By Alexander Woodman
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
With the following statement Mexico and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia established diplomatic relations on September 12, 1952. “The governments of Mexico and Saudi Arabia, collectively aware of the importance to interpret and respect the feelings of their collective peoples, have decided to establish diplomatic relations immediately.”
On September 3, 1952, the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia stationed in Washington paid a visit to the Ambassador of Mexico, Rafael de la Colina. The meeting was an opportunity to discuss a pact to establish diplomatic relations between two countries. The plan was to have Saudi Arabia represented in Mexico by its Ambassador to Washington D.C. Mexico would be represented in Jeddah by the Minister in Lebanon. In 1975, President Luis Echeverría arrived for the first official visit of a Mexican President to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was a momentous occasion for both countries.
Diplomatic rank was a system used in the world of diplomacy and international relations. In 1981, in recognition of the high level of cooperation and respect between both countries, their levels were raised to the rank of Embassy. The Ambassador, who heads these missions, receives the country’s head of state. The first Ambassador of Mexico to ever visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was Francisco González de Cossío, and this was the first office of the Embassy to be located in Jeddah. This event was the beginning of many more opportunities to increase and strengthen the bilateral relations between the two governments.
Since these historical events, there have been many changes in each of these countries. Of notable importance is that each has successfully improved their strong diplomatic relations through mutual economic, cultural, and social projects. As a result of this goodwill, President Enrique Peña Nieto made a second visit to the Kingdom in January 2016. There, he signed eleven legal instruments of cooperation with Saudi Arabia.
Presently, the Ambassador of Mexico in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is Mr. Alfredo Miranda Ortiz who was appointed on November 22, 2016. He is a well-educated man who earned a degree in International Relations from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and a Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies.
His Excellency has been a member of the Mexican Foreign Service since 1990 and was the first Mexican Cooperation Attaché in Central America. He was assigned to the Mexican Embassy, in Costa Rica, from 1991 to 1996. Additionally, he was the alternate permanent representative of Mexico to UNESCO from 2004 to 2008. His Excellency, Alfredo Miranda, was assigned various international responsibilities. His work on the Convention of the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity, of Cultural Expressions, received praise throughout his country.
More recently, his Excellency Alfredo Miranda, as an Ambassador of Mexico in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has undertaken various cultural projects to expand and improve the bilateral relations between the two countries. Most notable has been his work to stimulate the experience of exchange projects as well as several other programs to benefit the people of these two influential powers. They have been recognized as countries of strength and solidarity around the world.
AW: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Mexico established diplomatic relations on September 12, 1952. Since that time much has changed in the area of “bilateral relations” between the two countries especially when we speak about the entire world. What does the expression “bilateral relations” mean to you as an Ambassador of Mexico to Saudi Arabia?
Amb. AM:Bilateral relations are the synthesis of the bonds that two countries have agreed upon to form an alliance. This union of diverse ideas can unite them politically, economically, culturally, and educationally, and can lead to universal cooperation. Bilateral cooperation can be measured in several ways; however, it is an opportunity to reinforce the shared commitment between diverse powers and opens a dialogue between leaders. This can lead to even greater collaboration and help to seek solutions to regional issues that can lead to safer relationships around the world.
AW: During his visit to Saudi Arabia on the 1st of March, 2018, the Director of Pro Mexico, Paulo Carreno King met with senior Saudi officials to promote bilateral relations between the two countries. What do you think are the critical components needed to develop and improve these relations?
Amb. AM:In considering the relationship between Mexico and Saudi Arabia, there are several ways that relations can be improved. One of the fundamental challenges for Mexico is to increase their commercial relationship with Saudi Arabia which has been in decline in recent years. As members of the G20 trade agreements, increased trade and mutual investment in both countries should be examined. Furthermore, there is a more significant potential for even better relations, if such areas of energy, oil, and an increase of tourism, can increase the comradery between these countries. They have much in common and increased cooperation in more mutually essential areas can lead to an even stronger bond.
AW: In your interview with Arab News on this occasion you were told: “This visit to the Kingdom marks a new stage in bilateral relations and is set to boost trade and investment between the two countries.” What similarities and parallels can you discuss which will assure the successful cooperation between the two nations?
