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A Conversation with Christopher Landau, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico

Landau emphasizes the unique relationship between the U.S and Mexico at Duke webinar

Christopher Landau, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico
Christopher Landau, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico

When Christopher Landau was offered a judgeship by the U.S. administration in 2019, he said he’d rather be ambassador to Mexico.

The son of a career foreign service officer who served as a U.S. ambassador, Christopher Landau lived in Spain, Paraguay, Chile and Venezuela before he even went to college. He was appointed as ambassador to Mexico after 20 years practicing law in Washington D.C.

“What makes the U.S. relationship with Mexico so unique,” Landau said, “is that with a lot of countries in the world the relationship is focused maybe on one overriding issue, or maybe a couple. The relationship with Mexico is unique in just the incredibly broad spectrum that it covers.”

Landau joined Patrick Duddy, director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) and retired U.S. ambassador, and Giovanni Zanalda, director of the Duke Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS), for a conversation about diplomacy and the state of the U.S./Mexico relationship.

The webinar was the second in the series “A Conversation with the Ambassador,” part of DUCIGS/Rethinking Diplomacy program (RDP). The first installment was a conversation with Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., Martha Bárcena Coqui. The RDP is supported by a grant from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund.  This event was organized in partnership with the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS), and the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy (AGS.)  

Here are excerpts from Landau's remarks:


“In the last couple of years, we started to see a very new migratory phenomenon, which is people from third countries transiting through Mexico to go to the United States in very large numbers. … For Mexico, it has meant some reevaluation of the migratory phenomenon where traditionally, they've been very pro-migrant, because they've been thinking of their own paisanos who come to the States, but now all of a sudden when people are springing up from all over the world and entering Mexico illegally, there's a kind of a profound rethinking afoot here in Mexico about this phenomenon. So, it is fair to say that this issue has loomed very large in our bilateral relationship and certainly during the pandemic, especially because that added a whole new public health dimension to the situation.”

“We've reached an agreement with the Mexicans that they will enforce their own migration laws and help persuade these very large numbers of people.  At the end of the day, we've got to work together to try to create systems for Mexicans to come work in the United States legally, in so far as there are jobs that otherwise would go unfilled. … Illegal migration, the migrants have a very tough time, a very dangerous journey through Mexico and then they are subject to exploitation in the United States, so I'd certainly like to see a return to the Bracero Program of the 50s and early 60s.”


“Both NAFTA and now the USMCA created a useful framework that have allowed trade to flourish.”

“There were some structural problems with NAFTA and it’s certainly gotten outdated over 25 years… It is a good thing to take another look at these kinds of treaties and certainly NAFTA did not include labor protections… Mexico has now in its own domestic law as well as in its treaty obligation, agreed to certain labor reforms that are going to hopefully level the playing field, in terms of real collective bargaining and labor rights and allowing union activity to flourish here. …These agreements are good signal that the US and Mexico are on the same team, and Canada.”

“There are always going to be trade frictions… NAFTA and now the USMCA create a framework, at least to resolve investment disputes which should make investment flow in both directions.”

“...(B)oth the President of Mexico, López Obrador and our President Trump were kind of open skeptics of NAFTA, that they both came around and ultimately, they tightened it up and they fixed it quite a bit. But at the end of the day, they didn't jettison it and that was a real prospect. And it's a testament to the strength of this economic relationship that's been created.”


“Both migration and security are issues where we really share the challenges with Mexico and that neither side of the border can solve the problem by itself. So that the answer to migration has to be on the U.S. side, just as much as the Mexican side. That's equally true for security.”

“…(T)hese are very sophisticated cartels and they control not an unsubstantial part of Mexico as a practical matter. By the same token, what is the source of their power? It's the money and the arms that they're getting from our country. And so, it's one of these challenges that really is a two-way street. Mexico can't solve it all alone. And, that's also something that we have to work on our side of the border, reducing demand for these drugs, reducing the flow of firearms to Mexico.”


“I think as Mexico has really opened up politically over the last 20 years, there have been a lot of changes in that and particularly with President López Obrador coming into office, a year and a half ago, a lot of traditional assumptions about Mexico and its foreign policy, no longer hold true and they're no longer knee jerk against the U.S. and international fora by any means. To the contrary, it's fair to say that President López Obrador puts a very high value on a good relationship with the United States for a number of domestic, political and international reasons. So, Mexican foreign policy is certainly quite independent of the United States.”


Watch the full webinar: