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High-Profile Consul Wins Plaudits as He Leaves for New Post

November 16, 1989|RAFAEL PRIETO ZARTHA | Prieto Zartha is a Los Angeles-based free-lance journalist

During a Mexican national holiday celebration, Romeo Flores Caballero was greeted by shouts and insults at his first public appearance as Mexico's consul general in Los Angeles. The demonstrators were protesting against the government of that neighboring country.

A year later, the intense work by the educator and politician from Monterrey has paid off, not only in the round of applause he received at this year's Mexican Independence Day commemoration, but also in creating a legacy. His administration will be remembered for a new building to house the consulate and for what consular officials call a more efficient system for processing documents.

In early October, the Mexican government announced that Flores Caballero was to return home to assume the post of secretary of international relations for Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

"I am sad to leave; I was fortunate in making many friends, and I added greatly to my knowledge of the city and the region. But, as I had said since my arrival in Los Angeles, any front on which I can serve my country is good, and now I am needed in Mexico," Flores Caballero said in an interview before he left Los Angeles.

Unlike previous consuls, Flores Caballero "came better prepared about the realities of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans," according to Dionicio Morales, the president of the Mexican-American Opportunity Foundation who has dealt with Mexican consular officials in the Southland since 1941. "He made a fast contribution. He dared to say things that no one else has said."

Flores Caballero was a controversial consul, since he kept a high profile and expressed opinions previously reserved for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C.

"What happened is that this consul was dedicated to the defense of the rights of workers, the human rights of Mexicans, and to give meaning to the relationship between the consulate and the community," said Flores Caballero, speaking of himself in the third person.

On one hand, he constantly denounced the U.S. Border Patrol, alleging mistreatment of Mexicans who cross into the United States. He compared the Otai drainage ditch project, once proposed along a stretch of the border, with the Berlin Wall.

On the other hand, the diplomat also criticized his own country's customs agents and filed complaints with Mexican authorities over reported abuses against that country's citizens when they returned to visit or live in Mexico.

But Flores Caballero didn't just sit back and criticize. "He tried to become part of the community," said Vivien C. Bonzo, a member of the Olvera Street Merchants Assn. "And, for the short time that he was here, I think that he has been very effective."

His biggest coup appears to be winning credit for elimination of the long lines that had typified the consulate at its Olvera Plaza location.

"People were sleeping there overnight in order to be waited on. We reorganized services to fit the stream of the public and redistributed the consular personnel according to the areas of priority. We established a criterion of courtesy toward the public, and in three weeks we did away with the long lines," Flores Caballero said.

Flores Caballero also oversaw the purchase of a new building for the General Consulate of Mexico, located across from MacArthur Park. The building has five floors, with 70,000 square feet, of which 58,000 have been built, and a parking capacity of 140 cars. The facility, scheduled to open in April, cost more than $5 million and, according to Flores Caballero, "it will facilitate service to the public."

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