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Last updateFri, 21 Sep 2018 10am

VIEWPOINT: Peña Nieto & Saudi Arabia: a not so proud encounter

Maybe this will exclude me from ever receiving such an honor but I shall say it anyway: the  Order of the Aztec Eagle (Orden Mexicana del Águila Azteca) has fallen into disrepute.   

The medal represents the highest distinction that Mexico can bestow on a foreign citizen, recognizing a person’s “prominent service to the nation or humanity.”  A worthy local recipient: late Guadalajara businessman, U.S. consul general, promoter of bilateral relations and friend of Mexico, Adolph Horn. A truly good guy.

This week, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto presented Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz with the Aztec Eagle.  

Why?

For his “valuable interest and notable will in strengthening good relations between Mexico and Saudi Arabia,” read a notation in the Diario Oficial de la Federación on January 15. 

Seriously? When?

Let’s back up. A day earlier Peña Nieto and the Saudi king signed nine economic and cooperation agreements. Analysts say the accords will give Mexico a big hand up in entering new Middle Eastern markets.  Now I see.

But I wonder how Peña Nieto felt pinning that prestigious medal on to a man who just a few weeks earlier ordered the execution of  47 “terrorists,” many of whose only offense was to oppose the repressive Saudi regime.  

A man who gave the green light to more than 150 executions last year (mostly beheadings like ISIS), condoned the stoning death of a woman accused of adultery and condemned a blogger to 1,000 lashes. Not to mention arbitrary arrests, torture, commercial exploitation and deep-rooted discrimination against women.

So, it’s diplomacy, stupid.  Just add Peña Nieto to that long list of Western leaders who are happy to cozy up to the Saudis while turning a blind eye to their theocratic, authoritarian government and appalling human rights record.  You don’t have to like your allies, but you do have to stand with them through thick and thin, right?

But isn’t it time we held Mexico’s president to a higher standard. After all, doesn’t the Mexican government cry foul when one of this country’s citizens is facing execution in the United States? Aren’t all kinds of international treaties summoned up in order to save Mexican felons from lethal injections in U.S.  prisons? 

Perhaps with his January trade junket to the Middle East firmly in mind, we heard nary a word from Peña Nieto amid the international outcry that followed the execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others at the turn of the year. 

Of course, voicing opinions on international human rights is a tricky step for this president. He has been fiercely criticized for ignoring the issue at home. Therefore it is assumed that any comment he makes about another nation’s record will only come back to boot him up the proverbial. 

However,  to show the Mexican people that he really does care about human rights, perhaps Peña Nieto should  have thought twice about debasing one of this country’s most prestigious honors and providing succor to the likes of Salman bin Abdulaziz, ally or otherwise.

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