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Economist Debuts as Diplomat in Oxnard : Mexican Consul: Luis Humberto Ramirez says his government is using offices such as his to promote commerce.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Mexican government, eager to strengthen economic ties with Ventura County as North America moves toward a free trade agreement, has appointed an economist as its consul in Oxnard.

Luis Humberto Ramirez, 50, a former deputy director of Mexico’s International Bank and one-time deputy director of economic relations for his country’s Foreign Ministry, has been named Oxnard consul, his first foreign post.

“With all the investment opportunities opening up in Mexico, our government is seeking out diplomats with a broader range of expertise,” Ramirez said Thursday from his downtown office above the Oxnard Transportation Center. “The idea is to take advantage of the network of Mexican consulates to promote foreign commerce.”

In his diplomatic debut on Thursday, Ramirez paid a courtesy visit to Oxnard Mayor Nao Takasugi. The men met briefly over coffee and scones behind closed doors at the mayor’s office.

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“The free-trade agreement between our countries represents the broad picture, but all things have to start at the local level,” Takasugi said before the meeting. “The city will be very cooperative with all efforts to strengthen commercial ties with Mexico.”

Today, Ramirez is scheduled to meet Ventura County Supervisor John K. Flynn--whose district includes Oxnard--and officials in Santa Barbara County, which is part of the consulate’s sphere of influence.

Ramirez replaces Zoila Arroyo de Rodriguez, a career diplomat who earned a reputation as a staunch defender of migrant worker rights during her two-year stint at the Oxnard consulate. She transferred to her nation’s consulate in Chicago to be closer to her husband and children, who live in Canada.

The new consul, who already has met informally with local Latino leaders, said that defending the human rights of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans will remain a high priority.

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“This is very important for us,” Ramirez said. “We will continue to speak out, respectfully but forcefully, on Mexican and Mexican-American people’s right to be treated equally under the law.”

The consulate will also continue offering assistance with documentation, such as visas, and emergency help for Mexican nationals.

Born in Colima in Central Mexico, Ramirez received a degree in economics at the National University of Mexico in Mexico City and later was awarded a fellowship by the French government to study financial planning in Paris. When he returned to his country in 1968, he went to work at the Bank of Mexico as a financial analyst.

Ramirez moved on to the commercial desk of the Foreign Ministry in 1980 but returned to banking three years later, accepting a senior position at the International Bank. Three years ago, he returned to the Foreign Ministry in Toluca, Mexico, until his appointment to the Oxnard post Aug. 15.

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Ramirez’s wife, Blanca, and their children, Luis, 17, and Gabriela, 16, arrived last week. The children will attend Santa Clara High School, a Catholic school.

The new consul wasted no time in putting his financial expertise to use. In his first three weeks in Oxnard, Ramirez conducted a routine audit of the consulate’s finances.

The next step, he said, is to establish ties with local executives and politicians to facilitate exchanges between his country and the region’s business community.

“I plan to go to all the chambers of commerce, to the World Trade Center, and everywhere else, searching for markets, contacts, investors, providers and buyers of products.

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“I want to discuss business opportunities with them and dispel any misconception anyone may have about how the free trade agreement will benefit both Mexico and the United States.”

Negotiations preceding the formal signing of the agreement involving the United States, Mexico and Canada will probably drag on for years despite strong support from U.S. President George Bush and Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. However, trade barriers between the United States and Mexico have decreased significantly in recent years.

Ventura County is in an ideal position to take advantage of the improved trade relations, Ramirez said.

“This county has a very dynamic agriculture and industrial base. Moreover, there are many Mexican-American entrepreneurs who have created small industries. Because of their historic roots, they would like to establish contacts with the small and medium industry in Mexico. My role is to facilitate that exchange.”

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