Amb. AM:The success of the cooperation between two countries relies primarily on the intensity and strength of the exchanges between those in power. It is equally essential for them to listen to their people who want peace and prosperity. Undoubtedly, political and official contacts are crucial, yet the opportunities for the interaction of the people in this process is vitally important. That is true for both countries and could result in a strong beginning of a new stage in bilateral relations.
AW: Following an interval of over 40 years, Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where he met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin ‘Abd al–‘Aziz in Riyadh. On 17 January 2016, both leaders and representatives signed mutual cooperation agreements. Two years have passed since that historical meeting; how would you evaluate the results of those agreements?
Amb. AM:Almost all the agreements signed by the Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, are in force. This understanding has allowed the Embassy to make progress in the fields of commerce, oil, gas, and education. They have shown and have received cooperation from their counterparts in other countries. There has been a discussion between the countries regarding investments and technological opportunities. By putting their signatures on the cooperation agreements, they have been given a chance to take action in different fields and work to implement change that will be seen over the years. It is interesting to note that Saudi King Salman in Washington, DC tried to iron out some of the issues that still need work and further dialogue.
AW: During this historical meeting between Saudi Arabia and Mexico, there were nine agreements signed: The Memorandum of Understanding and Technical Cooperation Programs, and the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Education and Science between the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education. Additionally, the Tourism Education Matters were also signed by the parties. What do you think the mutual signing of these agreements meant for the new generations of both countries?
Amb. AM:One inevitable result of a robust bilateral legal framework is a fundamental and legal document that can be used to attract more Mexicans to Saudi Arabia and encourage more Saudis to visit Mexico. If history has taught anything to global leaders, it is that the effects of their actions today will affect the generations in the future. Both countries are aware of that and are attempting to create a stable path along with new and strategic visions. One of the most notable is the 2030 Vision, which will lay the foundation to reduce global challenges and generate prosperity for generations to come. This is an exciting time; there continue to be substantial international opportunities. Continued communication between countries will change people’s lives, and continue to benefit future generations.
AW: Referring to the Memorandum of Understanding in Education and Science, what projects and programs of exchange do you have with the universities of Saudi Arabia? Did this Memorandum create opportunities to cultivate young scholars and, if so, how?
Amb. AM:The enrollment of Mexican students in the renowned university, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), is a tangible expression of the educational cooperation in the field of science. Those outstanding students have nurtured the development of new technologies that have resulted in the creation of several ambitious start-up countries. Also, many students have studied and completed programs to earn a Master Degrees and Doctoral degrees in many fields of science and technology. Mexico has played a fundamental role in the development of the Saudi youth population and has encouraged their students to share their experiences with others. One example is that Saudi students have the opportunity to choose a course at the Foreign Languages Teaching Center (CELE) of the National Autonomous University (UNAM). Here, they can learn Spanish; the language of Mexico which is spoken by more than 477 million people worldwide. It is clear that this Memorandum has created significant opportunities to cultivate the minds and character of our young scholars.
AW: According to the 2016-2018 World Investment Prospects Survey: “Mexico is one of the most attractive destinations in the world for foreign investment.” What makes Mexico attractive, and is this attractiveness reliable as well?
Amb. AM:Mexico has been transformed in recent years, and the administration of Enrique Pena Nieto has implemented structural reforms on: Energy; Telecommunication; Economic Competition; Fiscal; Labour; Financial; Education; Political and Electoral; Transparency; Financial Discipline of States and Municipalities; and big changes to New Law on Amparo as well as the National Criminal Procedure Code. He also created the National Anticorruption System. These actions have made Mexico one of the most attractive countries for Foreign Direct Investment.
Mexico has 125 million inhabitants; a majority who are less than thirty-years-old. The literacy rate is 95%, economic growth is 2.3%, the inflation rate is 6%, and there is an unemployment rate of 3.5%. There is a foreign trade of more than 600 billion dollars, an open economy and security for its investors. These are among several of the many factors that exist in Mexico which makes the country an enjoyable and necessary place to visit.
