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H.E Ms Mercedes F. Ruiz Zapata, Ambassador of Mexico to Serbia

The United Mexican States are located in the North America. Mexico, as it is popularly known shares its boundaries with the North Pacific Ocean to the west and south, and with the United States on the North. To the southeast, it is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, Guatemala and Belize. The Gulf of Mexico is to its east. Mexico consists of a federation of thirty two states, with its capital in Mexico City, the Federal District. Mexico City is one of the most populated cities on the global level. Mexico has a population of about one hundred and three million people. Mexico covers almost two million square kilometers. It is the fourteenth largest country in the world, and the fifth largest in the Americas. It is also the most populated Spanish speaking country in the entire world. The capital is Mexico City. Mexico has a rapidly developing economy, the thirteenth largest in the world as ranked by the World Bank. The climate ranges from tropical to arid, and the terrain consists of coastal lowlands, central high plateaus, deserts and mountains of up to 18,000 feet. Mexico’s main industries are food and beverages, tobacco, chemicals, iron and steel petroleum, mining and tourism. Their agricultural products are rice, beans, coffee, fruit and tomatoes. Spicy as salsa roja, intoxicating as a shot of tequila, volatile as the volcanoes of the central sierra, surreal as a Frida Kahlo canvas, monumental as the pyramids of Teotihuacán and warm as its inhabitants, Mexico fills the senses, tweaks the intellect and nourishes the soul. Mexico is what you make of it…

Mercedes F. Ruiz Zapata

For PROFIT magazine, the fascinating world of Mexico discovered by H.E. Ms Mercedes F. Ruiz Zapata, Ambassador of Mexico to Serbia.

Your Excellency, how do you feel in Belgrade?

Belgrade is a great city, a very nice place to live in. It is a beautiful place with very warm people. Since I arrived  in august 2009, I felt welcomed and I discovered that I could have a style of life here that not only facilitates my work as the  representative of my country but, thanks to  wonderful cultural offer,  makes it interesting and enriching. It was also fascinating to corroborate, as I have been told before, that the Serbian people is very fond of Mexico and the Mexicans. It seems that we share the same temperament.
How long have you been at the position of Ambassador to the countries in Balkan? What was your career ladder like?

I have been accredited to Serbia since September 2009 and in the following months of that year I presented my credentials in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro. Even though it has been almost a year and a half I am still learning! This region is especially interesting at a personal level, but also as a geopolitical challenge.
My diplomatic career started in 1979, more than thirty years ago. I can hardly believe it. It has passed very quickly and I have enjoyed every moment of it. My first post was in Rome, at our mission to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and then I went to New York, to the UN and continued for a while in multilateral affairs in Washington at the Organization of American States until I was sent to Singapore and I started to concentrate in bilateral relations. I have been in Austria, Israel and Japan and I was very lucky to be offered to represent my country in Serbia, as my first post as Ambassador. I consider it a great honor.
Mexico and Serbia have had traditionally good relationships. What is the history of diplomatic cooperation of the two countries?

This year we are going to commemorate 65 years of diplomatic relations with Serbia as a successor State of former Yugoslavia. Without hesitation I can affirm that we always shared a great friendship and a level of understanding in our political relations, as well as cooperation in technical and educative matters. There were several reciprocal visits of our Presidents in the past, with President Tito having successful visits to our country and President López Mateos, in particular, leaving a mark of friendship here, that was continued by President Echeverría and President de la Madrid. In the present time, we still enjoy a very positive political relationship; however, we have to intensify the economic aspects of it.

What is the level of present diplomatic cooperation between Mexico and Serbia given that Mexico did not recognize unilaterally proclaimed independent Kosovo and Metohija and that Mexico calls for respect of international law and represents Serbia’s important partner at the International Court of Justice in The Hague?
I think that in the present moment the level of our diplomatic cooperation is very high. We respected the way that Serbia reacted to the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo by appealing to the international law and the respect of the UN resolutions, specially the Security Council resolution 1244, without the use of force. That is the approach that we have for international conflicts, always search for a solution through peaceful means. As a member of the United Nations we supported the request for the International Court of Justice to give a consultative opinion and as non permanent members of the Security Council during 2009 and 2010, we always insisted that international law should prevail. We hope that, through negotiations and dialogue, a solution to the benefit of all the nations and peoples of the region of the Balkans will be found.
Do citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro interested in touristic trips to Mexico have to apply for tourist visa and what is the procedure like? Do Mexican people need Serbian visa?

At the present time, the citizens of the countries you mention require a visa to visit Mexico. The procedure is quite simple. The visa is issued on the same day provided the applicants comply with the requirements.  Our government has decided to facilitate traveling to people that already have a valid United States visa without the need of Mexican visa.
Since Mexican citizens do not require a visa for the countries of the region, we are trying to get the acceptance of our government for a visa waiver for Serbian citizens and hopefully all the other countries. Now that Serbia and its neighbors have been accepted in the Schengen space, there are additional reasons to seriously consider this eventual reform.
Could you briefly present your country, through national customs, famous Mexican cuisine and music?

Mexico is a very colorful country that has different geographical regions that determine our culture and make it diversified and vigorous. The music, the cuisine and the regional customs are determined by that and by the history and people that previously inhabited the land, as well as the climate and natural ingredients that can be found for the preparation of the food. But they have something in common; they are supposed to provoke enjoyment and happiness.  Their best expressions are always reflected in a celebration, be it civil, like birthdays, marriages, national days, or religious, like the Holy Week, the Day of All Saints, and Christmas.

