Annahar met with the Mexican Ambassador to Lebanon José Ignacio Madrazo, and here are some of the points that were discussed in an interview:
What can you tell us about your academic background?
Since I was a child, I’ve dreamt of pursuing the foreign service path and that is why I decided to study International Relations. I studied in a small university called El Colegio de México. My university was founded by Spanish intellectuals who fled Spain during the civil war, and as time went by, it became a very prestigious university.
What are some similarities between the Mexican and Lebanese culture?
Upon my arrival here I noticed that Lebanon is quite unique, in comparison to my previous postings; yet I found it extremely similar to Mexico. Culturally speaking, we are very similar, we are both very family oriented, and we both support each other. We both love food, and our history is extremely important to us.
During my posting in northern Europe, I noticed that the society there is very homogenous; in Lebanon, however, it’s quite different. There are so many religions and so many people that come from diverse backgrounds, but they all live together in harmony.
Could you please tell me about the developments of the Mexican-Lebanese relationship?
I find the Lebanese-Mexican relationship very peculiar. Although we don’t have a significant trade relationship, 500,000 thousand people of Lebanese origins live in Mexico. These Lebanese in Mexico are doing extremely well; some of them are among the richest men in the world. Take Carlos Slim, for instance, he is Mexican with Lebanese origins.
The Lebanese in Mexico have a number of small and large business; they’re also a well behaved and organized community. They are also very entrepreneurial.
Former president of Mexico Adolfo Lopez Mateos said "Quien no tenga a un amigo Libanes, que lo busque," which translates to "He who does not have a Lebanese friend, must look for one."
What are some ways to introduce the Lebanese people to the Mexican culture and vice versa?
History, I think, is very important. If I wanted to talk to a Lebanese person about Mexico, I’d talk to him about the history and where we came from. Beginning with our origins and decent from indigenous and Spanish people. I would also explain the mix of the pre-Colombian civilization with the Spanish civilization.
In terms of events, the embassy tried to do as many events to introduce the Mexican culture to Lebanon. We did an event for the “the Day of the dead” in November. The day of the dead is a Mexican celebration that focuses on family and friend gatherings to pray for and remember those who passed away. We also had a gastronomy event with Saint Joseph University to portray Mexican tradition and culture through food.
Very often, Mexican music has a big presence in Lebanon, and people here know about our TV series and movies. But, I’d definitely like to do more; for example, I would like to enlighten Lebanese students about scholarships in Mexico, especially to learn the Spanish language, since I feel the Spanish language is expanding in Lebanon. To add, Mexico has 44 free trade agreements, making Mexico a great opportunity for Lebanese investors to go there and invest and export to other countries.
What are the major priorities of the Mexican embassy in Lebanon? And what has been the biggest challenge for the Mexican embassy in Lebanon?
Our main priority is to take care of the Lebanese-Mexicans living here, which is a large community. There are a lot of mixed families. I was in a small village near Tripoli, and there was more than 2000 Lebanese living in Mexico. Another priority of ours is to also have a good contact between the Lebanese community in Mexico and Lebanon.
As for the challenges, they include enhancing the economic cooperation between the two countries and increase trade. Unfortunately, the tourism level between the two countries isn’t high yet, and we’d like to work on improving it. The main problem remains that Mexico is very far away, and this doesn’t help and most of the trips that are business oriented.
How will Trump’s recent protectionist trade policies affect Mexico?
We are renegotiating our free trade agreement with the U.S. Although we have received constant threats and criticism from Mr. Trump, we are confident that we do have an old and close relationship with the U.S. We share a 3,000 Km border, and there are one million legal crossings that happen daily.
People may live on one side and study or work on the other; therefore, our border is very dynamic. We trade one million dollars with the U.S. a minute. We are the first trading partner of more than 20 states. This signifies that our economic relationship is so close and important that it is difficult to stop.
What advice would you give to young thriving diplomats?
I would advise them to be very curious about the world. They have to know what’s happening around the globe by reading newspapers and books. They should also be open-minded and to want to try and understand new ways of thinking.
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