Mr. Bush in Mexico
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RAY SUAREZ: For more on President Bush’s trip to Mexico, we turn to Tony Garza, former Texas Secretary of State and key Mexico advisor during Bush’s time as governor — he is now Texas railroad commissioner; Sam Quinones, author of the newly released book, “True Tales from Another Mexico.” He lives in Mexico City and has written extensively about the country; and Delal Baer, a senior fellow and director of the Mexico Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Well, Ms. Baer, the visit was brief. Both men said it was cordial. Can we say it was significant?
DELAL BAER: Of course it was. I think we are seeing the beginning of a fundamental shift in the status quo in the U.S.-Mexico relations — nothing less. We are talking about issues that were taboo in the past, we are starting to address issues that were very spiny, like drugs and immigration, and we are looking at them in a very different way than we have in the past. So, yes, I think this was a substantive meeting as well as symbolic meeting.
RAY SUAREZ: Sam Quinones, do you think it looked the same from Mexico?
SAM QUINONES: I think so. And I would certainly agree with the professor that this was a hugely important meeting and one that will hopefully open the way to discussions not just on trade, immigration and drugs but other issues such as education, the environment, a number of issues like that.
RAY SUAREZ: Tony Garza, some commentators have mentioned this was a good place for the president to begin because this is a place he feels more surefooted as his first foreign visit. Can you comment?
TONY GARZA: Well, I think that’s probably true. Certainly as governor of the state of Texas, George Bush enjoyed a very good relationship with Mexico. His appreciation for Mexico, its people, history, and culture, is something that I’ve always found to be very heartfelt. As the United States’ second largest trading partner, presents real opportunities but perhaps as importantly, as governor he saw– he had a very realistic view of the challenges that face not only Texas but now the United States in terms of immigration, drug and trade policy. So I think it was not only a very good visit in terms of his vision for the hemisphere and something he’s characterized as century of the Americas, it is an area he knows well and certainly President Fox and he enjoy very good chemistry upon which I hope we’ll see a very constructive and solid relationship.
RAY SUAREZ: In the two men’s first public statements together did anything in particular jump out at you as significant?
TONY GARZA: Well, I think, you know, they’ve had an opportunity to visit a few times. I think really in large part what many are characterizing as a symbolism was really the statement; the fact that this was his first foreign visit in Mexico — to have been received on President Fox’s ranch, introduced to his mother. There’s an old saying in Spanish — mi casa su casa — my home is your home. In a very real sense, President Fox made that statement a reality. So what struck me was certainly that the symbolism made a very strong statement and that the chemistry and the feelings between those two men were very real and very genuine.
RAY SUAREZ: Delal Baer, did you see more than symbolism at work?
DELAL BAER: I did. These are two men willing to think outside of the box, they’re willing to take chances, be audacious, be creative. I was struck by the fact of President Bush standing there and talking about a North American energy policy. That would have been taboo just a few short years ago. I think it is a remarkable breakthrough that we are talking about those issues together toward a common goal.
I think it’s also remarkable that for the first time in years we are talking about reopening the issue of a temporary worker program. That is not an insignificant agreement in principle that the two presidents decided that they would continue to explore that issue. And finally I was also struck by the fact that President Bush signaled, although it’s obvious that he recognizes that this is an issue that Congress will have to deal with, but that it may be time to rethink the annual certification process on drug trafficking, which has caused so much tension between our two countries in the past. So these are two men who are pushing the edge of the envelope. They are thinking new ideas and trying to make them a reality.
RAY SUAREZ: Now when it came time for that annual certification, which in effect, gave Mexico each year a clean bill of health as a partner in the drug war, some of the harshest critics of the Clinton administration recertification were from George W. Bush’s own party.
DELAL BAER: I think what is happening is that people are realizing that it is in our fundamental national interest to see Mexican democracy succeed. Everyone wants to give Vincente Fox every opportunity to demonstrate his commitment. I don’t think there is anyone who doubts his goodwill and his commitment to the issue. And so you have to realize that there has been a democratic revolution in Mexico that has changed the context of this issue. Things are seen a little bit differently now in Washington.
RAY SUAREZ: Sam Quinones, let’s stay on the issue of drugs briefly. Looking at it from south of the border, what is the problem and what can these two presidents do about it?
SAM QUINONES: Well, the problem really I think is that the United States uses too much dope. You know, we use half of the drugs that are used in the entire world. And I think really any attempt to attack the drug problem really has to go further, it has to go beneath the problem of drugs to other issues. It has to deal with education; the education system in Mexico is really weak and not up to global standards as it needs to be.
We also need to attack the problem of, I think anyway, of municipal weakness. The local government system in Mexico is almost non-existent. It is poor, arthritic, anemic. It cannot provide a bulwark against problems such as drug dealing, drug smuggling — nor can it really be a — foster economic development at the local level. This is another reason– this is one reason why people go north. There is no economic development or very little at the local level.
