Former Ambassador Jim Jones discusses the intricacies of US-Mexico relations
Last week, Inside México spoke with former US Ambassador to Mexico James R. Jones. As Ambassador Jones was being interviewed, the Mexican newspaper El Universal reported that the Obama administration had chosen Cuban born diplomat Carlos Pascual to fill the post recently vacated by Ambassador Antonio O. Garza. The report has yet to be officially confirmed.
Former US Ambassador to Mexico James R. Jones
In this exclusive interview, Ambassador Jones, who served in Mexico City from 1993-1997, speaks about the unique challenges ofthe job, the role of the Secretary of State and the recent media focus on the battle against the Mexican drug cartels.
Inside México: In the last few weeks, Mexico has suddenly gone to the top of the news cycle. As an example, yesterday NPR, CNN and the New York Times all lead with stories on the drug-related violence in Mexico. Does this increase in coverage represent a media "'tipping point", a reflection of an actual increase in the level of violence, or both?
Ambassador Jones: Many years ago I started out as a journalist, and what I've observed is that journalists tend to run with the pack. Once one goes with the story, they all follow suit, and this is even truer in today's 24-hour news cycle, which is very competitive. The stories related to the drug war are also very sensational and violence like the beheadings attract viewers.
There has also been an increase in the intensity of the war between these criminal organizations and the Mexican government. The Mexican government, with help from the US government in terms of intelligence, has undertaken a determined effort to break these organizations. When you cut off the heads of the organizations, what ensues is a battle for leadership, and that's what you're seeing here. There is a fight for territory, for a share of the profits.
What we also need to recognize is that the violence is very localized and affects perhaps five or six states, mostly in the north of the country. Of the 8,000 deaths attributed to the drug wars, 90% of them are deaths of members of the drug organizations; 8% are law enforcement officials or military; and 2% or so are of innocent bystanders.
Now, I'm not saying that 150-200 innocent people killed is insignificant; but we do need to maintain some perspective. Most of the violence is concentrated in a few places in the north-Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Sonora, Chihuahua and only a very small part of the deaths are in other locations.
IM: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on her first official visit to Mexico. What is the role of the Secretary of State in the relationship between the United States and Mexico?
AJ:Obviously the President is the most important part of the relationship, but after that comes the Secretary of State. Secretary Clinton will be the one providing leadership to all the other areas of government as we work through our challenges with Mexico. I think we're particularly fortunate to have her in this position, because she brings sensitivity and a great deal of respect for the country and its culture. She understands the cultural differences between our countries, which is critically important to the way we deal with problems.
The role of the US in the history of its relationship with Mexico has not always been positive. Mexico has seen us as a paternalistic and preachy neighbor for much of our history, and as a result, Mexico has not always been as cooperative as the United States would have liked. But I believe what the Obama administration and Secretary Clinton bring to the table is a genuine sense of collaboration and partnership.
IM: We're anxiously waiting to hear who the Obama administration will name as Ambassador to Mexico. What are the specifics of the Ambassador's job?
AJ: The Ambassador is the frontline representative of the President of the United States on the ground. They are also a frontline reporter, giving the President firsthand information about what is really going on in the country. Additionally, they act as an interpreter to the Mexican government and Mexican people of what is happening in the United States.
It's important that the Ambassador convey a deep respect for Mexico, and that they have access to the President. I hope we'll get someone in place as soon as possible because it's a critical piece in facilitating bilateral relations.