Evan Smith: You were the U.S. ambassador to Mexico for more than six years—
Tony Garza: Actually, only two ambassadors have ever stayed in the job longer. It was an extraordinary period of time. I found it very satisfying.
ES: How would you characterize the relationship of the two countries at the end of your service?
TG: The thing I’m most proud of is the tone. We had to deal with some difficult issues, and we managed to be more respectful and more mature—we embraced the notion of shared responsibility. I’d like to say that it was born out of friendship and history and culture, but the tone changed out of necessity. We recognized that we were dealing with transnational issues, so we needed transnational solutions. We had to pony up to the table and be more constructive about the way we talked to each other.
ES: How much of that was a result of the fact that the president of the United States during that time was from Texas?
TG: I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of having had George Bush as president. He had a personal appreciation and a keen instinct for all that is Mexico, and he gave me great latitude to be as proactive as I could be in developing the relationship. I will tell you, though, that as important as the personalities were, you can’t underestimate the importance of the times. Whenever a new officer arrived at the embassy, I would tell him, “What you do here has an urgency. It impacts not only this country but our home country immediately. You’ve not been posted to some sort of remote ship at sea. We’re a ship near the harbor.” We existed in a moment when we were talking about security issues, border issues, post-9/11 terrorist issues. If you took a step back and looked at the longer view of things, you recognized that everything you were doing was going to be relevant ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road. On the economic front, we truly appreciated the need to have a fluid and efficient border. There is a real market convergence—labor moving north, capital moving south—but there has yet to be a complete embrace of that reality at the political level.
ES: Explain that last part.
TG: If you looked at the United States today and you were honest about not only the evolving demographic but the role of the undocumented worker within our economic mainstream, you would have to say that our policy has not kept pace with the removal of obstacles for the efficient flow of labor into the marketplace—the efficient flow that is being driven by a legitimate market demand. Conversely, if you looked at Mexico, you’d say we need to remove obstacles to the efficient flow of capital into the marketplace, so we can have the sort of development that would minimize some of the pressures for immigration.
ES: In other words, create an economy that would give people an incentive to stay in Mexico.
TG: It’s not just that. I look at it