- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2011

WikiLeaks claimed its first diplomatic casualty over the weekend: U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual resigned amid the furor about the release of cables that harshly criticized Mexico’s drug-war efforts under President Felipe Calderon.

He had described Mexico’s army as “insular,” its federal system as “weak” and its bureaucracy as “risk averse” in confidential cables published by the anti-secrecy website.

In a statement Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Mr. Pascual’s decision to step down was “based upon his personal desire to ensure the strong relationship between our two countries and to avert issues raised by President Calderon that could distract from the important business of advancing our bilateral interests.”

Mr. Pascual, a career diplomat who previously served as ambassador to Ukraine, began his new post in August 2009, as Mexico continued its descent into drug-war chaos.

More than 35,000 people have been killed in Mexico since late 2006, when Mr. Calderon launched a crackdown on drug cartels.

The leaked cables show that Mr. Pascaul and his embassy colleagues were unimpressed by Mexican authorities.

In one, from December 2009, Mr. Pascual wrote: “The challenges on the security side are well known: an insular military establishment that resists modernization, a tightly structured political system that discourages inter-agency cooperation, a legal system badly in need of reform, and a weak federal structure that frustrates cooperation between local, state and federal authorities.”

“President Calderon’s security strategy lacks an effective intelligence apparatus to produce high quality information and targeted operations,” said another cable, from November 2009. “Embassy officers working with the [government of Mexico‘s] report that Mexico’s use of strategic and tactical intelligence is fractured, ad hoc, and reliant on U.S. support. … [B]ureaucratic culture in Mexico is generally risk averse, so intelligence entities would rather do nothing than do something wrong.”

The cables, which became front-page news in Mexico, inflamed already tense relations between Mr. Calderon and Mr. Pascual. The president reportedly had been annoyed by Mr. Pascual’s romantic involvement with the daughter of an opposition party leader.

Mr. Calderon went public with his criticism of Mr. Pascual last month.

“That man’s ignorance translates into a distortion of what is happening in Mexico, and affects things and creates ill-feeling within our own team,” he said in an interview published Feb. 22 by the Mexico City daily El Universal.

In a March 3 interview with The Washington Post, Mr. Calderon went further, saying that the leaked cables had caused “serious damage” to the U.S.-Mexico relationship and hinting that he would discuss his misgivings about Mr. Pascual in his meeting that day with President Obama.

Administration officials initially stood by Mr. Pascual.

“Ambassador Pascual is, in our view, doing tremendous work on behalf of the U.S.-Mexican bilateral relationship, and I know of no plans to adjust his status,” said then-State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley on March 4.

Mr. Crowley himself was forced to resign barely a week later when he criticized the detention conditions of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of being a WikiLeaks source.

Analysts said the Pascual resignation was unfortunate but inevitable.

“He was widely respected in Mexico, and he’d handled his assignment with great professionalism,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. “But the cables made it very difficult for him to do his job effectively, and there was just too much at stake in the U.S.-Mexico relationship to allow the bad feelings that surfaced to stand in the way of such critically important cooperation.”

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, said that the “raw nerve” the cables had struck in Mexico had to be seen in a broader context.

“The whole history and tradition of an overly intrusive U.S. government is part of the national narrative of Mexico,” he said. “The cables just reinforced that.”

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