LatinaLista — For the last six years, Antonio (Tony) Garza has served as the United States ambassador to Mexico. Originally from Brownsville, Texas, Ambassador Garza’s career has spanned over 10 years serving as a public official in Texas state government and with the Bush Administration.
Antonio Garza, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico
Ambassador Garza has been cited for his knowledge of Mexican affairs and long history of working with that country’s officials in the area of security. In 2005, he married Mexican businesswoman Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala.
In a speech on November 20, 2008, in response to receiving the 2008 Amistad Award from the San Antonio-Mexico Friendship Council, Ambassador Garza delivered a blunt assessment of Mexico’s drug cartel crisis and the role of the the United States in it.
He also revealed when he’s stepping down from his position and what may lie in his future as he returns to the private sector.
Ricardo, thanks for that generous introduction. I’d also like to thank all of you for honoring me tonight with the Amistad Award. And to the San Antonio-Mexico Friendship Council, thanks to each and every one of you. You’ve been out on point keeping the relationship between the United States and Mexico strong, so it’s fair to say I should be applauding you.
San Antonians know better than most how important the familial, cultural and commercial ties are that link Mexico and the United States. And as I look at the list of past recipients, quite frankly, my name shouldn’t appear alongside Henry Cisneros, Tom Frost, and Juan Ramon de la Fuente. So I am more than honored, I am humbled.
Over the past six years, I’ve had the privilege of serving as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. And let me tell you, the best preparation for this post was growing up in South Texas, where I learned early on that neighbors not only help one another, they rely on each another.
Sixteen days ago America chose a new president, and what an election it was. Election night in Mexico City, I hosted nearly 1500 Mexicans, as we watched history unfold. At 10:15 that night, John McCain gave perhaps the most gracious concession speech ever offered, calling on all of us to line up behind our new president, at a time when our country faces extraordinary challenges both at home and abroad. A few minutes later, President-elect Obama echoed that call to unity, and asked us to focus on our shared future.
Many of you may know who I voted for in that election, but let me tell you something, that night, as always, I was proud to be an American. I was proud to watch two good men argue the issues until the end. I was proud to watch one graciously cede history’s road to the other, and offer his support as we, as Americans, walk that road together. And I was especially proud that so many Mexicans had the chance to see American democracy at its finest. And I know every U.S. ambassador around the world felt that same way.
As Ambassador to Mexico, I’ve assumed a special trust and I have worked hard to bring the United States and Mexico closer. As all Texans know, we need Mexico to succeed in order for us to thrive. I grew up a few hundred miles south of here, during a time when the border was a far different place… more a state of mind than a physical barrier.
I remember crossing the bridge from Brownsville into Matamoros to play football or baseball, have lunch with family or friends, and still be home in time for dinner. Going from the U.S. to Mexico and back again was a regular occurrence, and really no big deal. We all felt part of one big community.
Those days may be gone, but we must renew that sense of community with our neighbors if we’re going to have a safer and more secure border, and provide the prosperity that people in both countries deserve.
But you already knew that. The San Antonio-Mexico Friendship Council is all about community. About creating links between Mexicans and San Antonians, with the goal of making us all safer and more prosperous. And, I’d bet you a case of exactly you know what kind of beer, that you are working on that each and every day. The key is leaders who reject the nativist and protectionist arguments made by so many who have never had the good fortune to step foot in South Texas.
Given today’s economic challenges, we should all be talking about the importance of trade and reminding people that more than a billion dollars in goods travel between the U.S. and Mexico each day. We need to be reminding people that since NAFTA was implemented in 1994, U.S. exports to Mexico have risen 174% and Mexican exports to the U.S. are up 351%. And that Mexico is the United States’ third largest trading partner. Too many people fail to realize that seventy-two percent of Mexico’s agricultural imports come from right here in the United States, and Texans are a big part of making that happen.
But those numbers don’t tell the story that we live each day. The cultural and family ties that link us are real. Whether it’s kids from Mexico enrolling at UTSA, Mexican families shopping at North Star Mall or visiting the River Walk on weekends, or your neighbors making the two-and-a-half hour trip back to Mexico to see family — on a very human level we know that getting this relationship right is a big part of assuring our future.
But sadly, the same thing that makes our border one of the most dynamic regions in the world also makes it a prized corridor for drug traffickers. And both countries have felt the all-too-painful effects of criminals vying for these routes. This year, there have been almost 4,000 drug-related killings in Mexico, and public concern about violence is at an all-time high.
