Summer Doldrums. Not Quite.

August 3, 2016

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s August 2016 newsletter.

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It should be the summer doldrums, but the news out of Mexico hasn’t quite slowed down.

One of Mexico’s biggest stories was the debate, passage, veto, and then re-passage of the country’s anti-corruption package. These seven bills were designed to put legislative meat on the bones of the 2015 anti-corruption reform, and will greatly assist in coordinating corruption fighting across government institutions. The final package stopped short of embracing every part of the civil society written and backed Ley 3de3 (which would have forced government officials to publicly declare their assets, conflicts of interest, and tax records), but it did create what has been called “the most encompassing system to identify and sanction corruption that the country has ever had.”

In more welcome anti-corruption news, the Peña Nieto administration filed legal challenges this month against the governments of Veracruz, Quintana Roo, and Chihuahua for reforms that would have shielded outgoing governors from corruption investigations. These states are facing federal inquiries over financial irregularities under the governors’ tenures. And in the case of Veracruz, for at least twenty-six phantom companies that received some US$1 billion in unaccounted funds. Read the rest of this entry »

Elie Wiesel Was the World’s Moral Compass

July 6, 2016

Ronald S. Lauder (Ambassador to Austria, 1986-1987)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Lauder’s July 5, 2016 special to Fortune.

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Thirty years ago, I traveled to Auschwitz with Elie Wiesel. I had been to the camp before. I had seen the barbed wire, the barracks, the guard towers. I had stood in the gas chambers where a generation of Jewish children perished as the hands of evil. But to experience Auschwitz through Elie’s eyes, through the eyes of the man who taught the world about the horrors of the Holocaust, changed everything for me. It changed the way I think, and it lit a flame in me that burns to this day.

Elie once observed that the survivors of the Shoah “had the right to give up on humanity.” But Elie refused to give up. When I joined him at Auschwitz, I found a man not filled with hate, but with sadness and determination. Sadness over all those who were lost, and determination to honor their memory with action and impact.

Read the rest of this entry »

More Uncertainty but Message Clear: “Fix It”

July 5, 2016

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s July 2016 newsletter.

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This past January, I wrote that the coming year would be one characterized by our “Living with Uncertainty”. Looking back, while it was clear that this year would be tumultuous, I certainly misunderestimated what was to come.

It’s hard not to start with Brexit, when 52 percent of the United Kingdom’s voters chose to break with the European Union.  The vote marks the first departure from the grand European project, tacking an uncharted course for the United Kingdom and for the continent. But the contentious vote was really the easy part. The next two years will be filled with the tougher steps—sitting through painful negotiations, designing a brand new state framework, and calming jittery markets that are concerned with the future of both the United Kingdom and a strong and peaceful Europe.

The anger is not just a United Kingdom and United States phenomenon; voters around the world are frustrated. And Mexico is no exception.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brexit Hangover: A Field Guide for Americans

June 24, 2016

Marc Ginsberg (Ambassador to Morocco, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Ginsberg’s June 24, 2016 special to the Huffington Post.

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The political and financial impact of yesterday’s “Brexit” vote will have long-lasting and profound implications for the U.S. presidential campaign, for U.S. – European relations, and for Europe itself. Once the Brexit proponents finish downing their champagne, the hangovers will settle in, for certain. They know not what they doneth.

Shockingly, the Brexit tally vote defied the sure money touted by London’s bookies. They were long and wrong on the odds, but the sure loser was Prime Minister Cameron; his bet was fatal – both to his political career and to a united United Kingdom. After all, the Brexit referendum was Cameron’s political miscalculation, who in a desperate moment of political lunacy succumbed to demands to appease rebellious Tory Euro-skeptic back-benchers and agreed to hold this ill-conceived referendum. Before his nation in front of 10 Downing Street, Cameron, his lips quivering, emotionally threw in the towel and spitefully resigned his office. Why? No one knows. Was his resignation really necessary in the heat of the moment?

As a result of the vote, the grave consequences to Britain’s political system and economy will reverberate for years – all in the name of abiding anti-immigrant sentiment in England and throttling the pesky, red-tape laden Brussels bureaucrats in the European Union’s redoubt. Revelers are rejoicing over the hopeful return of British sovereignty, but the end of 40 years of EU membership do not come without a price – and not just for the Brits.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mexico: It’s not (just) a PR problem, It’s the corruption

June 2, 2016

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s May 26, 2016 newsletter.

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It’s been nearly a year since President Enrique Peña Nieto pushed through a series of anti-corruption focused constitutional amendments.

These well-received reforms established a National Anti-Corruption System (to coordinate national, state, and local efforts), gave teeth to the Superior Auditing Office, and made the Federal Tribunal of Administrative Justice an independent court. However, passing these reforms was merely the first step. Members of Congress gave themselves twelve months (until this upcoming May 28th) to write and approve the necessary secondary legislation. Yet with the deadline rapidly approaching, the completed bills are still nowhere in sight.

