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The new U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Earl Anthony Wayne, means business as he seeks to pursue greater partnership with the country.
During his visit to the Institute of the Americas at the University of California San Diego on Thursday, outgoing institute President Jeffrey Davidow described Wayne as an economist and "extremely serious diplomat who always set goals and objectives."
While he smiled a lot, Wayne was mostly deadly serious, saying that it was humbling to be taking on his new job and that he wanted "to get more input" and "think through problems."
Indeed, Wayne only drew two laugh lines. One was when he was asked to compare his previous assignment as the No. 2 official in Afghanistan to his new posting in Mexico. He replied: "I am very grateful to be in Mexico." He also drew laughs when he spoke about the number of Mexicans who cross the border to shop at the Plaza de las Americas in San Ysidro.
Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne (far left foreground) speaks with Institute of the Americas founder, former Ambassador Ted Gildred, while outgoing Institute of the Americas President Jeff Davidow (between Wayne and Gildred in background) speaks with incoming President Charles Shapiro (far right background). Davidow is a former ambassador to Mexico; Gildred, like Wayne, is a former ambassador to Argentina. Both Shapiro and Davidow served as ambassadors to Venezuela.
Wayne was in the region to inaugurate the new U.S. Consulate in Tijuana on Friday. Wayne said, "This new building really does represent a long-term investment in this region and it really symbolizes the U.S. government's commitment to providing a wide range of services to promote trade, to assist in efforts to improve security, justice, cooperation across the borders, to make that border coordination and those border flows smoother, more effective and to bring more prosperity to both sides of the border, to both communities."
He said he hoped that "when I finish my mission in Mexico, the partnership we have is even more vibrant, more practical, bringing more benefit to more people ... and even more mutual respect for the good of people of both countries."
Wayne was not able to give specific replies to many of the questions he was asked, noting that he has been on the job less than three weeks and still has a lot to learn.
Still, he said he hoped to fortify the Mérida Initiative under which the United States is helping Mexico fight organized crime. "One of most important things that I have on my list of priority objectives is making sure that we do successfully accelerate the implementation of all of our Mérida programs and that we achieve the objectives that we laid out to support as effectively as possible our Mexican colleagues."
He said that as of late this month, the U.S. Mérida team had provided $618 million in equipment, in technical assistance and training since the initiative began in 2008. He said plans were for that spending to have reached $900 million by end of this year.
He spoke about how journalism and free speech are under threat in Mexico. He cited last week's decapitation of Elizabeth Macías Castro, a reporter for the Primera Hora newspaper in Nuevo Laredo who also wrote for social media under a pseudonym. Wayne said a message was left with her body warning against reporting on the activities of the Zetas organized crime group. Wayne said it "was the third murder of this kind in as many weeks."
He praised the Institute of the Americas for its workshops in helping train and educate Latin American journalists.
He mentioned the 40,000 deaths, including those of 2,000 security forces, attributed to narcoviolence since December 2006 in Mexico.
Still, he said there was much more to the U.S.-Mexico relationship than security cooperation.
He noted that President Barack Obama had spoken this week about education and the economy in Mexico and the broader social challenges both countries face. Obama also spoke of immigration, and Wayne said he hoped the U.S. would eventually reach consensus on the contentious issue. Story on Obama's talk.
Wayne said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has estimated that 6 million U.S. jobs are supported by trade with Mexico, and that for more than 20 U.S. states, Mexico is the largest or second-largest export destination.
Of Mexico's presidential election next year, he said, "We will look forward to working closely with the victor chosen by the people of México in the democratic process."
The release of U.S. diplomatic cables by Wikileaks in part led to the departure of Wayne's predecessor as ambassador, Carlos Pascual. Wayne's cables when he was ambassador in Argentina also were leaked.
"Wikileaks was a shock but the need to be able to deliver your view of what the truth is is still there," Wayne said.
He said diplomats must be honest in their cables. "It is vitally important that diplomats be able to really share what their conclusions honestly are about the governments, about the place that they are serving, about the issues that are very important," he said.
He added, "Certainly in my just-concluded assignment we continued to do that."
Update, Oct. 1: Frontera's story on inauguration of U.S. Consulate in Tijuana (PDF).
Previous MexicoPerspective stories on Wayne:
Wayne confirmed as ambassador
Wayne meets with President Felipe Calderón
March 20 editorial on naming a new ambassador
El Chamuco humor magazine feature on "Mexganistán"
YouTube videos of Wayne's talk in San Diego:
Main speech at Institute of the Americas (video pictured above)
Wayne discusses WikiLeaks
Wayne discusses what he hopes to accomplish in Mexico
Wayne discusses Afghanistan and Mexico