So let me share with you what President Calderon and his national security team are doing on this front. Since taking office, Calderon has launched anti-drug operations against each of the four major drug cartels and their franchises in more than ten states. President Calderon has deployed the military and raised its pay to help offset the temptation of corruption, and has replaced countless ineffectual high-ranking police officers. Last year, Mexico increased law enforcement spending to over $2.5 billion. This year, Mexico will invest over $4 billion to improve public security to counter the cartel-led violence.
In 2007 and 2008, working in partnership with the U.S., a dozen senior members of Mexico’s most notorious cartels were taken down. Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, the former leader of the Gulf Cartel, now sits in a U.S. prison, and all five of the Arellano Felix brothers who once led the notorious Tijuana cartel have either been captured or killed. And let me tell you, having spent countless hours with President Calderon, he knows he’s in a tough battle. While there will be more violence, he remains committed to winning the fight against those who seek to harm both our countries.
As U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, I’ve tried to be honest with both Americans and Mexicans alike, and the truth is, Mexico would not be the center of cartel activity, or be experiencing this level of violence, were the United States not the largest consumer of illicit drugs and the main supplier of weapons to the cartels. The U.S. and Mexico must fight these criminal organizations together, or we will fail together.
In March of 2007, President Bush proposed the most ambitious bilateral security initiative that the U.S. and Mexico have ever undertaken. The Merida Initiative is an aggressive partnership between our two countries that will include: state-of-the-art technology; better training for Mexican law enforcement; as well as the aircraft necessary to take on the drug cartels.
And yes, the U.S. is stepping up and doing more at home. Drug use amongst our youth is down 23% from 2002 and thousands of firearms headed to Mexico have been confiscated in the last year alone.
Over the past several years, I have seen our relationship with Mexico evolve into one that is far more open, mature and respectful than ever before. Leaders in both countries no longer hesitate to ask the hard questions: How to combat poverty and inequality? How to be fair about immigration? What can we do to take care of our environment or be more efficient and productive about our energy needs? And how we can best educate our children so that they might compete in a world that becomes more globalized and uncertain each day?
Answering these questions will require both political courage and real commitment. All of us here know that, and fortunately, our capitals are catching on. But there is still plenty to do. The work we are doing is more urgent each day as our countries become more interrelated and dependent on each other.
In San Antonio you have long appreciated the importance of Mexican and Latino communities. And all across the United States, the Latino community is growing and flourishing. According to the census, the Hispanic population in the U.S. is now 45.5 million, or 15% of the U.S. population. Half of U.S. growth this century has been Latino, most coming from births, not immigration. And since 1990, Latinos have been moving to new areas across the country, largely to counties in metropolitan areas. The border is getting wider by the day, and the rest of the country would be wise to listen to you and learn from you.
As my time as U.S. ambassador to Mexico draws to a close, I am certain we’re going to see greater interest in U.S. policies that affect Latino communities in the United States. And we’ll also see greater interest in U.S. policies towards Mexico and Latin America, as these new communities get more involved in our political process, a reality much commented on during this last election cycle.
My first wish for the future of this relationship is that President-elect Obama will lead our country to triumph over those who would shut our doors to trade, and close the door on those who have always been a strength for America… immigrants. I am hopeful that he will fulfill President Bush’s commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, and find a path forward for those who came here to pursue the American dream, and in so doing, contribute so much to our economy and culture.
The next Administration should build on the promise of NAFTA so that people in all three countries can realize their dreams near their families, and in the country they love. The next administration should fully fund the Merida Initiative, so that one day we might all benefit from a safer and more secure border, one that allows good people with good intentions to move quickly and securely from one country to the other.
I hope our children and grandchildren might enjoy those same pleasures that I had, that of going back and forth across the border to play and see family and friends, and still making it home in time for dinner – without fear of the drug cartels now operating in both our countries. I know you share that vision for the future, and only by continuing to lend your energy and creativity to this effort can we truly realize the benefits of this special relationship with our neighbor.
Today I’d like to close with a pledge. Sometime around noon, on January 20, I will no longer be the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. But on January 21, I will wake up with the same passion for the issues I’ve spoken about, and the same commitment to making this relationship better. Every bone in my body knows that’s the right thing to do.
So thank you, not only for inviting me home to Texas to join you today, but for honoring me with the Amistad Award. And I will close as I have every speech for the last six years, with the simple prayer that God bless the United States and Mexico, and each and every one of you.