Read the rest of this entry »

How did Trump learn to love ‘the bomb’?

May 5, 2016

Thomas A. Loftus (Ambassador to Norway, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Loftus’ May 4, 2016 op-ed in the Cap Times.

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In the film “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” there is a scene near the end as bombs have been launched and Armageddon is looming where U.S. President Merkin Muffley, in a meeting with Russian Ambassador de Sadesky, learns that Russia has been building a “doomsday machine.”

The Russian ambassador says: “Our doomsday scheme cost us just a small fraction of what we’ve been spending on defense in a single year. … We learned that your country was working along similar lines and were afraid of a doomsday gap.” The U.S. president incredulously responds: “This is preposterous. I’ve never approved anything like that.” Ambassador de Sadesky says: “Our source was The New York Times.”

In an interview on foreign policy with the NYT in March, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggested that in order for the U.S. to save money on defense, perhaps Japan and South Korea should become nuclear powers and defend themselves.

In his recent foreign policy speech Trump elaborated: “The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense — and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Flies to Riyadh: Are U.S.—Saudi Ties Too Big to Fail?

April 22, 2016

Marc Ginsberg (Ambassador to Morocco, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Ginsberg’s April 19, 2016 special to the Huffington Post.

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President Obama leaves Washington today for his third and final presidential “hajj” to Saudi Arabia for tense meetings with newly installed Saudi King Salman. By any measure, the once “enduring” U.S. – Saudi alliance is on a collision course, triggered by a fateful election year reckoning long overdue of the costs and benefits to a “friendship” that strains the credibility of that word. No amount of diplomatic doublespeak from Mr. Obama or his press secretary can camouflage the President’s ire at the Saudis, who were shocked at Mr. Obama’s unprecedented public rebuke last month of their unhelpful conduct in the Middle East.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Obama told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that the Saudis are not only among “free rider” allies that ask the United States to fight their battles for them and “exploit” American muscle for their own narrow, sectarian end, but are also responsible for encouraging anti-American militancy (his sanitized expression of spreading radical Islamic jihadi ideology).

Read the rest of this entry »

Alex, Sascha and the Toll of Islamist Terror

April 18, 2016

James Cain (Ambassador to Denmark, 2005-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Cain’s April 10, 2016 special to the Wall Street Journal.

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Two Saturdays ago, just outside Maastricht, the Netherlands, I visited the 65-acre American Cemetery in Margraten. A sea of marble white crosses and Stars of David is arrayed in a gentle arc marking the final resting place of 8,301 American soldiers who fell nearby while ensuring the liberty and security of a Europe brutalized by World War II.

My wife, Helen, our daughters Cameron and Laura, and a few friends and I were there to view the magnificent array of flowers brought to the cemetery the day before. The flowers came from the funerals of Alexander and Sascha Pinczowski, Dutch siblings who lived in New York and were murdered on March 22 in the Brussels airport by Islamist terrorists Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui.

Alex was married to our daughter Cameron.

Read the rest of this entry »

An Eye on Mexico

April 13, 2016

Antonio O. Garza (Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Garza’s April 2016 newsletter.

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This past month, Mexico’s civil society groups handed the Senate president a new piece of anti-corruption legislation—the Ley3de3. The citizen led legislation looks to force public officials to disclose tax information and possible conflicts of interest, and increases the punishment for acts of corruption. After a widespread media campaign, the bill received 291,467 signatures (more than double the 120,000 signatures necessary to get it onto the legislative table), representing a new path for the country’s civil society to influence the anti-corruption agenda. You can read more about the Ley3de3 in my recent Dallas Morning News op-ed and the other ways that Mexicans are taking the fight against corruption into their own hands.

There have also been steps forward for Mexico’s energy reform. This past week, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) held its first long-term electricity tender with ultimately eleven companies (out of sixty-nine bidders) winning clean energy certificates and electricity contracts. The government’s goal is to have clean energy contracts producing 5 percent of the country’s electricity in the next two years. Meanwhile on the oil and gas side, the reform is also continuing apace, despite Moody’s downgrade of Pemex’s credit rating (along with Mexico’s general outlook) this past week due to its precarious financials. The next tender will be for deep-water exploration and production and is scheduled for the first week in December.

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Trump Is Right to Propose NATO Reassessment

April 13, 2016

Faith Whittlesey (Ambassador to Switzerland, 1981-1983; 1985-1989)

This piece first appeared in the Daily Caller.

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Americans ought to welcome Donald Trump’s willingness to assess critically the many time-sanctioned sacred cows and clichés in which U.S. foreign policy abounds and to determine anew which, if any, no longer serve our national interests adequately and are even perhaps leading us in the wrong direction. This process, I suggest, is akin to “zero-based budgeting” in fiscal matters, i.e., reevaluating every old line item from point zero – and is a good thing.

Read the rest of this entry »


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