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US Ambassador to Mexico Designate Expected to Play Pivotal Role - 2002-10-24

Diplomatic observers are saying U.S. ambassador to Mexico designate Tony Garza will have a pivotal and maybe historic role to play in bilateral relations. Congressional confirmation hearings are proceeding smoothly, and Mr. Garza is expected to take up his appointment in the near future.

Observers say enhancing the increasing dialogue between Mexico and the United States requires more than Tony Garza's fluent Spanish.

A former Railroad Commissioner in Texas, when President Bush was governor, Mr. Garza has built a reputation as an able and trusted administrator. He enjoys an excellent relationship with Mr. Bush and also knows Mexico President Vicente Fox well.

Unlike other recent U.S. ambassadors to Mexico, like John Dimitri NegroPonte, James Jones or Jeffrey Davidow, Mr. Garza could pick up the phone and directly dial his good friend, who happens to be the president of the United States.

Professor Pedro Javier Gonzalez, who is director of the Mexican Institute of Political Studies explains that this will focus the spotlight even more on the second-largest trading partner of the United States. "He is close to Mr. Bush, and that means a very, very important thing," said Pedro Javier Gonzales. "On the one hand that his work will be very closely monitored by his chief, President Bush, [and] that his achievements will also be very warmly welcomed. So he faces a very important opportunity."

The new ambassador will have to facilitate and influence areas such as trade, which, with the help of the North American Free Trade Agreement, is blossoming between Mexico and the United States. With other issues, such as illegal drugs and migration, a trustworthy pair of diplomatic hands is essential.

Observers say President Bush chose Mr. Garza not only because he has faith in his ability, but also because he has Hispanic roots immersed in the language, culture, and mindset of Mexico.

Former Mexican Foreign and Finance Minister Jose Angel Gurria says this contains the seeds of enormously fruitful potential. "It does not necessarily mean that every Ambassador that is designated has to be Hispanic, or has to speak very good Spanish, but if they do, it is something which you can build on," he said. "It is a source of some leverage for the job, because you start with a comparative advantage. But the challenge is for us in Mexico. The challenge is to take advantage of the fact that he speaks Spanish, that he understands us better, that he has access to the White House. But never forget, he is the ambassador of the United States."

International Relations Professor Lorenzo Meyer of the College of Mexico says Mr. Garza's complicated role will be in emphasizing many aspects both neighbors have in common, rather than divisions marked by their shared 2,000 mile border.

He says if Mr. Garza wants to be accepted as a real player in relations between Mexico and the United States, the Mexican side has to know that he has a positive view toward it. "He has to represent U.S. interests in Mexico, but [also] Mexican interests in the United States," said Lorenzo Meyer. "If he wants to function well in Mexico, he has to be viewed by Mexicans as somebody who is willing to present and lobby and do something for those Mexicans that are already there, that the Texans know quite well. They have been using Mexican labor for more than a century. It has made a contribution to Texas as well as California, and now to many other parts of the United States."

Mr. Garza will also have to represent the U.S. community in Mexico, which numbers more than 600,000 people and is rapidly growing. There are more U.S. citizens in Mexico than in any other country, outside the United States.