The former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, South Texas native Antonio Garza, said he thinks his successor’s resignation this weekend was the right move if he felt he was no longer up to the task.
Ambassador Carlos Pascual announced late Saturday he was leaving his post in order to let both governments move forward without distractions.
“Carlos clearly felt he could no longer be effective, and as such I've got to defer to his judgment. So yes, I think it was the right decision,” Garza told the Tribune in an email. "The U.S.-Mexico is a complex relationship with many movable parts. When things are smooth the ambassador is another oar in the water, and when they are not, the role is to be clear about the issues, focus on getting things done and, more often than not, work through that maze that is our two capitols.”
The Associated Press reported that the resignation was in response to a public rebuking of Pascual by Mexican President Felipe Calderón after a WikiLeaks cable that reflected the ambassador raised concerns about the Mexicans and their efforts to battle drug cartels in that country.
“Carlos has relayed his decision to return to Washington based upon his personal desire to ensure the strong relationship between our two countries and to avert issues raised by President Calderón that could distract from the important business of advancing our bilateral interests,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a statement that confirmed she and president Obama “reluctantly” accepted the resignation.
Garza, a former Texas railroad commissioner appointed ambassador to Mexico by President George W. Bush in 2002, said he has no interest in returning to the job should he be considered as a possible replacement.
"I am not, nor would I be, interested in returning to the post. I was honored to have served President Bush and think it's important that this administration have someone that has President Obama's ear, confidence and is in sync with this administration's foreign policy objectives," he said.
Instead, he added, the office is in good hands with Deputy Chief of Mission John D. Feeley. “I've known John for years and he is amongst the most talented, knowledgeable people in the state department," Garza emailed. "[He] could step into the ambassador's job tomorrow and the U.S.-Mexico relationship would be well served."
The resignation comes at a time when the two nations are in the throes of an on-again, off-again relationship. The governments have recently touted their abilities to work together on issues like the cross-border trucking program and U.S. drone surveillance over Mexican skies. But the progress has been overshadowed by United States' ire over the recent murder of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Mexico, illegal immigration and the fear that the violence in Mexico that has claimed more than 35,000 lives could find its way to the U.S. The Mexicans have their own complaints, specifically the demand for narcotics here and the illegal flow of U.S. weapons into their country, and what they perceive as this country’s refusal to acknowledge its culpability.
Despite that, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said the resignation was a “bump in the road” likely to happen as the two countries forge ahead in their commitment to reverse Mexico’s current turmoil at the hands of warring cartels.
“I am sorry that some feelings were hurt but I think that our end goal here is to make sure that at the end of the day the cartels are defeated,” said Cuellar, a member of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee. “In this paradigm shift in our relationship there is an essential need for cooperation. It’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity.”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the U.S. Senate’sJudiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee, praised Pascual’s efforts since the senate approved his confirmation in August 2009, and said the two nations should move forward despite the disagreement.
“Ambassador Pascual has served as our nation's chief diplomat to Mexico during an incredibly turbulent time in Mexico's history, and I thank him for his service,” Cornyn said in an email. “As President Calderón leads his nation in the fight of his life against violent drug cartels and gangs, we must continue to do all we can to strengthen that relationship and find solutions that benefit both countries when disagreements arise, keeping our eyes fixed on the ultimate goal of peace and security for the people of both nations."
The AP also reports that some of the bad blood could have been due to Pascual’s personal relationship with the daughter of Francisco Rojas, a high-ranking figure of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the opposition party to Calderón’s Partido Acción Nacional. The PRI is currently remaking its image and some political observers say it may be poised to retake control of the presidency. The party, widely believed to have been infiltrated with corrupt officials who formed pacts with cartels during its 70-year rule, is touting the progress of the country under its leadership and is gaining support across Mexico for the party’s current governor of the state of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto. Peña Nieto, the charismatic husband of a Mexican soap star, is being touted as the PRI’s best shot at reclaiming Los Pinos, the presidential palace. A recent poll of Mexicans cited by The Economist shows the former ruling party is leading Calderón’s PAN by as many as 20 points in polls conducted across the country.
Elections are more than a year away, but Cornyn has already expressed his concerns about whether Mexico’s next president will be as willing to take on organized crime.
“The concern [is] about whether his successor will have the same commitment to fight the cartels and restore peace and law and order to Mexico that he has,” Cornyn told the Tribune recently. “My impression is that President Calderón has been heroic in this effort but that the outcome is not clear.”
Cuellar said that the key to avoiding a reversal in Mexico is to cement cooperation between the two nations to a point to where it can’t be easily dissolved.
“I’ve told the State Department that the more we institutionalize our cooperation, it will be harder move it out" in 2012, he said. “I don’t want to pick on the PRI but there is a possibility that they go back to the old system where they [tell the cartels], ‘Continue what you’re doing but just don’t create violence.’”
Even before the WikiLeaks revelation, Pascual was forced to defend Mexico and its government against allegations here that he was working with a country that was a failed state.
“Mexico had a difficult period of time" over the last two months, he told the Tribune in August. "A candidate was killed before the elections, it went through extreme floods, and it still went ahead and had an election process on July 4.” A failed state, he said, "wouldn’t have been able to do that and handle that kind of stress.”
[Editor's note: After the story was first published, Garza emailed the Tribune to clarify that he is not interested in the position.]