Election Q&A: Antonio Garza, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico

Antonio Garza. (PHOTO: gcgrapevine.com)

There’ve been no pulled punches in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, and Mexico has been on the receiving end of more than a few of them. But the acrimonious rhetoric takes billions of cross-border dollars for granted, says Antonio Garza, Americas Society Board Member and former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, in this Q&A with Carin Zissis of Americas Society-Council of the Americas. There’s more that unites the two countries on a daily basis, he says—it just takes place outside of the headlines.

AS/COA Online: The U.S. electoral race has involved negative rhetoric about Mexico. What can be done, whether by Mexico or the United States, to counter that message?

Amb. Garza: If you are talking about governments, then I’m not sure it’s the U.S. government’s responsibility to defend Mexico or its image. The U.S. government can and should, however, explain and defend its policy choices, which have included fostering a stronger economic, security, energy, and environmental partnership with Mexico.

But more importantly, it’s critical for private citizens like myself to stand up and continuously provide an honest and balanced view of our neighbor.

As for Mexico, its activities should and will continue to include branding initiatives. This is a good thing, as it creates outlets for the country to share its many positive dimensions and virtues with the United States and the world. Yet, branding needs to follow product. And as I’ve written about before, part of improving Mexico’s image in the United States will be taking the steps to address many Americans’ (and Mexicans’) underlying concerns.

Antonio Garza. (PHOTO: gcgrapevine.com)
Antonio Garza. (PHOTO: gcgrapevine.com)

Is there a fact about the bilateral relationship—whether in the area of security, commerce, or cultural connections—that you feel gets overlooked by Americans? How about by Mexicans?

Americans and Mexicans often overlook the critically important, but non-newsworthy parts of our bilateral relationship.

We take it for granted when billions of dollars in goods move across the continent each day; when our imported food from Mexico (or vice versa) is consistently high quality; when intelligence leads to cross-border arrests; or when we choose to watch the same movies, play the same sports, and eat the same foods.

Instead, our attention naturally gets focused to the bilateral snags or cultural differences, which makes sense, but also means that we overlook just how much gets done and unites us every day.

As you know from the recent Vianovo survey, a large portion of Americans sees Mexican officials as corrupt. Interestingly, a similar portion of Mexicans sees their government that way. Why have rule of law and corruption become key concerns about Mexico on both sides of the border?

I don’t think concerns about Mexico’s corruption or rule of law are anything new for Americans and Mexicans.

What is new are the ways in which Mexicans have been addressing the issue, either by taking anti-corruption legislation into their own hands (such as via Ley 3de3) or using new technologies to name and shame corrupt politicians on Periscope or Facebook. These changes have upped the coverage of Mexico’s corruption in both U.S. and Mexican social media and news outlets.

Of course, there has also been a steady flow of high-profile corruption and rule of law cases—such as the Casa Blanca scandal, El Chapo’s escape, and Ayotzinapa—which have helped keep the focus on these important issues.

Given such issues, do you think Mexicans are paying attention to the U.S. election? Why or why not?

This electoral cycle has certainly captured Mexicans’ attention more than any other U.S. election that I can remember. It makes sense, since Mexico holds a central—and often extremely negative—role in so many of the campaign discussions.

However, this newfound electoral interest is likely more an anti-Trump backlash than anything else, since Mexicans, unsurprisingly, don’t take too kindly to being called rapists and criminals.

Antonio Garza is a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Americas Society board member. He is counsel in the Mexico City office of White & Case LLP and chairman of Vianovo Ventures. You can reach him through tonygarza.com and Twitter, @aogarza.