SAN LUIS VALLEY — Weeks of speculation finally came to an end on Tuesday when President Biden officially announced his nomination of Ken Salazar to the position of ambassador to Mexico. Salazar, a former US senator and Secretary of the Interior in the Obama administration, had long been viewed as the likely nominee, fueled in no small part by a mid-May 2021 story in La Jordana, the widely read daily newspaper in Mexico City, saying Salazar’s nomination was pending. But, as was reported in the New York Times, the White House delayed confirming the rumor until Biden’s slate of 19 nominees to ambassador positions could be announced at the same time.
Unlike 16 of the other 19 Biden nominees for ambassadorships announced by the administration so far, Salazar, 66, does not have experience as a foreign diplomat. However, he has devoted much of his life to public service and brings a significant portfolio of relevant experiences to the job, including working with fellow senators to craft immigration policy when he was first elected to the US Senate, being on the front line of a crisis as when he was Secretary of the Interior dealing with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and, also in that position, previous experience negotiating with Mexico related to conservation issues along the US – Mexico border.
Salazar also “describes himself as Mexican-American”, is fluent in Spanish and “grew up in the San Luis Valley where the first Spanish and Mexican settlers arrived in 1598”, a few of the characteristics cited by El Universal, Mexico’s number one daily newspaper, in its coverage of Salazar’s nomination just hours after it was announced.
While much of the article in El Universal focused on answering the question ¿Quién es Ken Salazar, nominado para ser embajador de EU en México? (Who is Ken Salazar, nominated to be ambassador of the United States to Mexico?), several statements may provide a little insight into how the press in Mexico views the news.
Specifically, Salazar was described as “having the trust of the president…and, beyond his affinity with Democrats, an independent voice that has sometimes led him to confront them. He will bring new vigor to the relationship with Mexico,” the article read.
The importance of the role of a U.S. ambassador is, in many ways, a relative thing, dependent largely upon what foreign country is involved. Historically – and much to the chagrin of the foreign diplomatic community – some ambassador positions are given as a reward to donors or celebrities to either curry political favors or as a gesture of gratitude for supporting the sitting president in the past.
Not so with Mexico.
While it may not be reflected in the amount of coverage it receives in mainstream media, the U.S. relationship with Mexico is one of the most important. Not only do the two countries share a border 2,000 miles long, Mexico has long been touted as the United States’ third-largest trading partner, while the United States is, by far, Mexico’s largest trading partner. However, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service in June of 2020, Mexico surpassed China as the United States’ largest trading partner in 2019. It ranks second, after China, as a source of U.S. imports, and second, after Canada, as an export market for U.S. goods and services. Much of the bilateral trade between the two countries takes place within the context of supply chains as manufacturers in each country rely on the other to finish products and goods. Mexico is also a source of heritage for tens of millions of Americans, which has both cultural and political implications in both countries.
At the same time, the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico has been wrought with historical conflict at various times in addition to great economic disparities and what can only be described as a “cultural divide.” And the U.S. is currently facing significant challenges at the U.S. – Mexican border that will rely on cooperation and collaboration on the part of both countries if things are going to be put on a new trajectory.
This is all territory that the U.S. ambassador to Mexico will have to navigate, yet, if accolades and “votes of confidence” are any indication, Salazar may be the right man for the job.
Ken Salazar is a native of the San Luis Valley and continues to reside, when he can, on family property in Manassa. He is currently a partner with the international law firm WilmerHale in their Denver office, where he has been practicing since 2013.
Although his nomination is not anticipated to encounter any challenges, Salazar will not officially assume his role as U.S. ambassador to Mexico until approved by the U.S. Senate.