I actually would like to see this discussion head in another direction. I think drugs and immigration are very important. But they’re symptoms. They’re not causes. The root causes have to do with structural problems in the Mexican society, government and economy that have to do with education; a major problem is this municipal weakness where municipal governments can’t provide bullets to their police officers. They ration and get eight bullets a day in many cities, they get five or ten liters of gasoline. With these kinds of problems you will never attack the problems that we face that are bi-national in nature which are drug smuggling and immigration. I’m hoping that this moment will actually lead to larger discussions about Mexico in the role that– the problems that Mexico faces and ways the United States can help Mexico overcome those problems.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Tony Garza, when you hear Sam Quinones talk in that way, efforts from the United States, initiatives from the United States that seek to help in those regards have historically been viewed with suspicion. There’s very tight rules regarding how American law enforcement officers operate south of the border. The joint task force has often run into a lot of organizational problems because of sensitivities in Mexico. Can the United States be a help to address some of the problems that Sam was talking about?
TONY GARZA: Well, I think we can. But Sam does hit on an important starting point, which I think is a review of the certification process. That has long been viewed as something that is both condescending and somewhat arrogant. Several years ago I traveled to Monterey with Governor Bush. And in the course of his speech, he made what struck me as a very matter-of-fact, common sense statement that drugs were supplied because they were demanded. And there was a large applause. And afterwards one of the officials there took me aside and said, you know, it was unusual to have an American governor on Mexican soil recognizing the obvious in the way that they certainly embraced.
But it goes beyond that. I think that would be a good starting point. But to have the sort of trust that would be necessary to the practical workings of the joint task force, I think, we have to move beyond what has historically been viewed in Mexico as this condescending sort of finger-pointing to a clear-eyed respect for our neighbor, our second largest trading partner, a recognition that certainly this is a symptom, working to expand economic opportunity in Mexico I think is good — the discussion about energy policy. Dr. Baer was absolutely right. That would have been unthinkable a few years ago. So this is certainly a symptom. But the certification process I think is an annual ritual that does more to set back the relationship than advance us.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Baer, President Fox has talked about migration almost in a way that’s parallel to the way he talked about drugs — that Mexican workers are here because there is demand for their work and there are employers willing to hire them. He’s been very forthright about wanting to change the relationship. Does he have a shot there?
DELAL BAER: Well, President Bush has also. During his campaign, he expressed his interest in some sort of temporary worker program. Now I think doting the I’s and crossing the T’s and designing the program very carefully has yet to be worked upon, and we are going to see more specifics as time goes on but I think there is some consensus that there are certain key sectors of our economy that simply cannot meet their needs in the domestic labor market. We’re not talking about industries that are competing with U.S. workers. We’re talking about industries that simply cannot meet their needs with U.S. Workers And there I think there is a consensus that it makes sense to look at these programs.
Regarding what Sam Quinones was saying, it is absolutely true that there are fundamental developmental issues in Mexico, issues of social poverty and inequality that will need to be addressed in the long-term. It is a long-term problem for us to come to grips with. Obviously, the United States believes that investment and free trade is part of the solution to that. I think there are other solutions also. There has been some interest in micro-credit programs on both sides of the border. So I think we will see more interest in what we can do together to address social problems.
And regarding your question, Ray, about what the United States and Mexico can do together and whether we can overcome some of the historic sensitivities that have existed on both sides of the border, I think that is an extremely important point. I think in the past, the United States has tended to be too much of the finger pointer, too much of the scolding nag, too much of the unilateral meddler. And Mexico perhaps has been too much of the “Oh, no, no, no, we can’t do that we can’t do that because of sovereignty, because of this.”
I think it’s time for both countries to adopt a new attitude and see what we can do to overcome our historic mistrust and work together on issues. I was struck by the fact that President Bush mentioned the clear signal that Vincente Fox is sending with extradition. That has long been a thorny issue, one where sovereignty has come into play. And if Mexico is, indeed, willing to move on things like extradition, we might see progress in other areas like the bilateral task forces that you are mentioning. This is the beginning of a process I think where we will see some exchange, a reciprocity, where we will perhaps consider reformulating certification and the Mexicans will consider expanding the horizon of what we can do together as two countries with a common enemy in drug trafficking.
RAY SUAREZ: Quickly, Sam Quinones before we close, is President Fox — his talk of a new Mexico infectious down in Mexico, is it creating a lot of enthusiasm?
SAM QUINONES: Sure, I think so. And I think rightly so. I think it is a moment where you’ve gotten rid of the oldest at the time one-party state in the world, and it’s a new all things are possible now in Mexico which is why I’m hoping that this new relationship between the United States and Mexico takes new directions, isn’t limited by the few themes that it could touch on in the past and opens it up to all areas: Education, governance, environment.
I also hope that Americans take this moment to understand the new importance that Mexico has for the United States. I really believe that at least economically speaking, Mexico is going to become our England in a sense, our closest ally through this next century. And I think it is really incumbent on people in the United States to start to pay more attention to Mexico, to learn what Mexico is about, that it’s not just Cancun and tequila and mariachi bands; it’s a vast, complex and sometimes troubling and exciting country.
RAY SUAREZ: Thanks to you all.