WASHINGTON – The U.S. ambassador to Mexico now says he should have used "different phrasing" rather than saying he closed a border town consulate partly to punish the Mexican government for not stopping violence there, according to the State Department.
Spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday that Ambassador Tony Garza's (search) real reason for closing it was to protect Americans working there.
Garza closed the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo (search), across the border from Laredo, Texas, during the first week of August following dozens of drug-related killings, the assassination of the police chief and a city councilman, and a machine-gun, grenade and rocket attack on an alleged drug safe house.
On Tuesday, Garza told an audience at the University of Denver: "Some have said that I ordered the shutdown to punish the Mexican government for its failure to control violence in the region. And in a sense that's true."
The comment drew quick fire from Mexican Deputy Foreign Secretary Geronimo Gutierrez (search), who said, "His selection of words was frankly unfortunate and does not correspond to the role of an ambassador."
It also exposed tensions over border security (search) that have been building between the two countries this year.
Asked about Garza's comment, McCormack told reporters that the ambassador "would probably tell you that he would use some different phrasing in terms of his remarks and he's said that and our embassy down in Mexico has said that."
"But at that the root of his decision (to close the consulate) was a desire for him to fulfill his foremost responsibility and that was to protect the people that were working for him in that consulate," the spokesman said.
Garza has frequently spoken out about the need for Mexico's government to do more for border security, and the Mexican government has emphasized that the problem is not just Mexico's. "On that side and this side there is organized crime. On that side and this side there is drug consumption," Mexican President Vicente Fox (search) said Tuesday.
Since last Friday, the governors of New Mexico and Arizona have declared states of emergency in some of the counties that border Mexico. They said the federal governments of the United States and Mexico have failed to stem the rash of human and drug smuggling, kidnapping, murder, destruction of property and deaths of livestock in border areas.