A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.
By David Gaddis Smith
Earl Anthony "Tony" Wayne, confirmed this week to be the new U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said in his confirmation testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that human trafficking would be a major concern of his in his new post.
Of human trafficking, Wayne said, "It will be a priority for me." He said he hoped that Mexico would move "to get all of their law enforcement people to really give this the priority it deserves."
Questioned about a large number of human rights complaints against the Mexican military, which has been thrust into the front lines in Mexico's war against organized crime, Wayne said, "Human rights has to be a high priority."
He said of the controversial "Operation Fast and Furious" gun-selling sting program from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that saw guns fall in the hands of Mexican criminals: "All I know about it, very honestly, is what I have read in the press." DEA acknowledges role in sting
When Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who heads the Western Hemisphere subcommittee, asked whether Wayne would "take control at your embassy ensuring that you are informed of any operations that take place by ATF or any other entity," he replied: "Yes sir, I am a strong believer in chief of mission authority. I am a strong believer that there needs to transparency on any operations by U.S. government agencies with the ambassador within the country of responsibility. For not only because of the ambassador's responsibility but for the effectiveness of these operations, there needs to be transparency, there needs to be an understanding of what's planned and a discussion of the possible pros and cons of any said operation before it's undertaken."
He said that despite Ambassador Carlos Pascual's resignation under pressure from the Mexican government, U.S.-Mexican relations were very strong. He said keeping strong relations required "good tending along the way. I look forward to being one of those good tenders."
In the exchange, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., referred to the departure of of the previous ambassador as "the expulsion of Ambassador Pascual." One factor in Pascual's departure was his criticism of the Mexican government that came to light as a result of WikiLeaks.
Menendez said he applauds Mexican President Felipe Calderón. "He is the first Mexican president that has really taken on the drug traffickers," Menendez said. He said that while violence in the drug war is high, "Unfortunately, you can't fight the drug traffickers and not have violence ensue as a result of it."
Wayne said that through the Mérida initiative, 13,000 federal police, prosecutors and corrections staff have received rule-of-law and capacity-building training over the last three years. He said 23,000 Mexicans had received received training on the "best practices around the world" on Mexico's move to an oral legal system that is reforming "the whole set of rule-of-law institutions." He said Mexico has received 11 helicopters, computer systems and immigration-related systems "to allow for better biometric tracking and other tracking of immigrants coming in and out of the country."
He also told the committee, "One of the things I want to be sure about ... is that we are really moving toward in a measurable way achieving these objectives ... (with) credible proof that there's progress being made."
He said 29 or so major leaders of cartels had been captured in Mexico, "some due to good information-sharing mechanisms and structures that have been built up."
Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, asked about whether the U.S. should be worried about a change in position on the Mérida initiative as a result of next year's Mexican presidential election, where polls show the Institutional Revolutionary Party far ahead of Calderón's National Action Party. Udall said he had heard from Mexican legislators that strong support for Mérida would likely continue.
Wayne said he would be meeting with Mexicans of all political stripes, adding, "I have heard the same thing in my initial consultations that you heard from your Mexican congressional colleagues that there is a strong consensus that this effort needs to continue. There has been criticism as I understand, of course, of the level of violence, but I have not heard of any alternative strategies that have been put forward.... I will very much try to ... maintain and strengthen the consensus for our cooperation in this battle against transnational criminal organizations. And I think that, of course, since Mexico is on the front line, that there is a very strong interest across the political spectrum in continuing this effort."
Wayne said migrants and how they are treated passing through Mexico into the United States "deserve our full attention" and also spoke of how migration from Mexico appears to have declined:
"I have read several studies in preparing for this hearing that have noted how the flows from Mexico have actually dropped off over the past several years and they've cited three or four different reasons for that:
"1. the economic downturn in the United States,
"2 the steps we have taken to reinforce the presence at the border
"3. the challenges and the dangers along the way and then
"4. some of the alternative opportunities that are available in Mexico for education and for jobs."
Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Alan Bersin says illegal crossings may drop 40%, story in El Mexicano says. Jump page.
