In 1997, I witnessed what I thought was the beginning of a new era of Texas and the United States relations with Mexico, a strengthening partnership that was expected to result in cultural and economic benefits to both nations. I, along with four other opinion writers from around the state, had been invited to coffee with Gov. George W. Bush, and it happened on the same day the governor was receiving Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, Jose Angel Gurria Trevino. Before our official meeting with Bush, we talked to him and Gurria about increased trade between Texas and Mexico and the southern neighbour’s political shift towards what Gurria called a “deepening of democracy.”
They also discussed the then-recent rejection of former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld as nominee to be ambassador to Mexico. He was brought down by fellow Republicans in the Senate, led by North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was when I watched Bush interviewed by a Mexico television newsman, answering his questions in fluent Spanish, that I realised he was probably just the right person to help forge this renewed relationship. When Bush was elected president three years later, many people on both sides of the border heralded what they believed was a perfect opportunity for our countries to work together on a host of issues. But, after Sept. 11, 2001, practically everything took a back seat to the fight against terrorism.
Mexico became an afterthought except in the areas of growing immigration, spiralling drug violence and severe economic woes that contributed to both. After a decade of lost opportunity, the timing is right again and the state of Texas to begin rebuilding those relationships with a country that shares 2,000 miles of border. A former governor, Enrique Pena Nieto, was sworn in on Saturday as Mexico’s new president. Although representing the old party, Pena Nieto is promising to transform his country, which is greatly divided by the haves and have-nots.
Pena Nieto visited with Barack Obama in the White House, and Vice President Joe Biden attended the inauguration on Saturday in Mexico City. Those are good signs, but this new relationship has to be more than a show. Violent protests broke out in the capital and all over the country on his inauguration day.
We must pay attention to what is happening there, for we can’t afford to ignore a country that has Latin America’s second-largest economy. Mexico is Texas’ No. 1 trading partner, and the US’s No. 3 trading partner. The US is Mexico’s largest trading partner and largest foreign investor. The State Department notes that “Mexico and the US do as much business in just over a month as Mexico does with all 27 countries of the European Union combined in a year.” Texas ranchers and farmers certainly know the benefit of exporting goods to Mexico. Agriculture exports from Texas to Mexico in 2010 totalled $1.4 billion. And the 15 counties along the border understand the economic boost of $145 billion in goods being imported through their cities. The time is ripe for this new international co-operation. We shouldn’t allow anyone or anything to put it on hold again.