and Ivy Leaguers like Carlos Pascual, a Cuban-American diplomat who was ambassador to Mexico from 2009 to 2011, long enough for the Mexicans to develop a genuine dislike for him and casting Pascual as the modern day Ugly American in Latin America.

It wasn’t just that Pascual, as a Cuban-American, had little understanding of Mexican history, culture and politics. It was as if he didn’t try to learn that Mexico is different than, say, Cuba. The Mexicans quickly picked up on it, and he gained disfavor with President Felipe Calderón and his administration.

The Mexicans were finally able to prove that Pascual was no friend thanks to the WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables in which he criticized the Mexican military’s ability or willingness to fight the Mexican drug cartels.

Pascual effectively became the first casualty of the Wikileaks affair.

In a visit to Washington, Calderón expressed his dismay with Pascual to Washington Post reporters, blaming him for heightened tensions between them that left the Mexican president unable to cooperate with America’s ambassador.

It didn’t help that the eligible bachelor Pascual apparently also didn’t understand the nuances of Mexican politics enough to understand that dating the daughter of a senior member in Mexico’s main opposition party wouldn’t endear him to the hierarchy of the ruling government.

Pascual, of course, should have known better on what he put on paper and about Mexican politics, but then Obama should have known better as well – and didn’t.

Maria Echaveste was nominated to ambassador to Mexico.

Maria Echaveste was nominated by President Barack Obama to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico, but she has withdrawn. (Photo: Berkeley Law School)

Obama has never understood Latin America. He never traveled south of the border before becoming president. He has allowed the deportation policy to be handle by insensitive bureaucrats, and he has disappointed over and over on his promise about immigration reform.

Mexican Americans make up the lion’s share of Latinos in the U.S., and yet an examination of Obama’s high level Hispanic appointments over the past six years shows that few have been of Mexican descent — and many of the important ones have been, like Pascual, of Cuban or Puerto Rican background who do not share the Mexican and Mexican American experience.

So it was into this ethnic lion’s den debacle that Maria Echaveste was thrown, suggesting that her decision to withdraw her nomination reflects as much on the indecision and failure of President Obama to develop a progressive, meaningful relationship with Mexico in particular and Latin America in general.

SEE ALSO: Mexican drug cartels are expanding their reach in Peru

Mexico especially now is a no-win situation for anyone who becomes Obama’s ambassador there, and sometimes not accepting an ambassadorship is just as important, or more so, than becoming an ambassador.