On Monday 22 September the British Mexican Society held its annual ‘Two Ambassadors’ event to celebrate and promote the countries’ bilateral relations
Once more this fixture in the society’s calendar was fully booked, with a brimming audience anticipating the latest high-level update from both diplomats, held in the Mexican ambassador’s residence in London. It is a congratulatory type of occasion, and those in attendance looked not for discord but rather a chance to cherish the joint ambitions for the future and successes of the past. The two nations have deep links that stem from the birth of the modern Mexico, as the United Kingdom was the first country to recognise informally the new country after independence from Spain and the second (after the US) to notify the Mexican government officially. The two countries have a long and shared literary, artistic, sporting, scientific and industrial history.
The Mexican ambassador to the UK, Diego Gómez Pickering, spoke first, softly to start with as he warmed up by praising the UK’s “solid economic recovery” and “business-oriented strategy” and confirming that he thought that Great Britain was “destined to remain a world leader in the eyes of Mexicans”. He divided his presentation into four sections that roughly broke into: current economic situation/UK recovery; uniqueness of the countries’ relationship; Mexican structural reforms; and the future untapped economic partnerships.
After that, the diplomat went on to look at the upcoming, if rather ungainly-titled ‘2015: The Year of Mexico in the UK and the UK in Mexico’. This ‘dual year’ will “foster better understanding…/renew projects and initiatives”. It appears that culture and education will be the bases of the twelve months of intended mutual positivity, with the nations focusing their ‘year’ on universities, the arts and society as a whole.
Mr Gómez Pickering also looked forward to the visit next month of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall and there was an added regal element to this year’s event in London, as the society’s patron, the Duke of Gloucester, was there.
The British ambassador to Mexico, Duncan Taylor, spoke at length in praiseworthy terms about the “remarkable and palpable goodwill towards Britain [from Mexico]”. He said he was “encouraged by the warmth of feelings” and commented that the two nations thought “very much alike”. He spoke about shared values and outlooks and lauded Enrique Peña Nieto’s structural reforms as an “extraordinary series of measures”. He was on more uncertain ground when talking about joint development projects in Belize. He recognised the “different histories and different perspectives” when describing the British-Mexican togetherness: one a previously colonising country and the other a nation that was colonised.
There were questions from the audience that followed up on three themes: the coming bilateral cultural year mentioned above; science and innovation; and literature. After the event, there was a reception in another room in the residence where margaritas and some Mexican culinary delectation was were on offer. I spoke to the Mexican diplomat then about two matters. Firstly: indigenous rights, which President Peña Nieto had just addressed at the UN Plenary Session of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. The leader discussed the importance of protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous people and their cultures and customs across the globe. Mexico, for its part, recognises 56 languages in use by its more than 15 million native peoples.
I also asked Mr Gómez Pickering on a more difficult issue: the exorbitant numbers of child migrants attempting to cross Mexico’s northern border and the disappearances, murders, rapes, robberies and extortions committed in the deserts and forests of Mexico against travelling workers. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights noted recently that despite the change of government (from the conservative PAN of Felipe Calderón to the centrist PRI) there had been no let-up in the violations of human rights against undocumented migrants. The ambassador palmed off the issue to his human rights attaché, Stephanie Black, who did admit the enormity of the problem and suggested that while the PRI had been addressing the matter there was still a long way to go.