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The Man to Send to Mexico

September 12, 2002

He is not a career diplomat, but Tony Garza knows so much about Mexico and the United States that even Democrats in the Senate were impressed with his performance during a hearing Sept. 4 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Senate should promptly confirm him as the next ambassador to Mexico.

Once on the job, Garza's biggest challenge would be to persuade his friend President Bush to at least occasionally return his foreign policy focus to Mexico. Six days before the 9/11 attacks, in welcoming that nation's president, Vicente Fox, to the White House, Bush said that "the U.S. has no more important relationship in the world." Then came the war on terrorism. Mexico is still waiting by the phone.

Born and raised in the Texas border town of Brownsville, Garza was shaped by overlapping forces of American and Mexican cultures, and by four Mexican grandparents. When he was 28, Cameron County elected him judge. In 1995, then-Gov. Bush appointed him Texas secretary of state. Three years later, Garza won a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, the key regulatory body governing the state's oil and natural gas industry--an experience he would find useful as the United States and Mexico work together to meet current and future energy needs.

Living on the border, Garza has seen the importance of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and subsequent $230 billion in goods that flow back and forth annually, making Mexico the United States' second-largest trading partner--ahead of Britain, France, Germany and Italy combined. Border life also has allowed Garza to witness the serious environmental problems plaguing the 2,000-mile line dividing the two countries. He knows why safe and orderly immigration is critical.

At the Senate hearing, Garza said of the challenge: "I'm committed to getting it right." Which won't be easy. Mexico is one the United States' largest diplomatic missions. Its Mexico City embassy houses 30 U.S. agencies, and the ambassador also is responsible for nine consulates and 13 consular agencies.

During Jeffrey Davidow's tenure as ambassador, the two countries developed a mature and open dialogue based on shared responsibility. But Mexico is at a historic watershed, with Fox unable to deliver on the changes he promised. These include fiscal reform and a meaningful immigration agreement with the United States, including a guest worker program and--here's the hard part--some form of legalization for Mexicans already here. A hostile Mexican Congress and the effects of the United States' anti-terrorist border-tightening on Mexico's economy have made the task that much more difficult.

Garza's up to it.

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