Mexico, seeking to stave off more damage to its economy after the election of Donald Trump, has named as its new foreign secretary a former official once praised by Trump as “a wonderful man.”
Luis Videgaray left his post as finance secretary in September after he helped orchestrate a controversial meeting between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto that angered many Mexicans. Trump lamented Videgaray’s departure at the time, saying on Twitter that if Videgaray had stayed in his post, “Mexico and the United States would have made wonderful deals together.”
On Wednesday, Peña Nieto named Videgaray as Mexico’s top diplomat, a move the president described as an attempt to build a "constructive" relationship with the incoming U.S. president, who pledged during the campaign to build a wall on the border — and make Mexico pay for it.
Videgaray’s appointment enraged some Mexicans, who feel Peña Nieto has been too conciliatory toward Trump, whose derogatory comments about Mexicans have made him a widely hated figure here.
“An indignity,” political analyst Jesus Silva Herzog-Marquez said of the appointment on Twitter. “Give Trump a seat in the Cabinet!”
Videgaray’s ascension comes at a jittery time in Mexico. The economy has slumped since Trump’s November win, and in recent days Mexico has been rocked by nationwide protests over rising gasoline prices.
The value of the peso has fallen steadily since the election of Trump, who has promised to rip up free-trade deals and deport large numbers of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, some of whom he has characterized as “killers” and “rapists.”
Several U.S. companies have recently scrapped plans to build new factories in Mexico after coming under criticism from Trump. On Tuesday, the peso hit an all-time low of about 21 pesos to the dollar after Ford announced it was cancelling plans to build a new $1.6-billion factory in the central Mexican city of San Luis Potosi.
Ongoing protests over rising gas prices are also linked to what Mexicans are calling the “Trump effect.”
Last week, the government announced the deregulation of gas prices beginning Jan. 1 as a part of a larger effort by Peña Nieto to end the state monopoly of the oil industry. The move will immediately save the government money, since in the past it not only set gas prices, but also kicked in subsidies.
“The government must be worried about its revenue because of the falling peso,” said George Baker, who publishes the Mexico-focused energy website energia.com.
The deregulation has infuriated Mexican drivers, who saw gas prices rise by as much as 20% overnight on New Year’s Day, and has raised concerns that the prices of food and other goods could go up as well because of added transportation costs.
Day after day since prices went up, parts of the country have been brought to a standstill by dozens of highway blockades that have snarled traffic for hours. Vandalism has been reported at dozens of gasoline stations. Opposition leaders have stoked the protests, with one elected official calling for “a peaceful revolution” in response to the fuel price hikes.
In a speech Wednesday, Videgaray acknowledged the problems Mexico faces at home and abroad.
“The problems,” he said, “are enormous.”
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.