August 18, 2005

U.S. envoy, high-society pal of Bush, riles Mexico

By Alistair Bell

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - He married Mexico's richest woman,
is an old pal of President Bush and now Washington's envoy
south of the Rio Grande is stirring up controversy in a dispute
over crime and immigration on the U.S.-Mexican border.

U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza upset Mexico this week by
boasting he had shut a consular office in a border city to
"punish" the country for failing to halt a drug war there.

It was the latest in a series of run-ins with Mexico's
government that have earned Garza a reputation as a bully who,
despite his Hispanic roots, largely disregards Mexican
sensibilities about its powerful northern neighbor.

A senior Mexican Foreign Ministry official rebuked Garza's
comments as "frankly, unfortunate," but the State Department in
Washington defended him on Thursday.

"Secretary (Condoleezza) Rice thinks that Ambassador Garza
is a fine ambassador and the right person for the job," State
Department spokesman Sean McCormack told a briefing.

He said Garza acknowledged he could have used different
phrasing in his speech.

Garza, a Texas Republican, has sent several strongly worded
warnings to Mexico this year about killings and kidnappings in
a drug feud between gangs in northern Mexico.

Several dozen Americans have been abducted in and around
the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo as two rival gangs battle it
out for the control of drug routes.

Many Mexicans agree with Garza that the violence should
stop, but bristle at what they see as U.S. interference.

"In Mexico, the way you say things is very important. I
think that is what the ambassador lacks," social commentator
Guadalupe Loaeza said. "He lacks charisma. He is very like Bush
in his style."


Garza said in a speech in Denver on Tuesday that his
decision to close the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo for a week
was punishment for Mexico's failure to halt the drug war.

"Some have said that I ordered the shutdown to punish the
Mexican government for its failure to control violence in the
region. And in a sense that's true," he said.

The comment was seen as a deliberate effort to rile Mexico,
which still smarts from the loss of half its territory to the
United States in a 19th century war.

Embassy aides sent advance copies of Garza's speech to the
media and pointed out that the punishment phrase was likely to
raise eyebrows.

Garza, in his mid-forties, was a campaign advisor in Bush's
1994 gubernatorial race and Texas railroad commissioner.

Despite the diplomatic friction, Garza charmed Mexico's
high society in April with a lavish wedding to the country's
wealthiest woman, beer heiress Mariasun Aramburuzabala who is
worth about $1.5 billion.

U.S. first lady Laura Bush and Mexican magnate Carlos Slim,
one of the world's richest man, were among the guests at a
lakeside resort.

The glittering nuptials did little to paper over serious
disagreements between the two countries.

Mexico is frustrated that Congress has dragged its feet on
immigration reform sought by Bush that would mainly benefit
millions of Mexican workers in the United States.

Crime and violence on the Mexican side of the border has
become worse in spite of repeated warnings by Washington.

A lot has changed since Bush won elections in 2000 and
chose Mexico as his first foreign trip after taking office,
hailing President Vicente Fox as his "amigo."

Mexico, and much of the rest of Latin America, complains
that Washington has ignored it since September 11, 2001, to
concentrate on the Middle East.

"The dialogue that augured so well five years ago has
become weaker, and today the relationship is tense," said Jesus
Silva Herzog, a former Mexican ambassador to the United States.