- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2005

Diplomatic proposal

Antonio Garza, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, settled a diplomatic dispute with Mexican authorities over the weekend and then revealed his engagement to Mexico’s richest woman.

Mr. Garza plans to marry Maria Asuncion Aramburuzabala, worth an estimated $1.5 billion as vice chairwoman of the Modelo Group brewing company, which includes the famous Corona and Negra Modelo beers. Her grandfather, Felix Aramburuzabala Lazcano-Iturburu founded the company. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City confirmed the news of the engagement during the weekend.

Mr. Garza also pacified Mexican sensitivities after a weeklong tiff over border security and a State Department warning to Americans to be extra cautious about violence when visiting Mexican border towns.

The ambassador and Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez issued a joint statement Saturday in which both countries pledged their cooperation in the fight against drug smuggling and gang violence. The diplomatic platitudes masked the root of the dispute, begun last week when the State Department criticized the Mexican police and courts as ineffective and noted that criminals rarely get caught. Mexico, meanwhile, had been trumpeting success in arresting drug lords.

The joint statement said, “Both officials noted that their governments recognize that drug trafficking and associated crime do not recognize any borders. … They also agreed that most urban violence in the border region is caused by fighting among gangs, mainly drug traffickers, struggling for control of the narcotics trade, as ever more leaders of major criminal organizations have been arrested by Mexican law enforcement officials.”

Before the ambassador quelled the squabble, officials on both sides exchanged blunt words over the blame for the violence. The State Department angered Mexican officials Wednesday with a warning to Americans visiting the border area.

It added that 27 Americans have been kidnapped and two killed in the past six months, although U.S. tourists are not the specific target of the gang warfare.

The department also said, “Mexico’s police forces suffer from lack of funds and training, and the judicial system is weak, overworked and inefficient. Criminals, armed with an impressive array of weapons, know there is little chance they will be caught and punished.”

Mr. Garza exacerbated the dispute in a letter to Mr. Derbez on the same day as the State Department warning.

“I worry that the inability of local law enforcement to come to grips with rising drug warfare, kidnappings and random street violence will have a chilling effect on the cross-border exchange, tourism and commerce so vital to the region’s prosperity,” he wrote.

Mexican President Vicente Fox responded by accusing U.S. authorities of overreacting.

“Mexico laments the tendency to alarm [the public] that the announcement to U.S. citizens could release,” he said.

On Friday, Mr. Fox tried to cool tensions, saying the U.S.-Mexican relationship is strong enough for “us to speak truthfully and to stand by our respective positions when it is necessary to do so.”

Mightier than sword

Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon paid tribute to retired syndicated columnist William Safire as a “long-standing” friend of Israel who can be assured that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will always take his phone calls.

At an A-list Washington dinner at the ambassador’s residence last week, Mr. Ayalon presented Mr. Safire with a plaque that read: “You are living proof that the pen is mightier than the sword.” Mr. Safire, who was a speechwriter for President Nixon, retired last month after more than 30 years as a columnist for the New York Times.

The guests included Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, former Clinton Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos, now with ABC News.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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