AW: Think about the investments in Saudi Arabia. Which of those fields would you like to see as equally developed in Mexico, as they are in Saudi Arabia?
Amb. AM:Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has announced plans to remake the Saudi Arabian kingdom in a time of dwindling assets. If one observes the latest trade and investment figures, Mexico has now agreed to direct Foreign Direct Investments of more than 197 billion dollars in the coming years. It is necessary to face the needs of the Mexican people and more forcefully invest in Mexico. Hopefully, that can be done without entering areas such as the military industry; but it is necessary to follow the bold strategy of the Saudi government and leaders.
AW: At the Global Business Forum (GBF) in 2018, the call from Latin America was to “Connect, Collaborate, and Grow”. Of course, these words were chosen very purposefully, but at the same time allegorically. Please take some time and discuss your insight about these three words.
Amb. AM:In the world we now live in, connectivity has become one of the most distinctive features of rapprochement among human beings around the globe. It entails such concepts as the exchange of information and the emergence of joint initiatives. That exchange results in the collaboration of doing business, and the transfer of knowledge about different cultures and learning among different societies. Consequently, this leads to the ultimate word which is ‘growth.’ When communicated in Spanish; represented by the three “C’s” conectar, colaborar, crecer. If we can connect, collaborate, and grow together, Latin America will once again be a prosperous region.
AW: The National Festival of Heritage and Culture in the Janadriyah region of Riyadh reaffirms the essence of the entire Arab Identity. This year the Jandariyah Festival took place in February, and you were among the guests. Tell us a little bit about what you gained from your experience. Did your presence at the festival actually help you to hear the soul of Saudi Arabia?
Amb. AM:The Janadriyah National Festival of Heritage and Culture; a yearly event which celebrates the lifestyle of Saudi Arabia, is an excellent opportunity to learn about the true identity of this country Saudi Arabia up from a close range. The eighteen-day festival is a unique celebration where the expressions and cultural manifestations are felt and lived in this traditional rich folklore country. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the festival twice and this year three times and still was not able to visit every pavilion. It is a difficult achievement. I hope next year to be well- organized enough to see everything and expand my knowledge about Saudi Arabia. I plan to once again attend this event which is a beautiful symbol of the identity that displays the unity of this great country.
AW: When speaking about heritage and culture, a week-long Mexican food festival called “Mexican Gastronomy Week” took place in September 2017, in Riyadh and was meant to demonstrate the culture of Mexico.In your interview, you said “The Mexican cuisine attained status by UNESCO as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.’ In addition to pride, what does the status of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ bring to a nation, which has such values?
Amb. AM:The Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, promoted and sponsored by UNESCO, is one of the essential expressions of global collaborations. It recognizes the importance of transmitting oral traditions and the implementation of different interpretations by people which should be preserved for every future generation. It is a wealth of knowledge and displays the skills that are transmitted through it from one generation to the next.
For this very reason, Mexican food, found within the fifth-world gastronomic practices was recognized by UNESCO as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It reflects the exceptional and unique character of the country. Such an honor is priceless and illustrates what our people have inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants. Those traditions must be honored and cherished to show a country’s resilience, perseverance, and desire to move and flourish as a nation.
AW: As an Ambassador of a country with a remarkable ancient history and what are the essential morals and principles you have which a unique heritage, would help you to work in one of the most historic and revered countries?
Amb. AM:This was an interesting question and always a challenge to write about oneself. I do know that Mexicans have deep respect for all cultures and we ask that ours be respected. This tradition has been prevalent for such an extended period, that former Mexican President Benito Juarez stated that “Among individuals as, among nations, the respect to other people’s rights is peace.”
To work in one of the most historic and revered countries; I feel that the one must be a moral person with a feeling for social justice, protecting the land, benevolent, honest, and treasure a strong desire for a world at peace. I do feel I have those desires, and I am a loyal and devoted human being.
Alexander Woodmanis a faculty member of College of Sciences and Humanities at the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University, Saudi Arabia. His research interest is in global health, international health policy development, transnational and trans-cultural health politics as well as international diplomacy. He reports from Middle East on Public Health.