Menendez said he would like the U.S. to be able to have a growth rate like Mexico's (Mexican GDP may grow around 5% this year) and asked Wayne how he would try to strengthen the two nations' strong economic ties,
Wayne said a goal of the Mérida initiative is a 21st border where the U.S. can "increase efficiency as well as security." He said work is under way to "not have two-hour delays ... by having certain kinds of goods pre-cleared."
Asked about the July 6 agreement in which Mexico lifted its retaliatory tariffs in exchange for the U.S. allowing in some Mexican trucks, as called for in the North American Free Trade Agreement, Wayne noted that it was a "limited program." He said, "Trucks will be required to comply with all federal safety motor vehicle safety standards and they must have electronic monitoring systems to track compliance." He said that the U.S. Department of Transportation will review all records of Mexican truck drivers who will be entering the United States and that the drivers will have to take drug tests that will be examined at "certified U.S. labs." He said drivers also will have to undergo an assessment for their knowledge of English and show that they can understand U.S. traffic signs.
Wayne noted that Mexico is the United States' second-largest supplier of oil (after Canada) and tiptoed around discussion of whether Mexico should make greater efforts to privatize its energy sector, saying that was a decision for the Mexican people. "It will have to be an evolution of thinking in Mexico," he said.
He spoke of investment in "wind energy in Baja California and how that can be helpful both for Mexico and potentially for the United States." He said the two countries were looking into ways to make the electricity grid between them more efficient.
The Baja California state energy commission creates a webpage for businesses interested in wind energy.
Story, El Mexicano. The webpage (requires registration)
Of human trafficking, Wayne said, "It will be a priority for me."
He said that when he was ambassador to Argentina, "This was one of my very highest priorities and I was very very pleased that working with Argentine officials and civil society we did make some significant progress in that country in taking on this problem. It's a very very serious problem for Mexico and its Central American neighbors... The government of Mexico recognizes that trafficking is a serious problem. It's taken steps to stop traffickers, to prosecute them, to assist victims, but there is more that clearly needs to be done. Right now, the capacity needs to be bolstered in Mexico. There is very good will and there are very good individuals. Secretary Clinton recently recognized a prosecutor from Mexico for her efforts to get the first convictions in trafficking cases." (That prosecutor was Marisela Morales Ibañez, then deputy attorney general for Special Investigations Against Organized Crime who now is Mexico's attorney general. (State Department media release)
Wayne continued: "What I can say is that we need to continue to be good partners. Sometimes that is providing technical assistance, training, sometimes equipment and encouragement but the real efforts have to be on the part of Mexican officials to strengthen their practices, to get all of their law enforcement people to really give this the priority it deserves."
Wayne said he understood Nadbank, a U.S.-Mexican financial institution, was making a major difference on environmental issues. He said that when he had last dealt with Nadbank, before becoming ambassador to Argentina and then deputy ambassador in Afghanistan, Nadbank had been struggling.
Wayne said he thought it was good that there was a mechanism for legislators from Mexico and the U.S. Congress to meet, saying, " In my experience, where we have a good exchange between parliaments and congresses, we have a good relationship."
Menendez, before questioning began about Mexico, asked Wayne about what appears to be a quarter-billion-boondoggle in Afghanistan, the construction of a $250 million diesel electricity plant that is not being used because it is cheaper to buy electricity from Uzbekistan. Wayne said the decision to build the plant was made before he arrived, and noted that at the time the decision was made, it was not clear that a large flow of electricity would be coming in from Uzbekistan.
Wayne's confirmation hearing was held in conjunction with one for the incoming ambassador to Guatemala, Arnold Chacon, who discussed, among many other topics, how members of Mexico's Zetas organized-crime group have infiltrated Guatemala.
While Chacon introduced various family members at the hearing, Wayne did not. Wayne said after the hearing that he will be going to Mexico City with his wife, Pamela. One of Chacon's guests also was Cresencio Arcos, a former U.S. diplomat who was warmly welcomed.
Milburn Line, the director of the Joan B. Kroc Center for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego, discusses Chacon and Guatemala in an Aug. 3 column in the Miami Herald.
Note: Wayne's opening statement varied somewhat from his prepared, written statement.
Update, Aug. 14: Proceso reports on Wayne's response to Lugar's written question about reliability of Mexican Public Safety Minister Genaro Garc'ia Luna.