Embassy Row
By James Morrison
Published August 19, 2005

Mexican backlash

Mexican officials from President Vicente Fox to bureaucrats in the Foreign Ministry are complaining about U.S. criticism of Mexico's failure to stop gang warfare on the border and about remarks by U.S. Ambassador Antonio Garza.

Mr. Fox and Geronimo Gutierrez, an undersecretary in the Foreign Ministry, this week bristled at U.S. demands that Mexico do more to control the drug-gang violence across the border from Laredo, Texas.

Mr. Gutierrez also complained about a speech by Mr. Garza on Monday in which he said he had ordered the temporary closure of the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo to "punish" Mexico. Gangs fighting over smuggling routes to the United States have killed more than 100 people in the border town this year.

Mr. Garza has even rattled the State Department, where a senior official told our correspondent Nicholas Kralev yesterday that the ambassador's remarks were "inartful."

Mr. Fox on Tuesday called on President Bush to help Mexico fight the drug gangs and questioned whether the United States is doing enough to curtail the American demand for illegal drugs.

"My call to the United States, whether it is a state government or the government of President Bush, is that, instead of pointing out problems, we make proposals and that we work together instead of each working by himself," Mr. Fox told reporters in Mexico.

Mr. Gutierrez on Wednesday said Mr. Garza's "selection of words was, frankly, unfortunate and not appropriate to the role of an ambassador."

Mr. Garza, in a speech at the University of Denver, recounted the reasons why he had ordered the closure of the consulate Aug. 1 for a weeklong security review.

"Some have said that I ordered the shutdown to punish the Mexican government for its failure to control violence in the region," Mr. Garza said.

"And in a sense that's true, and I've been very clear [that] my primary responsibility as ambassador is the safety of United States citizens, and I won't hesitate to take action when they are at risk."

Mr. Garza also recognized efforts by the Mexican government to fight terrorism, which could threaten Mexican and American lives as well as billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

"Mexico is clearly central to any strategy designed to yield a North American continent free from terrorism," Mr. Garza said. "And they've been strong allies in our efforts against terrorism."

Taliban no threat

The new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan yesterday predicted that elections will go smoothly next month with no threat from Taliban terrorists.

"They will not stop the election. They will not even come close," Ambassador Ronald Neumann said in his first press conference since presenting his diplomatic credentials to President Hamid Karzai on Aug. 1.

The United States removed the brutal Taliban government in 2001 because it sheltered Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.

The Taliban fighters still active in remote parts of Afghanistan have "absolutely no chance of stopping" the Sept. 18 elections, Mr. Neumann said.

More than 12 million Afghans are registered to vote.

Death of a diplomat

An American diplomat in Tajikistan died of a heart attack while swimming during the weekend, the U.S. Embassy said this week, correcting press reports that cited drowning as the cause of his death.

Embassy Row on Tuesday referred to a news service report from the Central Asian nation that said David E. Wills, 48, drowned, as he was swimming in a lake north of the capital, Dushanbe.

Mr. Wills, the embassy's information management technician, had served in Tajikistan for three years and been preparing a new assignment in Iraq.

"He will be greatly missed by his friends in the embassy and throughout the Tajik community," the embassy said.