Mexico’s New Foreign Minister Was Advocate of Visit by Donald Trump

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MEXICO CITY — President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, in a move to improve his government’s footing as it prepares for the presidency of Donald J. Trump, on Wednesday named as his foreign minister the man who resigned his previous cabinet post after championing Mr. Trump’s enormously unpopular visit to Mexico City last year.

The appointment was a remarkable political resurrection for the man, Luis Videgaray, a longtime confidant of Mr. Peña Nieto’s. He replaces Claudia Ruiz Massieu, who had been the foreign minister since 2015 and reportedly opposed Mr. Trump’s August visit.

Mr. Peña Nieto, in announcing the change during a news conference in Mexico City, said he had ordered Mr. Videgaray, who stepped down as Mexico’s finance minister in September after Mr. Trump’s trip, “to accelerate dialogue and contacts so that from Day 1 of the new administration, the basis of a constructive working relationship can be established.”

The Mexican government, not to mention the nation’s business community, has been bracing for a Trump administration and the possible impact it could have on all facets of the complex relationship between the United States and Mexico. Mr. Trump has promised to renegotiate or revoke the North American Free Trade Agreement and to get tougher on illegal immigration by building a wall along the Mexican border and stepping up deportations.

In the two months since the presidential election, Ms. Ruiz Massieu has shuttled between Mexico City and the United States, meeting with American government officials to emphasize the importance of the trade agreement, and she prepared her diplomatic corps in the United States to respond to Mr. Trump’s immigration threats.

Mr. Peña Nieto, who was flanked at the news conference by both Mr. Videgaray and Ms. Ruiz Massieu, highlighted Mr. Videgaray’s experience in the realm of finance and economics, particularly his work in relation to the G-20 nations, as “foundations of this new mission.”

Raul Benitez Manaut, a professor of international relations at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, called the cabinet shuffle “a completely pragmatic decision given the new political circumstances in the United States.”

“It is clear the dialogue has shifted from security issues to commerce, which is new since this used to be a conflict-free issue in the past,” he continued.

Until the fallout from the Trump visit, Mr. Videgaray, who is a former investment banker and holds a Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had been a power player in the administration of Mr. Peña Nieto and was considered a possible contender for the 2018 presidential election. He also coordinated Mr. Peña Nieto’s 2012 presidential campaign. As finance minister, he was instrumental in Mr. Peña Nieto’s efforts to open the nation’s oil industry, a state-run monopoly since the 1930s, and overhaul the telecommunications and energy industries. Critically, Mr. Videgaray also sided with Mr. Peña Nieto in championing the idea of the Trump visit.

Mr. Peña Nieto staunchly defended the visit, saying he had sent invitations to both of the leading presidential candidates to come to discuss bilateral issues. Mr. Trump cast his trip as an effort to reach out to a country he had alienated during his campaign.

But hours after leaving Mexico, Mr. Trump delivered a combative speech in Phoenix that struck many of the anti-immigrant themes that defined his candidacy. The episode was widely criticized by the Mexican public and many politicians, and it embarrassed Mr. Peña Nieto, who watched his already abysmal approval ratings sink even lower after the visit. On Sept. 7, after a week of blistering criticism, Mr. Peña Nieto announced the resignation of Mr. Videgaray. Though he did not give a reason for the departure, it was widely viewed as an effort by the president to try to put the Trump visit in the past.

Yet in the light of the American presidential election results, the decision to invite Mr. Trump suddenly looked a little different, and rumors almost immediately started circulating among politicians and political observers that Mr. Peña Nieto might bushwhack a path back to his cabinet for his friend Mr. Videgaray.

There was no immediate comment from the Trump transition team about the appointment, but a day after Mr. Videgaray’s resignation in September, the candidate said on Twitter: “Mexico has lost a brilliant finance minister and wonderful man.”

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