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Mexican president taps UN veteran Barcena to be foreign minister

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico’s president on Tuesday picked veteran U.N. diplomat Alicia Barcena to be the country’s new foreign minister after the incumbent resigned to campaign for the leftist ruling party’s candidacy in next year’s presidential election.

A trained biologist, Barcena served for nearly 14 years as executive secretary of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and has been Mexico’s ambassador to Chile since last September.

“She’s a professional, a diplomat, a woman with convictions, with principles,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told a press conference as he announced her nomination. “And she’s going to help us in this last stretch of the government.”

Marcelo Ebrard quit as foreign minister on Monday to seek the presidential nomination for the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), which is heavily favored to win the June 2024 elections. Lopez Obrador will leave office on Sept. 30, 2024.

The Mexican president said he expected the 71-year-old Barcena, whose qualifications include a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, to begin her new job in 10 days.

Barcena was the longest-serving head of ECLAC, according to the commission’s website, acquiring an array of international contacts. Before that, she served in various U.N. roles.

Hailing her appointment, Heriberto Galindo, an opposition politician and former Mexican ambassador to Cuba, said Barcena would be an asset to any administration.

“She’s played in the big league of global diplomacy,” he said. “She knows all the presidents of Latin America, and many presidents and ex-presidents of (other) countries.”

She faced challenges with the U.S., Galindo added, pointing to trade disputes over corn and energy, as well as ongoing cooperation over immigration and curbing drug trafficking.

Galindo also expressed confidence that Barcena would help defuse a row with Peru centering on Lopez Obrador’s criticism of the ousting of former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo.

Barcena’s appointment must be ratified by Mexico’s Senate, which should be a formality. In the interim, Deputy Foreign Minister Carmen Moreno will take charge, Lopez Obrador said.

Barcena had long been tipped as a potential successor to Ebrard if he left the post to campaign. Late last year she withdrew from the race to be president of the Inter-American Development Bank, citing personal reasons.

(Reporting by Dave Graham and Stefanie Eschenbacher; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Paul Simao)

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