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March 21, 2003 [LINK]

Language misunderstanding

The Mexican daily newspaper El Universal mistakenly translated a key portion of a briefing by U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Monday. This text is from their Web site:

El portavoz anotó sin embargo que "estamos decepcionados de que (México y Canadá) no compartan nuestro sentido de urgencia de que la comunidad mundial necesita contrarrestar rápida y decisivamente la amenaza que representa Irak", dijo Richard Boucher, portavoz del Departamento de Estado, en referencia a Canadá y México.

Here is what Boucher actually said (from the U.S. State Dept. daily briefings),

As far as Mexico goes, the same thing. We are disappointed they don't share our urgent sense that the world community needs to quickly and decisively counter the threat that Iraq represents. At the same time, we value our relationship with Mexico and will continue to cooperate closely with the Mexican Government on a full range of bilateral issues, including implementation of our 22-point border action plan.

The key word is decepcionados, which can mean "disappointed" in some situations, but it was universally construed by Mexicans as "deceived" two weeks ago when a huge uproar erupted over a statement made by President Bush in an interview. Bush had allegedly said that he would be "deceived" if Mexico didn't support the U.S. position in the U.N. Security Council. Jacqueline and I witnessed all this harsh criticism of Bush in print and on TV while in Mexico, and wondered what in the world Bush had really said to deserve such scorn. Putting two plus two together, I finally figured out that all Bush had said was that he would be "disappointed" if Mexico didn't support us. That is a pretty innocuous statement by our standards, but it was reported in Mexican press as though it were a grave insult, and even an outright threat. Given the current distrustful political climate, most Mexicans seem predisposed to interpret words spoken by Americans in a negative way. Wanting desperately to rectify the needless misunderstanding, I took it upon myself to notify the editors of El Universal via their Web site feedback form, but I would be surprised if they acknowledge the mistake. It's tiny misunderstandings like this that often escalate into hostility and even war. One lesson: Don't be so hasty to blame the Bush administration every time diplomacy fails.

NOTE: This is a "post facto" blog post, taken from the pre-November 2004 archives.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 19 Oct 2011, 2: 39 PM

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