•BRIDGES: Although not yet “twins,” as a Turkish trade representative referred to Mexico and Turkey, the countries have nonetheless grown much closer in the past two decades. Trade between both countries has grown nearly 20 times from 2000 to 2019, reaching US $1.5 billion from a measly US $80 million. Further, both nations have discussed the possibility of a free trade agreement for the better part of the last decade, which could boost the economic relationship. In the political sphere, 2013 saw president Enrique Peña Nieto make the first official visit to Turkey by a Mexican head of state since both countries built official ties in 1928. This was reciprocated by a visit from Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Mexico in 2015, during which the Turkish President noted that bilateral trade had the potential to grow up to US $5 billion. In the multilateral scene, both countries are founding members of the MIKTA, a set of five middle powers with shared interests. Turkish Airlines opened the first direct flight between these two tourism powerhouses in 2019. Further, Mexico seems poised to open a third honorary consulate in the coming months in the northwestern province of Kocaeli and only years after Turkey opened an honorary consulate in Guadalajara. These trends, thus, point to an increasingly close relationship between Mexico City and Ankara.
•THE CONSULATE: Perhaps the pinnacle of the closer ties between Mexico and Turkey was the opening of a Mexican Consulate in the city that straddles Europe and Asia: Istanbul. Opened in 2015, the consulate remains small (five full-time officials) but has already seen a fair share of controversy. In June 2020, president Andrés Manuel López Obrador named longtime political journalist Isabel Arvide as the new Mexican Consul in Istanbul. Arvide would be taking over a post left open by a Mexican career diplomat. Best known for her decades-old political writing, she has not been shy in being cozy with power, including close relationships with political rivals of President López Obrador. No stranger to controversy (including a defamation suit filed by the wife of a former Mexican president), Arvide lacked previous diplomatic experience, something which did not escape the eye of Mexican media. When questioned about her posting as consul, she replied that she was doing it “because the President had named her.” In turn, President López Obrador dismissed criticisms against Arvide’s appointment, saying that chummy government appointees were a thing of the past.
•EL GRITO: Every September 15th, the small community of Mexican nationals living in Istanbul joins to celebrate the “Grito de Independencia,” which marks the start of the Mexican independence movement in 1810. This year, several dozen guests gathered at the rooftop of the five-star Conrad Istanbul Bosphorous hotel (where nightly stays start at US $400) for a celebration that would seemingly contradict López Obrador’s austerity campaign. Throughout most of this year’s “Grito” ceremony, during which the Mexican consul mentions a long list of the most celebrated historical leaders, Arvide stuck to the script. Towards the end, however, she found it fitting to add López Obrador to the list of national notables by trumpeting “Viva López Obrador!”. A breach of the protocols which oversee the celebration, Arvide’s histrionic reverence to López Obrador was promptly met with jeers from many of those present at the event. Among those showing their displeasure was Mexican national Gabriela Cano, who took to the podium to give word to the crowd’s disapproval, saying: “Mexico is not López Obrador.” A Turkish journalist, when referring to the event, noted that “all hell broke loose.”
•REVENGE: Coming during the country’s most important festivity, consul Arvide did not take the rebuttal of her actions lightly. Following the celebration, the consul confronted Ms. Cano. After a video of the event became viral online, Arvide took to Twitter to reveal Ms. Cano’s identity and even accused her of being behind a previous scandal that rocked the consulate earlier in the year. According to leaked audios, Arvide threatened local consulate employees with “lowering their pay” should they not follow her whims. In an interview with Mexico in Europe, Ms. Cano said that the consul’s tweet led to a downpour of online abuse against her which lasted for days. A resident of Istanbul for most of the past decade, where she works as a documentarian and volunteer, Ms. Cano added that it was the first time since she moved to the banks of the Bosphorus that she “hadn’t felt safe.” The online abuse sparked by consul Arvide’s tweet reached such overwhelming levels making Ms. Cano glean why victims are traumatized by it. According to a Mexican legal expert who has overseen cases of violation of privacy at the hands of Mexican authorities, Arvide’s disclosure of Cano’s identity is a breach of Mexico’s General Law of Administrative Responsibilities and the Mexican Foreign Ministry’s protocols. Further, he notes that the Foreign Ministry’s internal control body could have taken up the case for a full investigation.
•PROTECTION: Following its opening in 2015, the Mexican Consulate in Istanbul proved to be a key asset for the protection of Mexicans living in the Bosphorus. This was particularly true after the failed 2016 coup against President Erdogan and the subsequent terrorist attacks. It seems then unfortunate that the most notable news involving consul Arvide’s term are rather matters of scandal. Speaking to Mexico in Europe, former Mexican ambassador to Turkey Martha Bárcena noted that a consul’s first responsibility is the protection of Mexican nationals living abroad, “not to attack them.” Soon after the controversy, Bárcena said that Arvide’s stay as consul was “an affront to all Mexicans.” Yet, there is not even a glimpse that López Obrador is considering her removal. While she is well within her rights to present charges against Arvide, Ms. Cano said she likely would not, lest she be the target of subsequent online abuse campaigns. Although the Turkish press did not make a huge deal of the September incident, this is nonetheless a lousy auspice for the relationship. The fact that a political appointee is using one of Mexico’s newest consular posts for her own vendettas is regrettable. Nestled in one of the most conflictive regions in the world, one would think that the Mexican Consulate in Istanbul would be in need of the stable and trusted leadership which Arvide has failed to provide.
•FRANCE:Le Monde, the Parisian daily, had an article on the “fiasco” that the sale of Mexico’s presidential plane has become. The text notes that, beyond the fact that the aircraft has lost half its value since its purchase, maintenance costs the Mexican government more than US $2 million per year.
•UK: Jude Webber, the former Mexico correspondent for the Financial Times, wrote a piece on the learning challenges faced by Mexican teenagers whose schools have been shuttered for more than a year and a half. The article spotlights Yolanda, an ambitious girl from Mexico City who’s been forced to take her high-school classes on a smartphone.
•SPAIN: ABC, the Spanish daily, had a short piece on the recent surge in asylum seekers arriving in Mexico. According to the article, asylum applications are 70% higher than pre-pandemic levels. However, according to government sources, most won’t meet the requirements.
•GERMANY: Die Welt, the second-largest German newspaper, had an article on the recent find of an ancient Mayan canoe thought to be more than 1,000 years old. The “well-preserved” canoe was found during excavations for theTren Maya, a 1,500 km rail project in the Yucatán Peninsula.
*Jerónimo González is a writer and analyst of international affairs based in London, where he is a candidate for the Masters in Public Policy and Management at King’s College London. He covers issues regarding migration, trade and technology.Twitter: @JeronimoGCC