Aside from acting in some pretty important films, he was notable for having absolutely no experience in diplomacy when Reagan picked to represent the United States in Mexico.
But here’s something interesting: Gavin spoke fluent Spanish and Portuguese, and was in fact, a Mexican himself. He was born, in Los Angeles, to a Mexican mother, and his birth name was Juan Vincent Apablasa. He studied Latin American history in college and served as a Naval intelligence officer in Panama.
That’s rather more real-world and relevant experience to be ambassador to Mexico than Caroline Kennedy had when President Obama, another man of no experience, appointed her to be ambassador to Japan. Did Lady Kennedy speak Japanese? Did she know anything about Japan? At all?
Anyway, according Gavin’s obituary in The Washington Post, “[h]is meetings with Mexican clergy members and opposition political groups were interpreted as efforts to interfere in the country’s internal politics. There were calls for him to be declared persona non grata and expelled from the country.”
And “[w]hen Mr. Gavin resigned his ambassadorship in 1986, a column in Mexico City’s El Universal newspaper described him as ‘arrogant, imprudent and meddlesome’ and as ‘one of the most ghastly ambassadors’ to Mexico in years.”
Gee, are we to understand that interfering in another country’s politics and elections is unacceptable? Maybe someone should let the Mexicans know that.
And here’s how The New York Times explained Gavin’s unhappy tenure:
Mr. Gavin pressed Mexico to limit the flow of illicit drugs and illegal immigrants into the United States, and voiced Washington’s belief that the revolutionary Sandinista government in Nicaragua posed dangers to the security of Mexico and Central America. Mexico was cool to many of Washington’s concerns, even when Mr. Gavin relayed intelligence that implicated Mexican officials in corrupt activities.Oddly, no one much cared when Madame Kennedy interfered in Japan’s affairs in condemning the Japanese for dolphin hunting., but back to Gavin: He was an anti-communist who didn’t take any guff from the Mexicans, whom he knew quite well, being one of them himself.
The ambassador feuded regularly with the Mexican press. Journalists who tracked his movements called him an absentee envoy who had been out of Mexico for 142 of his first 438 days on the job, traveling frequently to Los Angeles. Mr. Gavin insisted that his trips were work-related.
Mr. Gavin was denounced by Mexican business and labor leaders, politicians and academics after he appeared in a 1982 ABC television special, “Mexico: Times of Crisis,” in which he spoke of fears that Central America’s economic and political troubles could “spill over” into Mexico. President López Portillo did not comment, but there were wide demands for Mr. Gavin to resign or be declared persona non grata.
In 1984, after Mr. Gavin had a casual lunch with leaders of the opposition National Action Party, the head of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, which had long controlled political life in Mexico, accused him of interfering in Mexican politics and of insensitivity to Mexican traditions.
As Sen. Phil Graham, R-Texas, put it, “Too often in the past we have dealt with Mexico from a condescending position where we look the other way at corruption and inefficiency and deal in vague diplomatic platitudes. He never forgot that he was in Mexico to represent the United States, not to represent Mexico to Washington.”