At the Embassy, we have a very good collection of national customs that we like to use in our events, to show how beautiful and diverse they are.

For the music, we have the very famous mariachis, but also musical groups from the north of the country that have become increasingly popular not only in Mexico but in Latin America and in the United States, they use  the accordion, actually one of the common  instruments here in Serbia . We also have smaller groups that specialize in the music of regions like Chiapas, with wonderful marimba playing, or Veracruz, that include the harp, among other instruments.

In particular I like huapango, from an area called la huasteca, that comprises four Mexican States, and that has mainly guitar music combined with the poetry and wit from the singers. Also we consider what we call tropical music as ours, and is the most danced music in contemporary Mexico, boleros and baladas are very romantic and make us sing together, in the same way that Serbians sing their music whenever a musical group appears in restaurants or parties.

The Mexican cuisine deserves to be singled out, since the UNESCO has decided to include it as intangible heritage of humankind. Our food is based on corn, beans and chile and it is complemented, according to the region, by, beef, chicken, pork, fish and many kinds of vegetables and fruits. You can find a great variety, and their quality and sweetness are really incredible. Traditional Mexican cuisine is a comprehensive cultural model comprising of farming, ritual practices, age-old skills, culinary techniques and ancestral community customs and manners. It is made possible by collective participation in the entire traditional food chain: from planting and harvesting to cooking and eating

Homeland of Aztec and Maya people is today one of the most attractive tourist destination in the world. Besides archeological sites, what does Mexico also offer to visitors?

It is a nation that is in North America but also in Central America, it is a Pacific Ocean country and a Caribbean one. Thanks to its history, its geography, the richness of the natural resources and the intense cultural life, México has an extensive offer of touristic attractions: the heritage of ancient civilizations, as important  and interesting as the Maya and Aztec ones, can be appreciated in the archeological sites that are part of our national identity; the incomparable beauty of the beaches;  natural areas protected for preservation and the encounter of a millenary culture combined with modern and vibrant cities, whit a distinctive modern architecture, as well as middle size colonial cities, with a baroque architecture and small towns full of charm. And, last but not the least, a touristic infrastructure that can satisfy all the tastes and the different budgets.

I highly recommend a visit to Mexico, and to have a clear picture of all the possibilities, the web link   www.visitmexico.com is very useful.
What is cultural cooperation and exchange between Mexico and Serbia like?

In this field, we also have had a long tradition of presence of Mexican culture in Serbia. Nevertheless it started a long time ago with the knowledge of classical Mexican cinema and music. For that reason we are trying to present an image of our country that corresponds more with the actual times. We had the opportunity last year of organizing a series of events to commemorate the Bicentennial of the Mexican Independence and the Centennial of the Mexican Revolution that were very successful. Those included exhibitions of Mexican art, photography and books, and film presentations, conferences about history, culture, traditions and the bilateral relationship.
 This year we are also preparing several events and we have a wonderful motivation, we will inscribe them in the 65 anniversary of our diplomatic relations.

We are trying to do much more and, at the same time, we would like to see a greater cultural offer of Serbia in Mexico that, no doubt, would be very much appreciated by the Mexican public.

“America Movil” is a Mexican giant, one of a few which made Carlos Slim the richest man in the world: it is fourth telecommunications company in the world, and they bought tender documents for Telekom purchase. What other Mexican companies operate in Serbia? Is there any Serbian company in Mexico?

 Yes, there is a Serbian company working in the tourism sector in Mexico in the Rivera Maya near  Cancún. But the opportunities in both countries are endless. As you may be aware, Mexico is one of the most open economies in the world, and has, among many others, a free trade agreement with both, the USA and Canada. The agreement, that came into force on January 1, 1994 represents in terms of combined purchasing power parity GDP of its members, as of 2007, the trade bloc that is the largest in the world and second largest by nominal GDP comparison. This represents a huge market, in which the Serbian firms alone, or through co-investments or strategic alliances with Mexican firms can access a very fluent market. On the other hand, Serbia has a very strong competitive advantage in sectors that are very dynamic as agro industry and the pharmaceutical sector. So, the conditions exist for a more close economic relationship between both countries. 
What is trade exchange and economic cooperation of the two countries like? What do you advise to Mexican investors if they are interested in investing in Serbian market?

As of 2007, Serbia was the twelfth commercial partner of Mexico (ninth exporter and twelfth importer) amongst European countries not members of the EU, or the European Free Trade Association. That means that we have to work hard to increase our trade and to better explore the potential of both economies.  As you know, the Serbian government  has announced an economic model to overcome the recent financial crisis, that relies heavily on direct foreign investment and exports, “Outward Looking Model” as economists like to name this sort of growth, so what I would recommend to Mexican business people, is to inform themselves better of all this changes and look forward in the effort to diversify our international trade, but it would also be very helpful a major impulse on economic promotion on the part of the Serbian government and private sector abroad.         

What do you particularly like in Serbia and what would you change if you could?

I like very much the security of the city, the fact that you can go everywhere and feel totally safe. Also the combination of a provincial and urban life that is the result of the attitude of its people, sophisticated and human at the same time and, finally,  the city of Belgrade with its two magnificent rivers.  What I would like to see in the future is a country that, without forgetting its past and particularly its traditions, is oriented towards the future in the sense of providing opportunities of growth and development for its citizens, in particular the young people.

What will you for sure take with you when you leave Serbia?

The most valued treasure, the friendship of many Serbians.