AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The presidential campaign in this country has convinced Mexico that it needs to be more aggressive in its strategy toward the U.S. It has replaced top diplomats to combat what it sees as growing anti-immigrant sentiment fueled by Donald Trump's rise in the Republican contest. Earlier this week, Trump said that Mexico would have to pay for a new wall along the border, or as president, he would block Mexicans in the U.S. from sending money to relatives back home. He's also said he would cancel visas and impose higher tariffs on Mexican imports. NPR's correspondent in Mexico Carrie Kahn joins us now to talk more about this. Hey there, Carrie.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.
CORNISH: So let's talk about this plan to pressure Mexico to pay for the wall. What kind of reaction has that had down South?
KAHN: I think people here were stunned just by the audacity of the plan, you know, blocking the money that Mexicans working in the U.S. send back home. We're talking about 25 billion - with a B - dollars a year. And that money is a lifeline to many here in Mexico, to poor farmers in Southern Mexico to the aged in cities. All these people depend on, you know, the couple hundred dollars that is sent here to survive.
And those remittances, as they're called - they've also given a huge boost to economic spending and the growth of the middle class in the country. And it must be said that a lot of that money is spent here on companies with U.S. ties like Coca-Cola, Walmart, Costco. Economists just say here that that plan would be devastating but, despite all that, still an officialdom here.
We didn't hear much. I called the president's office. I called the finance ministry. There was no comment. And then finally, the foreign minister spoke up, said more needs to be done, and then she announced those shakeups in the foreign diplomat corps.
CORNISH: Right. The previous ambassador had only been in office for seven months. Tell us about this plan. What is Mexico hoping to achieve with these new diplomats?
KAHN: I think what they want to do is hit back harder than they have. Like you said, the Mexican ambassador was - that is being replaced now - he was very low-key, and he was only there since September. He's an academic. He taught at Tufts. And he famously or infamously said in response to Trump's comments late last summer, the ones where he was talking about Mexicans being rapists and criminals, that he would apologize at one point. And as we know, that apology never came.
But to be fair, he, like most Mexican authorities, really refused to - they did want to comment or what they said dignify Trump's increasingly hostile comments. They wanted to stay out, at least publicly - out of the domestic U.S. political fray. But most of the comments that we've heard down here have been from former Mexican presidents, and they've been very outspoken. And they've - but then the president came out last month, and he said under no circumstances would Mexico pay for a wall.
But I think it was these recent details and that Trump's rising in the race that really prompted Mexicans to take a harder look and to put more outspoken people in these key posts, especially Mexican ambassador in the U.S.
CORNISH: And as we mentioned, its more than one post. Can you talk about one of these other jobs and really what the country expects from these folks?
KAHN: Sure. They've also put a new head of what's called the North American affairs at the Foreign Ministry. And this guy that will be coming into that post - now, he's a very experienced PR operative. He's been working out of the president's press office, and he was charged with improving the Mexican government's image abroad.
And they also plan to use their consulates in U.S. And there's the U.S. embassy, and they really want to promote Mexico and Mexicans more. And now they're also offering free workshops to Mexican immigrants on how to become a U.S. citizen and how to do the whole naturalization process and how to get to vote.
CORNISH: That NPR's Carrie Kahn speaking to us from Mexico. Thanks so much.
KAHN: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.